It’s “The Head of the Year” or Rosh Hashanah! Celebrate with the Picture Book Called “Happy New Year, Beni”; Story and Pictures by Jane Breskin Zalben
I love picture books that celebrate the easy and familiar give and take that should exist between the older generation and the younger ones.
For they are the shoulders on which we stand; for they modeled and upheld the many sacred traditions of family and faith that many families still embrace.
And in that vein, meet Beni, Sara and Max. Beni and Sara are siblings with Max being their cousin, who have all been invited to Grandma and Grandpa’s house to celebrate the Jewish feast of Rosh Hashanah.
Even the sweet formality of the invite sets the tone as it is proffered in the form of a hand written letter sent to them that Beni and Sara find after school.
Grandpa and I would like you to come for the holidays. We’ve set up the bedrooms. There’s plenty of room. Everyone will be here.
Love and kisses,
Grandma and Grandpa
The easy familiarity of the note beckons to all the extended family to gather for the celebration. And Ms. Breskin’s Zalben, in both art and narrative does not disappoint. In fact, it encourages one to want to pull up a seat at the table and join in the age old traditions that surround the day.
Of course, the author does not sidestep tensions and kerfuffles that ensue between the cousins, but their resolutions are easy enough when shepherded by Grandpa.
In the meantime, there is the preparation for the unfolding of the day in the week before the event. There is the baking of the traditional desserts of Rugelach, Mandelbrot and Strudel that are carefully packed for the trip .
They arrive before sundown, as is tradition, with hugs and kisses all around, followed by the lighting of the candles by Grandma. Grandpa lifts his wine glass and recites the Kiddush. Beni says the prayer over the round loaf of challah bread (despite the giggles by cousin Max who gets a kick under the table from Beni).
All dip the pieces of challah and apple into honey and enjoy, as Grandpa wishes all those gathered, “To a sweet New Year! L’shanah Tovah!” Papa cheers too, “Let it be a happy and healthy New Year!”
Grandma passes plump dates and fresh figs around the table.
Oh, that Max! He stuffs the dates into his mouth before Beni can taste any.
Before bed, Max even puts wet plastic spiders and slimy worms under everyone’s pillows.
For those of you that were “Bobbsey Twin” readers by Laura Lee Hope, in your youth, Max reminds me of the character, Danny Rugg.
Beni has had it as he yells out. “Now, you’ve gone and done it! Hippopotamus breath!
What happened to Happy New Year?
The next morning sees the walk to the synagogue and reading from a special prayer book called the Mahzor. There is the blowing of the horn called the shofar, which is a ram’s horn, announcing Rosh Hashanah or “The Head of the Year.” It made “loud, long, sharp sounds.”
How will the Beni and Max kerfuffle be mended?
There is a nearby brook after synagogue, and there, “Tashlikh” occurs and it is simply beautiful. Grandpa begins with a toss of bread into the water and says:
“We get rid of what we did during the year that wasn’t so nice and we begin with a new, clean slate.”
Beni does the same and watches his bread go downstream, saying “This is for teasing Sara all the time.” There are admissions of fault by both Beni and Max….and kisses, too. Okay, the boys didn’t like the kisses, but they are on the fault list for next year’s Tashlikh.
In the meantime there is noodle pudding called kugel to be enjoyed and a romp in the fall leaves that ends with easy laughter for the cousins.
I found this book like a shawl around the shoulders. Ms. Breskin Zalben’s relating of one inter generational Rosh Hashanah celebration was warmly inviting and accepting of relationships of what is, what was and the hope of better times to come.
We can’t ask for more than that in 2020 or AM 5780, in the Jewish calendar.
The author has included the recipe at the back of the picture book for “Tante Rose’s Challah Bread” and a convenient small glossary of unfamiliar terms that make the reading more meaningful.
Grandma and Grandpa, I do hope I get an invitation next year. I’ll be there and I wish those of the Jewish faith a Happy New Year and accompanied by the tossing of much bread on the water for myself.
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