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.

Mar 16, 2016

The Story Behind This Hamantaschen Story!

Laura Aron Milhander is the author of Kar-Ben's newest Purim story, Not for All the Hamantaschen in Town. In Not for All the Hamantaschen in Town, the Three Little Pigs- Rishon, Sheni, and Shlishi - are getting ready for the Purim carnival. They can't wait to play games, eat hamantaschen, and march in the Purim parade. But they all need crowns for their Purim costumes. Rishon makes his paper crown very quickly. Sheni spends a little more time on his poster board crown. Slishi works hardest and longest on his wonderful papier mache crown. But will their fun at the carnival be spoiled by the big bad wolf? After all, wolves love hamantaschen, too!

Read Laura's guest post all about hamantaschen below, and then check out her book over on the Kar-Ben website!

"Hamantaschen! Also called oznei haman, they deliciously link our diverse population of Jews, and just as our people are diverse, so are our hamantaschen.

There are hamantaschen made with cookie dough, yeast dough, honey dough, cream cheese dough, sour cream dough… Hamantaschen with the tried-and-true prune or poppy seed filling, apricot or raspberry filling… Hamantaschen with chocolate filling, chocolate hamantaschen with peanut butter filling… Girl Scout Cookie-inspired hamantaschen… Parve hamantaschen, dairy hamantaschen, even meat-filled hamantaschen… Palm-sized hamantaschen and single-bite hamantaschen… Hamantaschen recipes from professional cookbooks and temple sisterhood cookbooks, and from a multitude of websites… I can produce a hamantaschen resume that goes back decades. While I won’t be making “all the hamantaschen in town,” I’ll certainly be making enough for my family and for the shalach manot my children give their teachers (religious school and secular). But what kind of hamantaschen? Do you have a favorite recipe you stick to year after year, or do you browse online sites for new and unique challenges?

We Jews aren’t the only ones who loves hamantaschen, however. In Not for All the Hamantaschen in Town, there is a hungry wolf who has a craving for the Purim pastries, too, and he will do just about anything to get them, including huffing-and-puffing the crowns off three little pigs’ heads. I had the idea for writing Not for All the Hamantaschen in Town after reading my children a secular retelling of another fairy tale. Retellings are popular and frequently offer their readers insights into other cultures and traditions, and I wanted to create one with my own Jewish twist. Weaving Jewish holiday celebrations into familiar fairy tales would be something special to offer Jewish families, giving our children the chance to see well-known characters observing our holidays and learning valuable lessons as well. There is even a delectable hamantaschen recipe at the end of the story!

What recipe will you make? I have come full circle to find that my favorite hamantaschen are the traditional ones: A simple, sweet dough filled with poppy seed and apricot fillings. I may continue to try the latest recipes from year to year (taco hamantaschen, ├ęclair hamantaschen), but making hamantaschen like the ones our ancestors made and enjoyed as they, too, celebrated Purim really hits the spot.

I hope you have a Chag Purim Sameach!"

Mar 10, 2016

Perfect Purim Crafts for 2016!

Purim is a wonderful holiday to celebrate with children. Costumes, groggers, and hamantaschen afford many opportunities for creativity, imagination, and fun. Below we have some fun takes on these traditional activities, as well as some new crafts to celebrate at home or in the classroom!

Make Some Noise with Sammy Spider
This simple grogger is made using a paper plate, and is the same one in one of our favorite Purim books - Sammy Spider's First Purim! Get ready for the Megillah reading with this fun and easy craft for all ages. Instructions here.

Send a Hamantaschen Card
This cute cards fold up to look like hamantaschen, and unfold to reveal well-wishes for Purim! This simple craft, which requires paper, scissors, and markers, is great for at home or in the classroom. Find instructions here.

Jewish Heroes Project
Discuss the heroes of the Purim story. Students select and research their own Jewish hero, notable for his/her impact on Jewish/greater society. On Purim, organize a "living museum": students dress up as their heroes. The students should be able to give basic biographical information about their hero, in addition to discussing their impact. Each student has to interview another hero (hint: use the 5 W's to focus the students). Publish/hang up hero interviews. More educational ideas here.

From www.Lookstein.org.

Easy Purim Masks Complement Any Costume
With a little help, any kid can create their own costume using this simple DIY Purim mask! A perfect Purim craft for the classroom, or to accent an almost-complete costume, this masks allows kids to add their own artistic flair. Instructions here.

From Here We Are Together.

Beaded Crowns for Older Kids
If you kids are a little old for paper masks, or would enjoy more of a challenge, try these beaded crowns! They'll also last longer than paper masks, so could potentially be used in years to come. Different colors of beads can be used to complement different costumes, and instructions include both a "Queen's Crown" and a "King's Crown." Instructions here.

From Chadis Crafts Fun Pages.

