Oct 5, 2016

Praying for Rain with Author Susan Tarcov

Susan Tarcov, author of Maya Prays for Rain, is our guest blogger. She grew up next to the Bronx Zoo, a great inspiration for writing children's books. She is married, has three children, and lives in Chicago. Maya Prays for Rain is the first (and only!) picture book about the Jewish holiday of Shemini Atzeret, which falls at the end of the fall harvest festival of Sukkot. 

The holidays of Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah fall at the end of Sukkot. In Israel they are celebrated on a single day; outside of Israel they are celebrated as two separate holidays. While these holidays are often thought of as part of Sukkot, they are actually holidays in their own right. Shemini Atzeret literally means "the assembly of the eighth (day)" as it falls after the seven days of Sukkot. Rabbinic literature explains that Sukkot is a holiday intended for all people, but when Sukkot is over, God invites the Jewish people to stay for an extra day and continue the celebration. Part of the Shemini Atzeret service is a prayer for rain, which officially begins Israel’s rainy season. Since the land of Israel relies so heavily on rain for its crops, this prayer is our request for the seas of Israel to fill and the crops to grow, providing both food and water for the people of Israel.

"I can’t say that Shemini Atzeret is my absolute favorite holiday, even though I just wrote a book about it. But I have always been moved by the little instruction in the Amidah that says that from Shemini Atzeret to Pesach we are to insert the words “You cause the wind to blow and the rain to fall.” Our rabbi explained that it was because that’s the rainy season in Israel. I like that Jews in the Diaspora pray for rain in Israel.

An interesting sidelight that turned up in my researches: The first halachic query from the New World was about the prayer for rain on Shemini Atzeret. In the seventeenth century, Jews newly settled in Brazil wrote to Rabbi Chaim Shabsi in Salonika complaining that they needed rain not between Shemini Atzeret and Pesach, but between Pesach and Shemini Atzeret. The rabbi replied that they could omit the prayer for rain on Shemini Atzeret, for “no congregation need pray against its want and need.” But for the sake of the unity of the Jewish world, their congregation couldn’t pray for rain at another time. They would each as individuals have to include a prayer for rain in their private prayers.

A further curiosity: the Brazilian Jews complained that “excessive rain in winter causes diseases and epidemics.” They must have meant the mosquito-borne illnesses that are a feature of summer. It seems that the first colonists of the southern hemisphere didn’t automatically call their hot season summer and their cold season winter. Instead they thought of their winters as being hot and their summers as being cold.

About Susan's book: It's a sunny fall day in Maya's neighborhood, and all her neighbors are busy with outdoor activities, from releasing some young butterflies to organizing a birthday scavenger hunt. But Maya learns that today is Shemini Atzeret, when the Jewish community prays for rain. Rain will ruin her neighbors' day! Maya rushes to warn them. Luckily, as her rabbi explains to her, it turns out that she doesn't need to worry. 

Oct 4, 2016

Have a Bowl of Chicken Soup with Author Pamela Mayer

Kar-Ben is delighted to interview Pamela Mayer, author of warm, thoughtful and sweet stories for children. 

Pamela's Kar-Ben book debut was the charming Don't Sneeze at the Wedding, a story about Anna who is scared she'll sneeze during her flower girl duties at her aunt's wedding. Along the way, she gets advice on how to stifle a big "achoo" while she participates in all the excitement of the day--everything from getting her hair done to signing the ketubah. (Yes, this is a must-buy if you have a little flower girl in your life.)

Chicken Soup, Chicken Soup is new this fall, and it is a terrific book about a young girl and her grandmothers' different-but-the-same soup. Praised by Kirkus as a "good-hearted tale," we think you'll like it. We caught up with Pamela to ask her about the book, and, of course, chicken soup.

KAR-BEN: What inspired you to write Chicken Soup, Chicken Soup?
PM: I have long been fascinated by food culture, especially how there are similar dishes prepared in different traditions, food like blintzes and crepes, for example. Kreplach and wonton are both dumplings, and nearly every world cuisine features some sort of dumpling. Food and family are both important in Chinese and Jewish culture. I knew I wanted to write about a family who was both Chinese and Jewish, so food was one of the first things I thought about. Growing up in San Francisco, I knew many Chinese families. In fact, we used to joke at my high school that if Rosh Hashanah and Chinese New Year were on the same day, the school would be empty!

