Mar 26, 2015

Matzah, Trains, and Passover

Passover is just over a week away, which means there's still time to get Haggadahs and books over at the Kar-Ben website!

In celebration of the upcoming holiday, this week we have another guest blog post, this one from Deborah Bodin Cohen, author of the "Engineer Ari" series! In this post, Deborah writes about what inspired her newest book, Engineer Ari and the Passover Rush.

You can also read another guest post about creating joyful Passover traditions from author Laura Gehl, or check out these reviews of this year's newest Passover stories in The Times of Israel!
"My daughter, Arianna, celebrated her Bat Mitzvah this past December.  Of course I'm biased, but she has grown into a terrific young woman with interests in soccer and chess.   But, back in pre-school, she loved trains – train books, train sets, building model trains.  We could entertain her just by taking her on a subway.   I felt similarly passionate – just not about trains.  I cared about the land of Israel and sought to share my love of Israel’s rich natural beauty with Arianna and other Jewish kids like her.   So, I combined her passion and my passion and Engineer Ari was born! 
When I lived in Israel as a rabbinical student, I passed the historical Jerusalem train station each day on my walk to class. That 100-year-old station intrigued me.  Back in the 1990s, it had fallen into disrepair but you could still ride the rails from Jerusalem to Jaffa, passing down the Judean hills into the fertile valley of orange groves and wild flowers that lead to the Mediterranean.  Now, thankfully, the station has been refurbished.

postcard of Jaffa station in the Ottoman period

In each of my Engineer Ari books, I try to focus on one historical element of Jaffa & Jerusalem railway.  The Rosh Hashana Ride recreates the railway’s celebratory opening in 1892 during the period of the Ottoman Turks.  In The Sukkah Express, Engineer Ari and his friends build a sukkah with the leftover supplies from the 2-year-old project of building of the railway.  The Hanukkah Mishap revolves around a reoccurring problem – camels that sat on rails.  

In The Passover Rush, I chose to focus on how the Jaffa & Jerusalem Railway changed how “time” was treated in the land of Israel.   Before the coming of the railway, time’s passage was marked primarily by Muslim calls to worship.  But, with the opening of the Jaffa & Jerusalem Railway, the European clock became predominant.   Muslim prayer times were even standardized to fit within the structure of railway time.   Time, which had been meandering and organic, now was subject to deadlines and the need to rush. 

Railway time made me think of making matza – a process that bound to time limits and schedules. Matza, from start to finish, has to be complete in 18 minutes.   Otherwise, it is not kosher.  The J & J Railway, though, tended to follow typical “Jewish time” – in other words, it was often late.   A correspondent named Mr. Vale wrote in 1901: “There are as many different timings at Jaffa and Jerusalem as there are clocks in those towns.  The railway clocks generally are 5 minutes behind the slowest ones, but on one occasion I saw the Jerusalem Station clock being suddenly advanced by 20 minutes just as the passenger train was going to start!”
I wish you a very joyful Passover.  In Israel, the old Jaffa & Jerusalem rails are most certainly covered with beautiful wild flowers at this time of year.  If you have a train enthusiast at home, please tell him or her to pull the whistle cord: choo, choo.   And, enjoy the ride!"

Deborah Bodin Cohen

Here are few great resources for Jewish kids who love trains:
Israel Railway Museum in Haifa has online line pictures and information:

The Jerusalem Train Station’s site includes a historical pictures and pictures of the restoration:
Haaretz newspaper wrote about the history of the word Rakevet, train engine:

Mar 23, 2015

Creating Joyous Passover Traditions

And Then Another Sheep Turned Up is a hilarious rhyming tale featuring an endearing family of sheep trying to get their Passover seder started. Just as soon as they're ready to begin, however, a long train of unexpected guests drop in!

Below is a guest post from And Then Another Sheep Turned Up author Laura Gehl about creating joyful Passover traditions with your family:

"Every family has its own Passover traditions.  One tradition we’ve started in my family is asking each person at the seder to sign the hagadah he or she is using that night.  This way, when we look at the inside cover of each hagadah, we see a list of names that helps us remember all the past years of joyful seders shared with different loved ones.

Here are a few traditions that I’ve heard recently from other families.  I can’t wait to try these with my own kids.

1)     Make a Maccabeats-inspired video.  While all the cousins are in town together for a big seder, take some time to have them act out the Passover story, or write their own Passover song, or come up with their own fun and crazy ideas for a video. As the kids get older, you can look back at each year’s video together to get excited for the holiday.

2)     When singing “Who Knows One?” (Echad Mi Yodea), make up your own words for each number.  3 is for the 3 little not-kosher pigs.  5 is for the 5 pieces of horseradish that Zayde ate.  The funnier the better.

3)     Not enough chairs for all the guests?  No problem.  Have a seder where everyone sits on the floor!  You can take this one step further and turn your living room into a Bedouin tent by covering walls, ceiling, and floor with brightly-colored fabric or sheets.

In my Passover book, And Then Another Sheep Turns Up, the sheep family runs out of chairs and has to use both a stool and a beach chair in order to seat everyone at the seder table.
In honor of the Sheep family, I’ve created a Passover version of musical chairs that you can play after reading the book: 
Step 1: The adult will set out chairs in a circle.  The number of chairs will be equal to one less than the number of kids.  Low, sturdy chairs that won’t tip or collapse are important for this game.  If you are concerned about safety, you can even put pillows on the floor instead of chairs.
Step 2: The adult will give a movement command, which could be “Dance!” “Skip!” “Jog!” “Twirl!” or “Gallop!”
Step 3: The kids will dance, skip, jog, twirl, or gallop around the circle while singing the chorus of “Dayenu.”
Step 4: At the end of the chorus, everyone will try to sit down.  The child who doesn’t end up with a chair will need to sit on another child’s lap.
Step 5: Remove one chair and repeat steps 2-4.  Now two children will end up on laps.
Step 6: Continue the game as long as possible, removing one chair after each round.  How many kids can pile onto one another’s laps before everyone ends up on the floor?  You will likely see kids start to strategize with one another, making sure the bigger kids sit down first and the smallest ones last.
Just as the Sheep family welcomes another and another and another unexpected (and late) arrival without getting annoyed, this version of musical chairs is all about welcoming and working together.  No sheep is ever left without a seat.
Wishing you and your family a joyous Passover…with or without any unexpected sheep turning up at the seder table!"
-- Laura Gehl
Laura Gehl is the author of And Then Another Sheep Turned Up and Hare and Tortoise Race Across Israel.  Her other books include One Big Pair of Underwear and the Peep and Egg series (hatching spring 2016).  Laura also writes about science for children and adults.  She lives with her husband and four children in Chevy Chase, Maryland.  Read more about Laura and her books at
Get And Then Another Sheep Turned Up, plus Haggadahs and more at!