Put on a Purim Puppet Show
Make your own puppets to put on a Purim play! These instructions and templates from JewishKids.org make it a fun and simple way to let everyone participate in telling the story of Purim. Instructions here

Test How Much You Really Know!
This fun and interactive Jeopardy-style quiz lets two people compete to answer Purim questions. Test your knowledge on your own, challenge a friend, or set up a family or classroom-sized competition to see who knows the most! Take the quiz here.

From Quia.com.

Make Your Own Megillah Scroll
Color the pictures on this page, then cut them out into two strips. Tape the strips together and tape the end to an empty paper towel roll cut to size. Roll up your Megillah and fasten with a ribbon or rubber band. Now you have your very own Megillah scroll that tells the story of Purim!

Learn More About Purim with a Good Book!
Children's books about Purim are a great way to enrich the holiday celebration. From learning all about Purim traditions with Sammy Spider to animals putting on a Purim play, these stories offer fun and interesting additions to any Purim celebration. These and other Purim books available on the Kar-Ben website!

Not for All the Hamantaschen in Town

The Three Little Pigs - Rishon, Sheni, and Shlishi - are getting ready for the Purim carnival. But they all need crowns for their Purim costumes. Rishon makes his paper crown very quickly. Sheni spends a little more time on his poster board crown. Slishi works hardest and longest on his wonderful papier mache crown. But will their fun at the carnival be spoiled by the big bad wolf? After all, wolves love hamantaschen, too!

Barnyard Purim
Purim is a topsy-turvy time, even on the farm. The animals decide to stage a Purim play, and Chicken assigns the parts. Blushing Duck is Queen Esther, Silly Horse is Ahashuerus, and Bearded Goat is Mordechai. But when they try to transform Shy Little Sheep into mean-looking Haman, something unexpected happens.

Sammy Spider's First Purim
Sammy Spider wants to help Josh get ready for Purim. Instead, he gets stuck inside a grogger. How will he escape?

The Queen Who Saved Her People
The Purim story has never been more fun! This lavishly rhyming tale is a wonderful read-aloud book, and its color-coded dialogue is perfect for Reader's Theater performances.

The Purim Superhero
Nate loves aliens and he really wants to wear an alien costume for Purim, but his friends are all dressing as superheroes and he wants to fit in. What will he do? With the help of his two dads he makes a surprising decision.

Nov 30, 2015

The True Story of Nonna

Karen Fisman is the author of Nonna's Hanukkah Surprise. Below, she shares the story of the Nonna who inspired her interfaith Hanukkah story.

You can get Nonna's Hanukkah Surprise, as well as Kar-Ben's annual Hanukkah deal, 8 Books for $8, on the Kar-Ben website.


In a couple of weeks time, I will be travelling to the remote Canadian city of Sault Ste Marie to do a reading of Nonna's Hanukkah Surprise. Sault Ste Marie, or the Soo as it is affectionately known, has a large population of second generation immigrant families. There are lots of Finns and Italians, but very few Jews. So why, you may be wondering, would I be travelling there to do a Hanukkah reading?

Well, if a book could have a birthplace, Nonna's Hanukkah Surprise would have been born in the Soo. That was where I first met Nonna, and it was also where I learned about the joy of sharing holiday traditions with non-Jewish family.

Nonna was Italian and Catholic. She had emigrated from Calabria to the Soo in the 1950's, settling in that bitterly cold city with its beautiful stark surroundings and a steel mill that provided jobs to new immigrants. When I met Nonna, she was in her seventies, and as the Italian immigrant community stuck together, I was one of the first Jews that she had ever met.

I still remember that first meeting: Nonna hugging me tight, then shepherding me to the kitchen where everyone was gathered. I was peppered with questions about my family and what I did. The topic of my Jewish identity went untouched, but when dinner was served, Nonna took me aside to share that, especially for me, she'd made her meatballs without pork that day. Several years later our son was born, and the issues became larger than pork in the meatballs. We had decided to raise our kids as Jews and Nonna struggled to understand how this would impact her grandchild. When she came to visit the new baby, she brought him a gift, a Magen David and a cross, hanging together on a gold chain as in her mind, her grandchild was both Jewish and Christian. My husband gently explained that this was not the case. There would be no baptism, but there would be a bris. Her grandchild would be raised as a Jew.

We'll never know what internal struggle Nonna might have had with our decision. We only experienced her full-on effort to understand and be a part of our Jewish lives. She visited us during the holidays, paying close attention at the Passover seders, and witnessing (though not participating in) our Yom Kippur fasts. We would visit her at Christmas, bringing along first one child and then two, excluding ourselves from church services, but enjoying the holiday feasts and family time.

