Friday, April 17, 2015

Stories of our Jewish Friends + Family by Jan Annino

            Stories of our Jewish Friends + Family 

            This week is a special time for students and families who think about Jewish families.  It is a time of remembrance of those who survived, and who didn't survive, The Holocaust. (Also targeted: Polish people, Jehovah's Witnesses, homosexuals, the Roma people, the physically or mentally disabled, children who had a black parent, and, select others.)

           My heartfelt connection to The Holocaust began with great sobs and shock in reading The Diary of Ann Frank in school and in learning about the fate of the people in the secret annex.

            To balance my sadness fortunately I played with a school pal, Susan Entenberg, when I was nine and ten. Not only did her older sister let us listen to her Beatle records, but there also was an extra unintended joy in visiting and staying overnight. 


            Her mother explained that the family’s strict Kosher kitchen was too easy for children to mess up, simply by placing food and dishes in the wrong pantry or area. A rabbi would have to come in and a ceremony would re-consecrate the kitchen. I remember coming home and announcing that I wanted to be Jewish. No kitchen duty for children. And such sweet treats to eat. Yum! In recent years my hubby & I attend our neighborhood's cultural Jewish Festival weekend, where we load up on favorite Jewish foods. If the weather is good, we can walk. But then, we can't carry so many goodies home.
            This year’s days of reverent Holocaust Commemoration are April 16-19. At a particular moment in Israel, the entire nation is asked to stop activities and assist in the remembrance.  Indeed, all over the world people will find ways to remember, such as several March of the Living events in Europe.

            Our family has previously visited  The United States Holocaust Memorial, which provides a reliable source of important information.

            Here in my hometown,  special services with Christians and Jews together are offered during the year and this week is no exception. Last weekend, my husband and I were fortunate to attend a small talk at the WordofSouth books event that showcased excellent student art, solicited from students of all faiths, by our hometown Holocaust Education Resource Council.


            With encouragement from my writing group, I submitted a Jewish topic picture book manuscript that I had worked on for a couple of years. My story is inspired by real life. In it an observant Jewish girl is thrilled by the approach of Easter, although this girl’s excitement naturally mystifies her visiting grandpapa. By the end of the story, we see what goes on at Easter for her and -  her grandpapa’s reaction.

            It is helpful to me that I have friends & colleagues of Jewish heritage to consult,
but I am especially fortunate that one of my regular writing critique partners who is Jewish
strongly encouraged me, Christian, to submit to KAR-BEN. This publisher brought out a popular picture book on The Holocaust. The Whispering Town is a picture book that beautifully tells a child's role to help defy Nazi's in Denmark. It is uplifting to read.


            KAR-BEN is a respected imprint of Lerner and well-regarded for publishing Jewish-theme topics. Favorites of mine from the KAR-BEN house include not only The Whispering Town, but also,  Feivel’s Flying Horses, Goldie Takes a Stand and Rifka Takes a Stand.
            If you are pulled to writing on Jewish themes you will naturally be reading the best in books for young readers. Some resources:
JEWISH BOOK MONTH – about mid-November thru Hanukkah

              Another resource is the comprehensive, 170-page HITLER YOUTH by renowned nonfiction children's author and former teacher, Susan Campbell Bartoletti. While focusing on the
Nazi activities that few children and teens escaped conducting in pre-war and wartime Germany, the book also documents the brave children who resisted the Nazi activities. Learn about 16-year-old Helmuth Hubener, who was beaten in a Berlin jail, tried, and at age17 in 1942, executed. The teen created a Nazi resistance movement within Germany as adults were managing to do, also risking death, in the rest of Europe. Other students who clandestinely worked against Hitler are documented.

            May this never happen again. But, recently, we attended a university talk where the terrorism of the killers known as ISIS was compared to Nazi Germany. My response is to remain informed, hug children & help train them up in the good ways.  I find hope in writing poems, stories & books of quality, for young readers.


  1. Great post, Jan! I've been to the Holocaust Museum as well, love the book Number the Stars, etc.. That's awesome how you as a Christian can write a Jewish story.

    1. Tina, Thank you so much for your beautiful message of visiting The Holocaust Museum. I have to confess that in our first two trips to D.C. with our family we didn't go. We were on vacation & etc. wanted only happiness. We were SO overwhelmed & also grateful on a 3rd trip when our family allocated a lot of time to dwell there. I am very interested in going back on my next trip there, with some specific fouses for research.
      I felt such love & good intent coming from everyone spending time with the generous amount of information. It was a spiritual experience. The staff/volunteers are supportive about visitors' emotional reactions. A mighty fine place to understand that so many people care so very much today & are each of us, in our own way, standing for justice, fairness & love. I now want to visit some regional Holocaust Memorials.

      Thank you veery very much, again.
      And if Debra, my writing group partner, hadn't led the way, I doubt I would have had the courage to submit a Jewish topic story to a Jewish publisher. She actually has published in a Christian magazine, though she is an observant Jewish woman. I think that is so beautiful & what so many of us are trying to work toward, a world of love & tolerance for others' beautiful faiths in God. And when she urged me to consider KAR-BEN, I felt like it was the right step.

  2. So glad you have friends that are helpful and encouraging, Jan. It's wonderful that your concern for authenticity in your writing is answered by their insights. A friend of mine (also a Christian) wrote a powerful and moving book on the Holocaust based on a story relayed to her by a survivor of that time. I think you'd like it -- ERIKA'S STORY, by Ruth Vander Zee and Roberto Innocenti. Link here.

    1. Patty, Appreciations for this title. I have just made a note of it for my library list. Is it a YA? And Ruth Vander Zee is an important name in childrens lit. I know I have seen. Tell me about this author?
      Thank you for visiting & I hope you enjoy this glorious weekend.

    2. ERIKA'S STORY is a picture book for older kids, Jan. (I know teachers that use it in their discussions of WW2 in grades 5 & 6.) Ruth writes powerful and moving picture books about difficult topics (the Holocaust, the KKK, the Vietnam War). We were in a critique group together until she moved to Florida. You'll love her work!

  3. Appreciations again, Patty.
    And do you know I'm in North FL. It's a long noodle of a state like CA, but are you still in touch with Ruth?

    Great week to you,

    ~ J

  4. Such an informative, heart warming post, Jan. I look forward to reading The Whispering Town. Thank you for a better understanding and awareness. It is so important to celebrate diversity.

  5. Appreciations to you, Suzy for your lovely thoughts.