Jacqueline Dembar Greene is the award-winning author of more than 30 books for young readers. She loves to write stories about the Sephardic Jews who were her ancestors. Ms. Greene has traveled to Spain, walking in the ancient Jewish quarters in Barcelona, Madrid, Toledo, Seville and Cordoba. We interviewed Jacqueline about writing The Secret Shofar of Barcelona, a book that depicts a daring Rosh Hashanah celebration in a dark time in Jewish history:
"Musician Don Fernando longs to hear the sounds of the shofar on the High Holidays, but, like the other secret Jews in Inquisition-era Spain, he must hide his religion. When he is asked to perform a symphony celebrating the new world, he and his son Rafael devise a daring plan to usher in the Jewish New Year in plain sight of the Spanish nobility!"
There was a legend about a composer from Barcelona, who lived during the time of the Inquisition. It was said that he had dared to play the shofar during a concert, risking his life so that the secret Jews could hear it. That sketchy tale inspired me to create new characters, and research the history of music in 1500s Spain. I imagined a new story about young Rafael, who courageously blows the shofar on Rosh Hashanah eve, right under the noses of the dreaded Inquisition.
What is the most interesting thing you learned in the process of writing or illustrating your book?I was stunned to realize that the secret Jews living in Spain under the rule of the Inquisition had never heard the sound of the shofar. Not hearing that call during the High Holy Days would leave an empty feeling in anyone observing the holidays. I was also surprised to learn that the Spanish conquerors in New Spain (now Mexico) taught the native people to play western instruments, taught them to play church music, and used many native instruments, as well. It was a way to bring non-believers into the church service.
How do you hope your book will impact the Jewish life of a child?I always write a book to engage a reader or listener to use their imagination as they enter into a different world. The story of Rafael in The Secret Shofar of Barcelona shows how one person, even a child, can make a difference for many. It also demonstrates that standing up for your beliefs sometimes takes real courage.
Anything else you would like to share with readers?Books open new worlds to you, and every time you curl up with a book in your lap, you have a chance to let your imagination roam and have an armchair adventure. No matter how many electronic games and videos you might choose, a book is always what you make it in your own mind. Always have a book by your side—it doesn’t need a battery! Buy a copy of The Secret Shofar of Barcelona.