KAR-BEN: What is your favorite chicken soup?
PM: My favorite chicken soup will always be the soup made by my grandmother, Manya Pavlovsky, my father's mother. She was a fabulous cook who made many wonderful dishes. Everything was homemade, from scratch, including the noodles and kreplach in her chicken soup. She cooked the way her mother had taught her in Russia, and her recipes were in her head, not written down. When she hosted a large family dinner, which she did often, she prepared many different dishes so that everyone could have one of their favorites. In addition, everyone left her house with a care package, enough food for dinner the next day. And don't even get me started on her desserts! Her cakes, cookies, and apple strudel were divine. Although she died in 1993, I still remember her good cooking. It was one of the ways my grandmother expressed her love for her family.
KAR-BEN: Why do you think chicken soup tastes so good, especially when made my Bubbes and Nai Nais?PM: Chicken soup has long been called the Jewish penicillin, and there is something to that. What tastes better than hot delicious soup when one is feeling ill or blue? Homemade food really does have that certain special ingredient. Of course, Jewish and Chinese grandmas like to see their grandchildren eat well, to grow up strong and healthy. I have a little granddaughter named Molly. I hope she will associate certain good foods, including homemade soup, with me, and with my love for her.

Get your copy of Chicken Soup, Chicken Soup today. 

Sep 19, 2016

What ever happened to that little boy blowing the shofar in the iconic photo on the cover of Kar-Ben’s mini-calendar?

For over four decades, Kar-Ben has been well known for its beautiful Jewish books for children and its Jewish calendars. One perennially popular product is the Kar-Ben Mini Jewish Calendar. In fact, it is the highest selling product on Karben.com so far this month, and tens of thousands have been sold over the years.As many of our customers who have been buying the calendar for decades know, one significant feature hasn't changed: the photograph on its cover of a young boy blowing a shofar.

Kar-Ben calendar

And while time has stood still for the boy in the image, we wanted to catch up with the formerly little boy. Meet Ben Saypol, the son of one of Kar-Ben founding's duo, Judye Groner and Madeline Wikler.

Kar-Ben: Many of our customers have purchased the Mini Jewish Calendar for years, and the photo of the little boy blowing the shofar hasn’t changed. Can you tell us when and where that photo of you was taken?

Ben: That photo of me was taken when I was about 3 years old. I am 43 now! It was taken at the beautiful Brookside Gardens in Silver Spring, Maryland near where Kar-Ben Copies home office was located. Mom dressed me up in that nice outfit, Aunt Madeline (Wikler) the resident photographer took me to the gardens, and she told me to blow as best I could. Honestly back then I couldn't blow very well, but I got better as I got older and did in fact blow shofar in synagogue on the high holidays when I was younger.

Kar-Ben: How did you feel about being the face of Kar-Ben’s calendars—then? Now?

Ben: I loved -- and still love -- being the face of Kar-Ben's calendars. I consider it an honor. It makes some sense given that I am in fact the "Ben" of Kar-Ben! Mom (Judye Groner) and Aunt Madeline (Wikler) founded Kar-Ben Copies for Jewish children, and so they named their company after their two youngest children. Aunt Madeline had Judy and Karen (Kar), and my Mom (Judye Groner) had Josh and Benjamin (Ben). I think they were also being clever given that Kar, Ben, and Copies sounded like "Carbon Copies," which is how you Xeroxed back in the early 70's! But don't quote me on this last fact.

Kar-Ben: Anything else you’d like our customers to know—anything biographical that you’d be inclined to share?

Ben: Sure! After Jewish Day School (K-8) and public school (9-12), I attended Northwestern University in Chicago, studied History and Theater, and then was a professional actor in the musical theater for 5 years. The highlight of my career was playing Tony in the National Tour of West Side Story. I then changed fields to that of Education. I taught in the Colorado Public Schools for 3 years, and then attended graduate school at the University of Colorado at Boulder. I got a Masters in Music Vocal performance and then a PhD in Theater Studies. My specialty is Interactive Theater for Social Change--using theater to promote dialogue and solutions around social issues. After doing it with colleges and universities for several years, I now have my own company, Theater Delta (click through to see what Ben looks like today). We work with colleges and universities, medical providers, the US military, the World Bank, and others. I love what I do.

When I was young I actually was a shofer blower in my local shul on the high holidays, but then I became a self taught Cantorial Soloist. I have been chanting services at Congregation Beth Judea in Long Grove, IL outside of Chicago for the past 22 years. I love doing it.

We kind of love Ben's starring role front-and-center on the Mini Jewish Calendar--an enduring role for over 40 years! Get your calendar today. 

Aug 8, 2016

Getting Ready to Get Back to School

Back to school can be a stressful time of year for kids and adults alike, but luckily the stress is matched by the excitement of seeing old friends, meeting new ones, and anticipating the many adventures of the coming year.

There are lots of skills kids need to succeed in school, and stories are an engaging way to teach students these skills starting on day one. That's why we're offering 20% off all books in our Back-to-School category through the end of August! Books in this category address one or more of

What to Expect
For the youngest students heading off to their very first day of school, books are a great way to introduce them to what to expect, from where they'll go to who they'll meet to what sorts of activities they might take part in. Back-to-school reads help make the unknown a little more familiar.

