Jan 6, 2017

Bagels in Costa Rica! Inspiration from Author Ilana Long

  Kar-Ben author Ilana Long shares her love of bagels and inspiration for her book about bagels, Ziggy's Big Idea .
    
  I got the big idea for my book Ziggy’s Big Idea when my mother-in-law returned from a talk on the history of the bagel, and I knew I had my topic for a children’s book! I’ve always been a bit of a bagel fanatic. I grew up in Cleveland as the granddaughter of a rabbi, and it was our Sunday morning ritual to head to the local deli and order a bagel slathered with cream cheese, topped off with a decadent slice of lox. Capers and red onions were optional! But no matter how they were decorated, bagels always reminded of family, comfort, nostalgia and home.

            So when I moved to Costa Rica with my husband and twin teenagers three years ago to teach at an international school, I missed my Sunday treat. Sure, I tried to make do with tortillas sprinkled with sesame seeds, but let me tell you, they didn’t even come close! I craved the rich, dense bread and the toasted perfection of my youth!

            On Friday nights, I attended services at our Costa Rican synagogue. After the service, the congregation snacked on cakes and cookies and carrot sticks as we chatted and I tried desperately to pick up on the Spanish conversations. 

            One evening, famished, I headed for the snack table and nearly fell over with excitement. There on the table was a basket of bagels. In Costa Rica! There was cream cheese, lox and red onion, too.  If it hadn’t been for the urgings of my children: “Mom! They’re just bagels. Save some for the rest of us!” I might have devoured the entire basket! 

            “Where did they come from?” I asked, my mouth full, still in blissful awe.

            “I make ‘em. I’m the Costa Rican bagel guy!” It was David Feingold, originally from Boston. His baking business, “Boston Bagels” (in Costa Rica) provides bagels, pizza dough and challahs not only for Costa Rica, but also for other lucky Central American countries. Everything bagels, sesame, poppy seed, and all manner of Boston Bagel flavors can be found in restaurants, store fronts and major stores in Central America.

                “Before founding the company, my wife Olga and I met as students in the United States where we often frequented east coast bagel shops.  Upon moving to Costa Rica, in 1997 we were pioneers in promoting bagels and opened Boston Bagel, the first bagel bakery in Costa Rica.  In 2012 we began to export our products to the rest of Central America.”
            
Boston Bagels took part recently in helping out the Costa Rican community after the terrible devastation here from Hurricane Otto. The employees recycled used flour bags to fill with care packages for the daily needs of the victims. Also, Feingold’s company provided bagels and cream cheese for the many volunteers at the Red Cross of Costa Rica.

            Happily, I now bring bagels to school with my lunch, eat them on the beach and take them with me on jungle hikes. I have to be careful munching on a deli bagel if I spot white-faced monkeys in the trees.  I’m not the only one who craves these delicious treats, no matter where in the world I find myself!


Dec 14, 2016

Interview: A Hanukkah with Mazel Author Joel Stein

Get to know Joel Stein, author of A Hanukkah with Mazel. Learn what inspired his sweet Hanukkah story about a stray cat and friendship.
What was your favorite book when you were a child? 
 Alice in Wonderland
 
What’s your favorite line from a book?                            
“I knew who I was this morning, but I've changed a few times since then.” Lewis Carroll -  Alice's Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass

Who are your top three favorite authors or illustrators?
Robert Cormier, Isaac Bashevis Singer, and Patricia Palacco are among my favorite  authors.

Why did you want to become an author?
The works of authors and illustrators have fascinated me since I was a child. I wanted to be a part of that world.

Do you have any advice for future authors or illustrators? 
Write. Write. Write. And write some more. if you believe in what you're doing, never give up your dream.

 Where did you get the inspiration for your latest or upcoming Kar-Ben book, A Hanukkah with Mazel?
Once upon a time I had aspirations of becoming an artist.  The thought came to me -- what would an artist do if he was so poor that he couldn't even afford candles to celebrate Chanukah with? And what if he lived in Grodno; the shtetl my mother grew up in?
What are you most excited about promoting in your new book?
The Chanukah story, at its core, is a story of hope and of miracles that sometimes occur unexpectedly. I'm excited to tell the story from a different perspective.

What is the most interesting thing you learned in the process of writing or illustrating your book?
Sometimes strong characters begin to have a mind of their own and can lead the story in a different direction from the one first intended.

How do you hope your book will impact the Jewish life of a child? 
I'm hoping that children can see the true meaning of Chanukah and the richness that its tradition brings. Along with that, I hope they see the kindness a poor artist shows for a small cat who wanders unexpectedly to his home one night. 

What are you working on now?
I'm currently working on Itzchak the Fiddler. It's about the extraordinary violin virtuoso, Itzchak Perlman. 

What are some fun facts about you?
At one time, I thought about becoming a veterinarian. When I'm not writing or reading, I practice Tai Chi and I also enjoy playing the viola. 

Get your copy of A Hanukkah with Mazel now. 

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
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?