Nov 3, 2014

A Truly Remarkable Bat Mitzvah!

Our November Book of the Month is Bubbe's Belated Bat Mitzvah, written by Isabel Pinson and illustrated by Valeria Cis. When Naomi convinces her 95-year-old great-grandmother that it’s not too late to become a Bat Mitzvah, all the cousins pitch in to help Bubbe celebrate her big day. While usually it’s the grandmother that teaches the child, in this story the tables are turned and Naomi realizes that she has something very special to teach her great-grandmother.

We love the intergenerational aspect of this story. Naomi and her grandmother have a lot to teach one another, and Naomi's cousins all help Bubbe prepare as well. Bubbe also tells Naomi about the evolution of bat mitzvahs, adding an incredible and fascinating historical aspect to their story. Overall, we cannot recommend this book enough. It's a sweet, touching way to honor and appreciate Bat Mitzvahs and family members of every age.

In celebration of Bubbe's Belated Bat Mitzvah, we've included a book trailer and guest post from the author below! Pick up a copy for your family here or at your local Judaica store!

"I never intended to write a children’s book – it happened quite by accident. 

My mother, Esther Silverman, at the age of 95 was studying to become a Bat Mitzvah when I was asked if I would write a children’s story about the event.  My “instructions” were to include a multi-generational theme and of course the Bat Mitzvah itself.  I am a preschool librarian and I’ve read hundreds of picture books over the years and I can sense when a story will entice and engage.  Keeping those story elements in mind, I decided to give it a try.

The first draft was very sentimental – no, that wouldn’t do.  I rewrote it and asked a Middle School English teacher for her thoughts; it still wasn’t right.  I went back to the keyboard for another rewrite and this time I asked an established author for her opinion. She was very direct, but I was not comfortable with her writing style criticisms.  After thinking about the story again, I suddenly found my own voice.  Yes, I would write the story from a young girl’s point of view, in this case a great-granddaughter.  Let Bubbe explain the “evolution” of Bat Mitzvah of the women in the child’s family!  Let the child dream about this event for Bubbe!  Let Bubbe imagine herself as a Bat Mitzvah!   And of course, let all the great-grandchildren take part!  The illustrator, Valeria Cis, captured all these scenes in vibrant, expressive illustrations.

My mother, on the other hand, has a different story to tell of her Bat Mitzvah experience.  While reluctant at first to even consider such an idea, she pondered it and she decided to give it a try.  The studying, at the very least, would keep her mind sharp.  She was, in the end, pleasantly surprised.  She was affected by the remarkable young women in her class.  Many were Jews by Choice, all juggling family and professional obligations at the same time. They came with a curiosity, a modern world outlook and an intense spirituality. Esther came to the group with all the values of a traditional Jewish upbringing, living a full, rich, Jewish life.   She tenderly imparted so much to the group – her Jewish knowledge, her hands-on “recipe” for Jewish living, and the wisdom of her years.  She was a wonderful role model for each and every woman in the class.  On their Bat Mitzvah day, not only did these women prove their Jewish learning to all their family and friends, but they gracefully showed their respect for each other.  What a wonderful example for Bubbe’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren to emulate! 
Mazal Tov to Bubbe and to the b’not mitzvah on this milestone!"

Oct 15, 2014

7 Activities for Simchat Torah

Simchat Torah is just a few days away, and this year a very special book has us incredibly excited for the holiday - The Patchwork Torah. You can read more about it and see a book trailer below. We've also put together a handful of kid-friendly activities to help you celebrate at home or in the classroom!

Candy Torah Scrolls
A sweet (literally!) and easy way for children to make their own miniature Torah scrolls, this activity is great for the classroom as children can manage it without much help. When they've paraded with their scrolls, they'll have a treat to enjoy as well! From Challah Crumbs.

A Torah Poster
This poster can be used year-round, or just on Simchat Torah, to remind children of all the stories the Torah contains. Putting the poster together on Simchat Torah is a great way to commemorate the past year of Torah readings, or it can be used to review and preview what will be read in the coming year!

Felt Torahs
Another sweet way for children to make their own miniature Torahs to celebrate with, these felt Torahs are more durable and lasting than the candy Torah scrolls. From

Torah Blintzes or Sandwich Rolls
Celebrate Simchat Torah with a quick and fun snack - there are a slew of recipes on the Internet, including this one for blintzes with pretzel sticks, and this one, for turkey sandwich rolls with carrot sticks.