Sammy Spider's First Day of School

Rules. Every classroom has them, and showing students why we need these rules helps them feel more engaged and invested in keeping their classroom a safe and fun place.

No Rules for Michael

Kindness & Cooperation
It's never too soon to start teaching students the value of being kind to one another and to the world around them. These great reads may even inspire students to start good deed projects of their own!

Joey and the Giant Box
One Good Deed
My Name is Aviva
Speak Up, Tommy!

Making New Friends
Making new friends is an important - but sometimes scary! - part of any new school year.

Sammy Spider's New Friend

Songs, Lessons, and More!
Introductions to the alphabet, first Hebrew words, prayers for new beginnings, songs for Shabbat, and more are all gentle and fun lessons for that busy first week back to school.

I Say Shehechiyanu
Shabbat Shalom, Hey!
Alef is for Abba
My First Hebrew Word Book
My First Yiddish Word Book

Jun 8, 2016

Shavuot Traditions and Activities

The holiday of Shavuot marks the important wheat harvest in Israel and commemorates the anniversary of the day God gave the Torah to the entire nation of Israel assembled at Mount Sinai. It's often celebrated by eating various dairy foods such as cheesecake and blintzes. Below are a few more ways to celebrate!

A Cut Above the Rest
The art of paper-cutting became part of Jewish life in the Middle Ages when Rabbi Shem-Tov ben Yitzhak ben Ardutiel's ink froze while writing a manuscript. A resourceful fellow, he did the next best thing - cut the letters into the paper. In the 17th Century, paper-cutting became a popular form for small religious artifacts like the mizrach sign (for facing the direction to Jerusalem), and Shavuot decorations. Paper-cutting spread to all the corners of the Jewish world. In the late 18th Century, Eastern European cheder and yeshiva students created intricate lace patterns of flowers that they called Shavuoslekh (little Shavuot) which they displayed in the windows of their homes. For various reasons the craft disappeared. However, in the late 20th Century it began enjoying a revival that continues until today.

Learn more about the history of Jewish papercuts here.

Here find five other easy paper-based crafts for Shavuot.

Moroccan Matzah Delicacy for Shavuot
Once Moroccan Jews recite the Kiddush on Shavuot eve, they take a few pieces of matzah that they saved from Passover, break them into small pieces, then add them to a mixture of honey and milk. Everyone gets a portion of this blend, reminding us that Shavuot marks the conclusion of our Exodus from Egypt and the beginning of our collective experience when we received the Torah.

Great Reads for Shavuot

Kopecks for Blintzes
Gitele and Yankl live in the town of Chelm, where the people are so foolish that they think they think they are the wisest people in the world. Shavuot is approaching, but Gitele and Yankl have no money to buy ingredients for blintzes. So they come up with a plan. Every day, they'll each put a coin into the empty trunk. By Shavuot, they'll have enough coins to buy the ingredients. But will they be able to stick to their plan and provide their family with delicious blintzes for Shavuot?

Cheesecake for Shavuot
To celebrate Shavuot, a spring harvest festival, children in Israel make cheesecake using flour they have ground from wheat they have grown in their school garden, fresh goat cheese from the friendly petting zoo goats, and fresh strawberries from the garden.

Sadie and the Big Mountain
When her preschool plans a Shavuot hike just like Moses took up Mt. Sinai, Sadie is afraid she is too little to make it to the top, and tries to think of ways to be absent. But when the day comes, she learns that anyone can climb high enough to reach God.

No Rules for Michael
Michael thinks school would be more fun without rules and gets his wish. But is it exactly what he was hoping for?

Apr 15, 2016

Kid-Friendly Passover Activities!

Engage children in the story and traditions of Passover with these fun crafts and activities! From helping to decorate the seder table to learning about the ten plagues with hand-made puppets, these activities will help children feel like a part of the holiday.

Create a Beautiful Elijah's Cup
Elijah's cup is an important part of the Passover seder. This craft from The Shiksa in the Kitchen is great for older children, or young children with some adult assistance. Instructions here.

A Handmade Matzah Cover
Matzah is a ubiquitous part of every seder - and now it can have its very own unique cover! We like this matzah cover because it holds three pieces of matzah, each one in its own pocket. This craft is perfect for classrooms or at home. Instructions here.

From Highlights Kids.

Passover Word Search
Whether you're at school or at home, reinforce all those important Passover lessons with this word search, with over 20 important Passover vocabulary words! Get the word search here.

From apples4theteacher.com.

Passover Puppets
Tell the story of Passover in a fun and interactive way using these Passover finger puppets! Kids can color and cut out these finger puppets to put their own unique touch on the Passover tale. Template here.

