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.

Sep 15, 2015

Feed Your Kid's Body and Soul: High Holiday Books with Food Themes

By Jill Colella

A colleague and friend of mine who is a rabbi and an accomplished cook once likened the Jewish holiday dinner table to the bimah. Many of the components are the same— a raised surface, a gathering of people with a united purpose, and the sharing of (different forms) of sustenance with reverence and ritual. One way to experience Judaism is through its meals, especially those that happen during the fall harvest. For children especially, food is an accessible way of thinking about their wider worlds.

Basic food literacy is a critical foundation for building cooking skills, and appreciating the symbolism of food, like a beautifully braided round challah on the Rosh Hashanah table. As a writer of a Jewish cookbook for children, I was tasked with creating recipes that were basic enough for children to follow but meaningful enough for some deeper connection. This is why basic food literacy—the ability to identify ingredients—is incredibly important for children.

A few years ago during his TED Talk about the state of food for children, British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver screened a clip from his television show Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution. He was in a school classroom of six year olds in Huntington, West Virginia and had brought along different fresh vegetables. The  kids were unsuccessful in identifying fresh tomatoes!  One would think that any elementary school aged child could easily identify such a common vegetable.  And while adults may be able to identify most vegetables, many are not exactly confident about how to cook them.

We can think of cooking like reading. When you think about the act of reading, it seems difficult—recognize letters and groups of letters as sounds, and then combine those into words, and then understand a string of words as sentences. Yet, we do it, and we ask kids to do it from an early age. Cooking can be the same, and can be discovered through reading. Some of my favorite Kar-Ben books develop reading literacy, food literacy and cultural literacy all at the same time, in the most charming ways.

Talia and the Very YUM Kippur and Talia and the Rude Vegetables are clever and funny books that play with words as the title character is helping with preparations for High Holiday meals.


Apple Days tells the story of Katy, who loves making applesauce with her mother. Her enthusiasm will inspire curiosity in any reader. TheApple Tree’s Discovery is another great title for reading during “apple days,” with its message that each of us is a unique individual. The book also reveals a very special feature about apples, which will prompt young eaters to observe the foods they eat more closely.

Maybe the very best example of food literacy materials for children is What’s the Buzz? Honey for a Sweet New Year. The book provides photos of a school trip to an apiary (bee farm) in Israel. Truly a farm-to-fork book, the story will help young readers understand where the honey on the Rosh Hashanah table comes from.

Jill Colella is editor of two magazines about food for children, for readers ages 6-12, Ingredient ( and for readers ages 3-6, Butternut (