Candy Apples
Remember how sweet it is to learn the Torah with candy apples! Prepared ahead of time, they can even be used to top children's miniature flags for Simchat Torah celebrations. Try traditional candy apples, or try caramel apples for a just as sweet but less sticky treat.

Color the Israeli Flag
Israeli flags are also an important part of Simchat Torah celebrations. Use this printable flag and have children color their own to carry.

Read a Good Book!
Simchat Torah celebrates the Torah, the Jewish people's favorite story to read again and again - so what better holiday to celebrate with a good book? Our October Book of the Month is The Patchwork Torah. Take a look at the book trailer below, featuring beautiful art by Elsa Oriol, and find it on the Kar-Ben website.
You can also celebrate Simchat Torah with everyone's favorite spider in Sammy Spider's First Simchat Torah. Learn along with Sammy as he watches Josh Shapiro get ready with his own flag and candy apple, and learns about why the Torah is the Jewish people's favorite story.

Oct 8, 2014

The Story Behind the Patchwork Torah

Our October book of the month is The Patchwork Torah, by Allison Ofanansky. There are so many things we love about this book! It has warm, beautiful illustrations that accompany a touching and unique intergenerational story. Books for Simchat Torah aren't that easy to come by, but this is a great one, as it features two celebrations of the holiday. A message about recycling means that this book is a good fit for the spring and Earth Day as well. Below, watch the book trailer and read a guest post from author Allison Ofanansky about her inspiration for this very special story!

"The story of the Patchwork Torah was inspired by a real Torah put together from rescued and repaired remnants of old and damaged scrolls. Like the scroll that David puts together in the story, this Torah contains sections that were written by a number of soferim (scribes) that lived in different times and places. We don’t know the stories behind the sections in this Torah. The stories of the scrolls that David collects in the book are made up, though some are based on real historic events (the Holocaust, Hurricane Katrina).

A real patchwork Torah was purchased by my community in Tzfat, Israel in 2009. There are many Torah scrolls in synagogues in the city of Tzfat, but these are strictly Orthodox and women can’t come up for an aliyah or read from the Torah or dance with it on holidays. So a group of friends decided to buy a Torah to which women could have access.

We held an auction to raise money. People donated things to be auctioned off. (I donated some of the books in the Nature in Israel series.) Then we bid to buy each others’ donations (I bought a funny wax sculpture). We raised a fair amount of money at the auction, but not enough for a new Torah scroll, which costs between $15,000 and $30,000. Then we heard about a ‘recycled’ Torah which had been put together with parts of several damaged scrolls to make a whole, kosher Torah. We had enough money to buy it!

Once we got this Torah, we realized how special and beautiful it is. Throughout the year, as we read through the scroll, we can see the distinctive calligraphy of seven soferim who wrote various parts (three large sections and four small ones). Some wrote simple letters, others added fancy decorations. Even though there are strict laws for writing a kosher Torah, and each letter must be perfect, there is still room for soferim to express their individual styles. This Torah suits our community, because we also come from many different places, with our own individual styles, and together make something new.

We have enjoyed celebrating with this Torah over the past few years. My daughter Aravah (whose pictures you may have seen in my Nature in Israel books) read from it at her bat mitzvah. All four of her grandparents came up for an aliyah. On Simchat Torah, women and girls dance with the scroll. I’ve seen women who never had a chance before to touch a Torah scroll cradling it like a baby, with tears in their eyes.

I’d like to imagine that David’s granddaughter, who gives him the idea to make the recycled Torah, will read from their patchwork Torah at her bat mitzvah—maybe even become a sofer herself! (On women scribes-- soferot -- see"
Aravah reading from the real ‘patchwork Torah’ at her bat mitzvah, with both her grandmothers beside her.
Aravah holding the Torah at her bat mitzvah.
Photographs by Eliyhu Alpern, 2012

Sep 16, 2014

Rosh Hashanah Activities for Home and Classroom!