From Ann D. Koffsky.

A Plague of Frogs
It has been decided - the plague of frogs is certainly the one to illustrate through crafts. Over at Creative Jewish Mom you can fold origami frogs (great for classrooms of older students) or make these little critters from pom-poms and pipe cleaners.

Make Your Own Seder Placemat
These seder placemats are a sweet handmade touch to a seder table, and reinforce the significance of each item on the seder plate. Instructions here.

From InCultureParent.

Four Cups Paper Chain
Decorate your home or classroom with this paper chain that reflects the four cups of wine at the seder. A simple craft that only needs scissors, paper, and markers!

From Creative Jewish Mom.

A Simple and Kid-Friendly Passover Snack
This matzah-based pizza is a fun and simple snack that kids can help make themselves! Go with basic cheese, or let kids decorate with toppings. Recipe here.

From Spoonful.

Create a 3-D Moses
With a template and a toilet paper roll, make a 3-D figure of Moses for storytelling or as a decoration for the classroom or seder table.

From DLTK.

And of course, read a good book!
Grab an old favorite, or read one of these new books from Kar-Ben! Available at the Kar-Ben website or your local Judaica store.

A Place for Elijah
As Sarah's family prepares for Passover, Sarah makes sure to save a chair at the table for the prophet Elijah who is said to visit every seder. But when the electricity goes out in the buildings across the street and the neighbors start arriving at Sarah's apartment, her parents invite each visitor to join the seder. Sarah adds another place setting for Elijah, and then another, but soon the table is full with people from her neighborhood and there are no more chairs to spare! How can Sarah honor the Passover tradition of saving a place for Elijah?

ABC Passover Hunt

A funny, colorful, interactive, rhyming search for Passover foods, customs, and symbols.

Passover is Coming!
Readers join a cute family and their dog as they prepare for and celebrate the spring holiday of Passover, cleaning the house, making matzah ball soup, assembling the seder plate, saying the Four Questions, and looking for the afikomen at the end of the seder. This 12-page board book features '3D-feeling' art by Viviana Garofoli, who illustrates all the books in this Jewish holiday series includingShabbat is Coming! and Hanukkah is Coming!

Apr 1, 2016

A Tasty Guest Post for Passover!

Kelly Easton Ruben is the author behind Kar-Ben's newest Passover story, A Place for Elijah. As Sarah's family prepares for Passover, Sarah makes sure to save a chair at the table for the prophet Elijah who is said to visit every seder. But when the electricity goes out in the buildings across the street and the neighbors start arriving at Sarah's apartment, her parents invite each visitor to join the seder. Sarah adds another place setting for Elijah, and then another, but soon the table is full with people from her neighborhood and there are no more chairs to spare! How can Sarah honor the Passover tradition of saving a place for Elijah?

Read Kelly's guest blog post below, and then check out her book over on the Kar-Ben website!

Writing My First Picture Book, I Think About Food! An Unleavened Blog, by Kelly Easton Ruben

My favorite Jewish Holiday is Passover. For one thing, there is the wonderful meal. I grew up with a mother who often referenced the family’s cook from her childhood, as in the question to my Dad: “Why don’t I get a cook like my mother did?” For some reason, she never tried to learn. A typical childhood supper cooked by my mother was baked steak, similar to a piece of tire, over-boiled pasty potatoes, and frozen peas, which once, were still icy on the inside. We were all skinny. Only the beagle was fat, since the leathery meat was passed under the table to him. The one Jewish food she “made” was lox and bagels, which we all loved. When I grew up, I was astonished to find that cooking was quite simple. On Passover we serve the traditional meal, personalized by special touches. My husband’s matzoh balls are like clouds from whipping the eggs into a frenzy. The broth has simmered for 24 hours, and is dotted with slivers of fresh dill. My matzoh kugel contains rosemary, roasted garlic, and sherry-poached mushrooms.

An aspect of Passover that is of equal import is storytelling. Each year we look for a different Haggadah for variations. Some of the food-related rituals that accompany the story of Passover exemplify one of Judaism’s most important edicts: compassion. The salty water on the Passover plate reminds us of the tears of the slaves. The ten drops of wine spilled expresses sympathy for the plagues suffered even by those who oppressed us. In a time when so many view “the other” as an enemy, Passover reminds us of our unity. Another aspect of this is setting a place for Elijah. This represents not only opening the door to spirituality itself, of unseen holiness, but caring for strangers, for “the other.” The principle of loving the stranger is central to Judaism. As it says in Leviticus 19:34: “You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” In “A Place for Elijah,” I wanted to demonstrate the family’s lovingkindness to their neighbors, and the joy they have of sharing their common humanity. With food, naturally. Joanne Friar’s illustrations captured that beautifully. I couldn’t be more pleased with the outcome.