Oct 5, 2016

Praying for Rain with Author Susan Tarcov

Susan Tarcov, author of Maya Prays for Rain, is our guest blogger. She grew up next to the Bronx Zoo, a great inspiration for writing children's books. She is married, has three children, and lives in Chicago. Maya Prays for Rain is the first (and only!) picture book about the Jewish holiday of Shemini Atzeret, which falls at the end of the fall harvest festival of Sukkot. 

The holidays of Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah fall at the end of Sukkot. In Israel they are celebrated on a single day; outside of Israel they are celebrated as two separate holidays. While these holidays are often thought of as part of Sukkot, they are actually holidays in their own right. Shemini Atzeret literally means "the assembly of the eighth (day)" as it falls after the seven days of Sukkot. Rabbinic literature explains that Sukkot is a holiday intended for all people, but when Sukkot is over, God invites the Jewish people to stay for an extra day and continue the celebration. Part of the Shemini Atzeret service is a prayer for rain, which officially begins Israel’s rainy season. Since the land of Israel relies so heavily on rain for its crops, this prayer is our request for the seas of Israel to fill and the crops to grow, providing both food and water for the people of Israel.

"I can’t say that Shemini Atzeret is my absolute favorite holiday, even though I just wrote a book about it. But I have always been moved by the little instruction in the Amidah that says that from Shemini Atzeret to Pesach we are to insert the words “You cause the wind to blow and the rain to fall.” Our rabbi explained that it was because that’s the rainy season in Israel. I like that Jews in the Diaspora pray for rain in Israel.

An interesting sidelight that turned up in my researches: The first halachic query from the New World was about the prayer for rain on Shemini Atzeret. In the seventeenth century, Jews newly settled in Brazil wrote to Rabbi Chaim Shabsi in Salonika complaining that they needed rain not between Shemini Atzeret and Pesach, but between Pesach and Shemini Atzeret. The rabbi replied that they could omit the prayer for rain on Shemini Atzeret, for “no congregation need pray against its want and need.” But for the sake of the unity of the Jewish world, their congregation couldn’t pray for rain at another time. They would each as individuals have to include a prayer for rain in their private prayers.

A further curiosity: the Brazilian Jews complained that “excessive rain in winter causes diseases and epidemics.” They must have meant the mosquito-borne illnesses that are a feature of summer. It seems that the first colonists of the southern hemisphere didn’t automatically call their hot season summer and their cold season winter. Instead they thought of their winters as being hot and their summers as being cold.

About Susan's book: It's a sunny fall day in Maya's neighborhood, and all her neighbors are busy with outdoor activities, from releasing some young butterflies to organizing a birthday scavenger hunt. But Maya learns that today is Shemini Atzeret, when the Jewish community prays for rain. Rain will ruin her neighbors' day! Maya rushes to warn them. Luckily, as her rabbi explains to her, it turns out that she doesn't need to worry. 

Oct 4, 2016

Have a Bowl of Chicken Soup with Author Pamela Mayer

Kar-Ben is delighted to interview Pamela Mayer, author of warm, thoughtful and sweet stories for children. 

Pamela's Kar-Ben book debut was the charming Don't Sneeze at the Wedding, a story about Anna who is scared she'll sneeze during her flower girl duties at her aunt's wedding. Along the way, she gets advice on how to stifle a big "achoo" while she participates in all the excitement of the day--everything from getting her hair done to signing the ketubah. (Yes, this is a must-buy if you have a little flower girl in your life.)

Chicken Soup, Chicken Soup is new this fall, and it is a terrific book about a young girl and her grandmothers' different-but-the-same soup. Praised by Kirkus as a "good-hearted tale," we think you'll like it. We caught up with Pamela to ask her about the book, and, of course, chicken soup.

KAR-BEN: What inspired you to write Chicken Soup, Chicken Soup?
PM: I have long been fascinated by food culture, especially how there are similar dishes prepared in different traditions, food like blintzes and crepes, for example. Kreplach and wonton are both dumplings, and nearly every world cuisine features some sort of dumpling. Food and family are both important in Chinese and Jewish culture. I knew I wanted to write about a family who was both Chinese and Jewish, so food was one of the first things I thought about. Growing up in San Francisco, I knew many Chinese families. In fact, we used to joke at my high school that if Rosh Hashanah and Chinese New Year were on the same day, the school would be empty!

KAR-BEN: What is your favorite chicken soup?
PM: My favorite chicken soup will always be the soup made by my grandmother, Manya Pavlovsky, my father's mother. She was a fabulous cook who made many wonderful dishes. Everything was homemade, from scratch, including the noodles and kreplach in her chicken soup. She cooked the way her mother had taught her in Russia, and her recipes were in her head, not written down. When she hosted a large family dinner, which she did often, she prepared many different dishes so that everyone could have one of their favorites. In addition, everyone left her house with a care package, enough food for dinner the next day. And don't even get me started on her desserts! Her cakes, cookies, and apple strudel were divine. Although she died in 1993, I still remember her good cooking. It was one of the ways my grandmother expressed her love for her family.
KAR-BEN: Why do you think chicken soup tastes so good, especially when made my Bubbes and Nai Nais?PM: Chicken soup has long been called the Jewish penicillin, and there is something to that. What tastes better than hot delicious soup when one is feeling ill or blue? Homemade food really does have that certain special ingredient. Of course, Jewish and Chinese grandmas like to see their grandchildren eat well, to grow up strong and healthy. I have a little granddaughter named Molly. I hope she will associate certain good foods, including homemade soup, with me, and with my love for her.

Get your copy of Chicken Soup, Chicken Soup today.