Rosh Hashanah is just around the corner! It's one of our favorite holidays here at Kar-Ben - there's delicious apples and honey to be eaten, the first chilly feeling of fall in the air, a year to look back on and be thankful for, and a whole new year to look forward to! To help celebrate, we've found some fun and thoughtful Rosh Hashanah activities great for both the home and classroom.

L'shanah tovah!

Apple Blessings Placemat
These adorable and easy placemats are also a great way to remember the blessings for eating the traditional Rosh Hashanah apples and honey. Using halved apples and poster paint to decorate the placemates gives them a special fall feeling, and makes for an affordable classroom activity too! From Kveller.

Apples in short supply? You can use the ends of bottle corks instead! Cutting a small divot out of the cork with make the stamp more apple-shaped, and green marker can be used to add a leaf detail.

Hanging Apple Decorations
These sweet decorations are a great way to reuse plastic bottles. In fact, many part of this craft can be made from extra materials lying around the house, making this a great spur-of-the-moment craft! A great activity for older children, or for younger children with help from an adult. The end result is a beautiful apple decoration that you can even use again at Sukkot! From Joyful Jewish.

3-D Shanah Tovah Card
A great classroom activity for older kids, the end result is a pop-up book-style card to give to family or friends to wish them l'shanah tovah! All that's required is the card template, coloring supplies, glue or tape, and scissors. From

Stained Glass Fish
This neat craft lets kids create a beautiful stained-glass effects just using materials found at home. This symbol of abundance is a wonderful decoration for the holiday, whether you partake in eating a fish's head or not!

Paper Shofar
These colorful and kid-friendly shofars will make sure that everyone is able to help ring in the new year! The materials are simple and classroom friendly too, making this a great craft for school. From Joyful Jewish.

Edible Honey Bowl
A new and creative touch to add to the traditional apples and honey, this is a craft for a kid to do with a little help and a lot of supervision. From Kveller.

Shofar Word Search
A great way to engage kids in a discussion of the many important and meaningful elements of Rosh Hashanah. From

Papier Mache Apple
This is a more time- and materials-intensive craft, but the payoff is wonderful - a papier mache apple to fill with each child's hopes or plans for the coming year. From How Stuff Works.

Cinnamon-Apple Honey Cake
A twist on the traditional Rosh Hashanah honey cake, this sweet treat is relatively simple and provides lots of places for kids to help out in the kitchen! From Taste of Home.

And, of course, read a good book!
Have you taken a look at Apple Days: A Rosh Hashanah Story yet? It's a wonderful holiday story about Katy, whose favorite holiday is Rosh Hashanah, when she gets to pick apples and make applesauce with her mother. But what happens when the tradition is interrupted by the early arrival of her new baby cousin?

Check out this blog post from author Allison Sarnoff Soffer (you can also watch the book trailer), and use the Activity Guide for more Apple Days-inspired activities and reading questions!

Sep 2, 2014

Apple Days: Behind the Scenes

We're so excited to announce our September Book of the Month, Apple Days: A Rosh Hashanah Story! Apple Days tells the story of Katy, whose favorite holiday is Rosh Hashanah, when she gets to pick apples and make applesauce with her mother. But what happens when the tradition is interrupted by the early arrival of her new baby cousin?

We love this book because it presents a situation to which every kid can relate - when family priorities must sometimes change - and Katy handles the change of plans both realistically and admirably. With a new twist on the traditional apples and honey for Rosh Hashanah, a community that comes together to lend a hand, and a sweet family tradition, there are an abundance of things to love about Apple Days!

Below, check out the book trailer and a guest post from the author, or head over to the Kar-Ben website for an Activity Guide or to get a copy of the book!

Watch the book trailer:

And read a guest post from author Allison Sarnoff Soffer!
"I want to share a bit about the story behind the story of Apple Days.

For years I’ve cherished a random collection of impressions about apples that have somehow felt connected.   As a child, I remember watching my father peel a Granny Smith apple with his Swiss army knife, removing one very long coil of light green skin. The gently spiced scent of my mother’s apple crisp baking for company also stays with me.  Later, when I became a parent, I savored my family’s experience of apple-picking at a local orchard and returning home to make applesauce for Rosh Hashanah.  Suggested by a friend, this outdoor respite from the busyness of September was to become an annual tradition.

