'A sad reflection of reality'

A children's book about Kassams? Esther Blau Marcus says the subject is too important to ignore.

tzeva adom book 88 248 (photo credit: Courtesy)
tzeva adom book 88 248
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Tzeva Adom (In Hebrew) By Esther Blau Marcus Illustrated by Nadia Adina Rose Kibbutz Alumim 19 pages; NIS 35 Esther Blau Marcus, author of the children's book Tzeva Adom, offers the following story to illustrate her family's experience of Operation Cast Lead: "During the war," Marcus recalls, "I had the TV on one day and my son said, 'Mom, look, the picture is the same as what I see from the window.'" Her nine-year-old son, Tamir, wasn't exaggerating. Marcus and her husband have lived on Kibbutz Alumim, within sight of Gaza, for 17 years. It is there the couple, both British born, has gone about the difficult task of raising four children in this hot zone. "We have experienced the conflict directly," she says. Of Tamir, her youngest child, she says that the tzeva adom (Color Red) alarm call has been a thread throughout his life. Living in an area that is under fire is "all he has known." Though Marcus grew up in very different circumstances, Israel was part of her narrative from a very young age, and she always knew that making aliya was in her future. Following in the footsteps of her older brother, Marcus immigrated in 1984, when she was only 19. "And I haven't looked back since," she says with a smile. Her younger brother and her parents followed her, leaving only her sister behind in Britain. After proudly serving in the IDF, Marcus earned a bachelor's degree in social work at the Hebrew University, also completing a master's degree in art therapy. She currently works as a counselor at a rape crisis center. She takes a narrative approach to therapy and she applied this method to the children's book she wrote, as well. "I tell the story from the eyes of tzeva adom [a character called 'red']," she explains. "This creates distance [for the readers] and allows them to identify and then to take ownership over their feelings. It allows them to get back some control." By changing associations and making the subject matter - and the reader's feelings - more approachable, the story "empowers and diminishes the concept of being a victim." That her approach to her first book mirrors her approach to therapy is not a coincidence. "The idea was a therapeutic book," she says. Though the target audience is children aged two to eight, "adults who have been through the war have related to it as well," Marcus says. "This book is intended to help make sense of something that doesn't make sense" for both children and parents. Marcus, who found the process of writing Tzeva Adom to be therapeutic, was motivated in part by her own feelings. "As a parent, you feel useless because you can't protect your children, but this helps the parent feel empowered." This progression - from feelings of helplessness to empowerment - is mirrored in the book itself. The story opens with a gathering of all the colors of the rainbow. Each color gives a speech describing its important duties and why it should receive the distinction of "Color of the Year." Purple speaks of fallen flower petals that carpet the earth in lilac and the lavender wings of butterflies, blue speaks of oceans and lakes, rivers and waterfalls. One by one, each color extols its virtues - but when tzeva adom's turn comes rather than standing up proudly, he sits in a corner and cries. "This has been a very sad year," tzeva adom says. "Because of me, many children were frightened and scared. Every time they heard the call on the loudspeaker, 'tzeva adom!' they began to run and cry... No one even wants to hear my name." The book explains that it's not the color red the children should fear, it's "all because of the Kassam missiles that threaten the residents of the Western Negev... No one wants to hear and certainly not encounter Kassam missiles. These missiles destroy homes, cause fires in fields and even harm people and children." The subject matter might seem a little grim for a children's book, but, Marcus says, "It's a sad reflection of reality, but not one we should ignore." She speaks of the impact the circumstances in the South has made upon its young inhabitants, saying that she has met children who are terrified of the color red - they won't wear it, they don't like to see it. "And I was really concerned when I saw children showing regressive behavior," she recalls. "It's very frustrating to live in Hamas's hands and the Israeli government's hands." This feeling of powerlessness pushed Marcus to write Tzeva Adom. A desire to regain a sense of control wasn't the only incentive - Marcus was also inspired by admiration for Tamir. One recent afternoon on Kibbutz Alumim, the alert sounded right as the members of the children's drama group Marcus leads were walking home. Tamir ran to a little girl, a six-year-old named Sapir, who was walking alone. "It was so obvious to him that he had to take care of Sapir," Marcus recalls. "I felt a duty to help the kids be able to stand up." In Tzeva Adom, it is the other colors that lift the color red up, boosting his morale and empowering him: "The children aren't afraid because of you," the color blue points out, "On the contrary! You come to help us and give them the possibility to run to a safe place and to feel more secure." The color orange agrees and the color purple adds, "...you are a symbol of the heart and of love." Similarly the book came together through a group effort. A friend, Chagit Rappel, helped Marcus refine the Hebrew text. A woman from Alumim connected Marcus to Nadia Adina Rose, a Bezalel graduate, who created the vibrant illustrations. Rose's sister was killed in a terror attack on Rehov Aza in Jerusalem. Whether the impact is direct or indirect, the conflict touches everyone who lives here. "We live the same narrative," Marcus reflects. "We're one country." As such, Marcus hopes that Tzeva Adom can speak to us all - adults included. "It's a way to bring generations around the trauma, to deal with it and give it meaning," she says. However, Tzeva Adom is only available in Hebrew. Marcus wasn't sure that English-speaking audiences would be interested in such a theme-specific, therapeutic book. Rooted in the Israeli experience, Tzeva Adom is something of a grassroots publication - Kibbutz Alumim is publishing the book. Any profit from the sales will be returned to the kibbutz.