As our kids got older, we started packing a Hanukkah bag for our Christmas visits, whether the holidays coincided or not. Our kids delighted in teaching Nonna and the cousins to play dreidl, using chocolate gelt as currency. In subsequent years, the Hanukkah bag grew as our kids contributed their ideas. We schlepped Hanukkah decorations, menorah, beeswax candles and Hanukkah stories along. We also bought Nonna a food processor to expedite our latke making, as latkes had become a staple of the holiday feasts. It was a wonderful way of sharing our celebration as Nonna and the cousins were sharing theirs.

Nonna passed away some years ago. Reflecting on the sweet memories of our holiday visits, I wrote Nonna's Hanukkah Surprise, about an inter-faith family's holiday celebration. The story is about little Rachel, who brings Hanukkah to her non-Jewish Nonna's house. When things happen to go awry, it's Nonna (of course) who steps up to save the day.

So now, I imagine, you can understand why I will be travelling to the Soo with my family and our Hanukkah bag to do a Hanukkah reading. The reading will be hosted by the church that Nonna used to belong to. Churchgoers will be at the event along with members of the Soo's Jewish community. And I will be sharing Nonna's Hanukkah Surprise and its message of love and acceptance with all of them.

Happy Hanukkah to all!

Sep 25, 2015

Celebrating and Sharing this Sukkot

By Rebecca Goldsteen

Find Shanghai Sukkah and more great Sukkot titles at the Kar-Ben website.

The Jewish people are unique in many ways, including the ways in which we celebrate our holidays. Instead of just remembering the past, our customs remind us to look to the future and many of our holiday rituals lend themselves to being reinterpreted for the age in which we live. On Sukkot, for example, we build a sukkah in which we eat and, weather permitting (I’m from Minnesota!), sleep. Not only does this remind us of the huts in which the Jews lived as they wandered in the desert for 40 years, but it also reminds us to appreciate the natural world – the weather, the harvest, the outdoors.

Growing up, I knew that the end of Yom Kippur meant that Sukkot was coming. My brothers and I helped my dad build the sukkah, which usually involved my dad doing all the real building, with my brothers helping hold things up, and me trying to figure out how to tie fruit onto strings without it falling off the sukkah roof, still a struggle for me after 20 years. We brought home sukkah decorations we made in day school and did our best to make our sukkah as beautiful as possible. With the arrival of Sukkot, we took turns saying the blessings and shaking the lulav and etrog. We ate delicious dinners of fruits and vegetables, kugel, and kreplach. If it wasn’t too cold outside, we would put on our warmest pajamas, take our sleeping bags and pillows, and camp out in our sukkah telling stories into the night.

Like Marcus in the book “Shanghai Sukkah,”who wonders how he will celebrate Sukkot in his new home in Shanghai,  I wondered how I would celebrate Sukkot  when I started school at the University of Illinois three years ago. Fortunately, my school has a wonderful Chabad, Hillel, and JET (Jewish Education Team), each with its own sukkah. In fact, Chabad even sets up a sukkah outside my freshman dorm (many Jewish freshmen tend to live in this dorm) and brings a portable sukkah along with a lulav and etrog to the quad. Each of these organizations welcomes students and other visitors to eat dinner and socialize in their sukkot.

Understanding the importance of celebrating Jewish holidays begins at a young age. I have many friends who identify strongly as Jews, but don’t know the first thing about the holiday of Sukkot. They’re familiar with Hanukkah and Passover and Shabbat, but if their family didn’t celebrate Sukkot, they didn’t have the chance to learn about this very wonderful holiday. It’s important to understand our traditions and I feel lucky that I grew up in a home infused with Jewish celebration.  One friend of mine at college, once told me that she wants to know more about Judaism but is afraid to go to any of the Jewish organizations on campus because she doesn’t feel that she is “Jewish enough.” I told her that it’s never too late to learn new things about Jewish life, and that all these campus organizations are eager to welcome students just like her. The first step to embracing Judaism is to overcome the fear of thinking that you don’t know enough. None of us know everything so we’re all somewhere on the knowledge continuum!

In “Shanghai Sukkah,” when Marcus’ family flees the Holocaust, moving to Shanghai from Berlin, he befriends a Chinese boy named Liang. These two share their respective Sukkot and Moon Festival customs with each other, and Liang surprises Marcus by decorating Marcus’ sukkah with Chinese lanterns. And Marcus attends Liang’s Moon Festival celebration.

Like Marcus, I try my best to share with my peers --both Jewish and non-Jewish—my love of  Judaism.  I have convinced many of my Jewish friends to come celebrate the Jewish holidays with me on campus when they would likely have been more comfortable not participating. They always say they’re glad they came and that the celebrations make them appreciate being Jewish.

Education is never a bad thing. As we see in “Shanghai Sukkah,” the better we understand – and share -- our own customs and traditions, the more meaningful they become.  Chag sameach!

Rebecca Goldsteen , a student at the University of Illinois, was Kar-Ben’s summer intern.