I found myself jotting down apple ideas that I read or heard about.  A short essay about a child watching grown-up hands slicing apples evoked strong identification.  The image of a wedding tradition where guests presented apples to the bride’s parents also impressed me.   Then to my delight, I received an assignment to bring our favorite fruit to a family retreat to contribute to a community fruit salad. Of course, we brought apples!

When we broke into groups at the retreat, I had the chance to describe our family’s apple-picking tradition. I realized that I had never before articulated it.  There was more to understanding the meaning of our trips to the orchard, which grew out of a poignant need, I explained.  Because I lost my mother as a young woman, I had to find a way to be able to celebrate with my young children, to protect them from my sense of loss as the High Holy Days approached.  Getting outside, instead of preparing entirely in the kitchen, became my unexpected answer.  One group member was listening carefully: children’s author and rabbi Mindy Portnoy.   

At this point in my life, I was a new teacher at Temple Sinai Nursery School where I would eventually set the story. A significant development at school inspired the story’s turning point. A beloved teacher was ill and the community galvanized to help.  Children, watching their parents and teachers acting on their kindest instincts, wanted to join the effort. They initiated their own baking efforts culminating in a series of sales that raised almost $5,000 over several months.

I let my mind work on these varied impressions as I always do when I am deep in a writing process.  As Rabbi Portnoy and I met to discuss ideas, the arc of the story slowly came together. Of course, it was going to be a book about apples. Its premise would be the anticipation of our family’s beloved apple-picking ritual by a mother and a daughter. It would focus on disappointment overcome in an unexpected way, the power of community, and the competence of children. 

Apple Days took about a year to write, through two Rosh Hashanahs, and many revisions. When it was done, it felt more complete than anything that I had ever written.  To me, this story was crying out to be told, to get off of my computer screen and into the world. 

I hope that children will listen to Apple Days during a teachable moment with their parents or teachers, when they can pause and really hear it.  Perhaps it will inspire them to welcome the Jewish New Year at a local orchard or to try a new apple recipe.  Maybe Apple Days will spark an idea for a completely novel holiday tradition, or encourage a child to help a struggling friend.  You just never know what can happen.  This is my hope for Apple Days."

Aug 4, 2014

August Book of the Month: Goldie Takes a Stand

This month, Kar-Ben is thrilled to introduce a new feature on our website and Facebook: the Kar-Ben Book of the Month! Each month, we're going to feature a book from our current season that we think is particularly relevant, interesting, or exciting. Each book of the month will come with a guest blog post from the author and a book trailer, as well as additional information on why we love the book!

Our first featured Book of the Month is Goldie Takes a Stand: Golda Meir's First Crusade by Barbara Krasner. Even at the age of nine, little Golda Meir was known for her leadership skills. As president of the American Young Sisters Society, she organized friends to raise money to buy textbooks for immigrant classmates. This story is a glimpse at the early life of Israel's first female Prime Minister.

We love this book because it has an empowering and compassionate message for children. Goldie notices the needs of her classmates, and isn't daunted by the setbacks she faces when trying to solve that problem. It's also a great story, based on true events, about Israel's first female Prime Minister! Pick up a copy here.

Writing about Golda Meir’s early days in Milwaukee, Wisconsin

a guest post from Barbara Krasner

In August 2010, I was spending two weeks at a writers retreat at the Highlights Foundation in Pennsylvania. There was a slight break between the two weeks over a weekend. On that Sunday, I was invited as press to attend the annual reading of the Moses Seixas and George Washington letters of religious tolerance at the Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island.

I wanted to take a break from writing intensely during the first week. I perused the titles on the Highlights shelves and found Golda Meir’s autobiography. That Saturday night, ensconced in a flea-bitten motel across the bay from Newport, I began to read Golda’s autobiography. Her voice was unmistakable, full of self and authority.

At first she wrote of her beginnings in Ukraine and her immigration to the United States, specifically Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Then within two pages, she described the formation of the American Young Sisters Society and how she, as president, marshalled their resources to buy school books for their classmates who could not afford to buy their own. I knew this was the story I wanted to share.

Researching Goldie’s early life

Many resources could tell me about Golda Meir, the Israeli prime minister, but few allowed me to delve deeply into young Goldie’s life. I contacted the Milwaukee Jewish Historical Society and spoke with archivist Jay Hyland. He was able to locate the September 2, 1909 Milwaukee Journal article about the American Young Sisters Society and their fundraiser. It even had their picture. Jay sent me the article.

Historical accuracy is important to me as a historian, so I consulted histories of the Jewish community in Milwaukee and, through the help of a friend in the Milwaukee school district, a history of the Milwaukee public school system. I also worked with Norman Provizer, director of the Golda Meir Center for Political Leadership at Metropolitan State College of Denver, to ensure accuracy. Dr. Provizer and I had some discussion about the spelling of Goldie’s maiden name, because it appeared in historical records in a variety of ways. We finally presented it in the back matter as Mabowehz and Mabovitch. Spelling back then wasn’t as important as it is now.

Accommodating Goldie’s strong voice

It’s unusual to have the main character of a picture book speak for herself. Goldie’s voice was so strong that using the first person “I” was the only way to get her bravado across. She was a force to be reckoned with and her attitude had to come out through the story.

What would Goldie do?

I’ll be promoting Goldie Takes a Stand! Golda Meir’s First Crusade, naturally (as Goldie would say) in a program called, “What Would Goldie Do?” She set high standards for herself, and I suspect for everyone around her. In this program, I’ll pose some scenarios and ask kids what they would do. Then I’ll ask what Goldie would do. I bet there’ll be some differences! We’ll talk about some ideas how they can practice tikkun olam, repairing the world, just like Goldie—how they can help someone they know to make his or her life just a little better.

Contact Barbara about her programs.

Jul 17, 2014

On Storks, Sirens, and Missles

This week's blog post is a guest piece from Tami Lehman-Wilzig, the author of many Kar-Ben favorites, such as Passover Around the World and Zvuvi's Israel, as well as the new Fall 2014 book Stork's Landing.
"As I sit in my office, which also happens to be our safe room in our Kfar Saba apartment, I wonder how am I ever going to focus on the fact that my new book – Stork's Landing – will be hitting bookstore shelves in less than two weeks' time. I should be excited, but the existential question of the hour is far more pressing for me as an Israeli citizen.

Just this morning, as my husband and I sat down to breakfast, we were treated to two siren alerts. Nine hours later we 'enjoyed' a bookend effect as we sat down to dinner. Lodged behind a heavy metal door, checking the minute-by-minute news on the internet, my mind wandered to the video that went viral two days ago, in which one Israeli pilot signaled another to pass over a target because children were clearly visible. I was struck by our humanity, a compassion clearly missing on the other side. Then it hit me. This is the connection with Stork's Landing. A touching nature tale set in Israel, it highlights the Jewish bent to reach out and care for the wounded through a focus on the Jewish value of kindness to animals.

It's a gentle story, beginning with the fact that Kibbutz fish farmers must place nets over their  fishponds in order to shield their fish from ravenous birds flying above. To an extent, these nets are to the fish as what the Iron Dome is to our population. They are there to protect and preserve.  Sure enough when a hungry stork comes in for a landing it gets caught in the net, breaks its wing to the serious extent that it cannot be operated on, yet the kibbutz members don't put it to sleep. They nurture and shelter it, providing a secure surrounding. A true parallel to the Palestinians being treated in Israeli hospitals, even during these worn, torn times. A fact rarely covered in the world press.

So while we hover in what I smilingly call our 'War Room,' I am now focusing on the fact that Stork's Landing is a Jewish everyman's tale and how lucky all Jews are to have the State of Israel. We live by the same book, we perpetuate the same values, and we will make sure we remain a safe haven  for all Jews.  In the meantime, come early autumn may only storks, not missiles, land on our shores."

Stork's Landing
by Tami Lehman-Wilzig
illustrated by Anna Shuttlewood

When a migrating stork gets tangled in a net in the fish ponds on Maya’s kibbutz, Maya wonders what to do. She and her father build a makeshift nest for the wounded stork, who Maya names Yaffa. The problem becomes more complicated, however, when two storks settle in a tree nearby.
Can Maya and her father find a way to nurse it back to health and send it back into the wild? Set in Israel, this story brings the beauty of nature in Israel to life and highlights an unusual part of Israeli life – the kibbutz.

This sensitively told nature tale focuses on the Jewish value of caring for animals, while at the same time subtly incorporates issues of adoption and acceptance of those with differences.
Available on the Kar-Ben website.