Archive for September, 2013

Let My People Go! Pidyon Shvuyim/Freeing the Captive

Books used in this review are from my personal library, were provided by my local public library or were sent to me by a publisher for review. I am an Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book title referred to on my website and purchase it from Amazon, I may receive a very small commission on your purchase. You will incur no additional cost, however. I appreciate your support.
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We are on the third blessing of the Nisim B’Chol Yom/the blessings for daily miracles recited during morning prayers:

 “Praise to You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of the universe,

who frees the captive.”

In our modern world, finding everyday miracles can be challenging.  Opportunities to ransom people from slavery or captivity do not present themselves on a daily basis, at least not in obvious ways. That is not to say these concepts do not exist, they are most certainly present, just not in a form we may recognize. Instead of chains of iron, we have chains of hunger, hatred, debt or lack of education. Individuals may be “in captivity” as a result of illness, disability or abuse.  To search for modern day captives, we must be aware of the world around us and its possibilities.  Then we must ask ourselves if we are doing all that we can to “free the captives” who are trapped in a way that keep them far from those possibilities.

Releasing those chains could be as simple as providing a ride to the doctor for your elderly neighbor who has a serious chest cold or as difficult as publishing a letter to convince world leaders to take some real action regarding Global Climate Change. This is where one of my favorite quotes comes in:

 Rabbi Tarfon used to say:

“It is not your duty to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.” ~ Pirke Avot 2:21

We all have our limits – age, resources, space, energy, you name it – however, those limits do not preclude us for doing something…some…thing…to free someone from a difficulty that binds them. I know I cannot fix the Israeli-Palestinian situation, problems in Syria, hunger in America, gun violence, the imminent shut down of the US government or any of the innumerable crises I read about in the newspaper every day.  I can hand a protein bar to the person on the street asking for money and feel like I provided some nutrition to that individual. I can stand up to someone cursing on the bus when children are present and tell them to stop. I can write and link readers to books that may help them help others. While that certainly is not going to “complete the work,” I feel like I have made a good start.

Happy Reading,

Kathy B.

Here are some books that may help you find the “captives” in your world. Look around, you will be surprised how helpful you can be when your eyes are wide open.

FreedomHillLegend of Freedom Hill by Linda Jacobs Altman. Illustrated by Ying-Hwa Hu. ©2003, Lee & Low Books.  Ages 5-10. In a California Gold Rush town, Sophie, a Jewish girl, and Rosabel, and African American girl, become close friends because they are unique from everyone else. When a slave catcher captures Rosabel’s mother, the two girls use all they know about the town and its surroundings to raise enough money to redeem her and several other slaves.  A beautiful example of the mitzvah of Pidyon Shvuyim/Freeing the Captive.


Say Something by Peggy Moss. Illustrated by Lea Lyon.  ©2004, Tilbury House Publishers.  Ages 6-11. The narrator in this timely book sees children in her school who are teased and picked on. While she does not participate, neither does she say anything to stop the actions of her peers. When the day arrives that she is the focus of the teasing and bullying, she realizes that none of her “friends” came to her aid. Her experience frees her from staying away from others for no reason and from staying silent.

PlayingWarPlaying War by Kathy Beckwith. Illustrated by Lea Lyon. ©2005, Tilbury House Publishers. Ages 5-10. On a day too hot to play basketball, Luke and his friends decide to play War. Sameer, who is new to the neighborhood, declines to play and reveals that he has lived in a war zone.  Sharing his story teaches his new friends that “playing war” may not be such a good idea after all.

The Forgiveness Garden by Lauren Thompson. Illustrated by Christy Hale. ©2012, Feiwel and Friends. Ages 5-10. Two villages living across the river from one another have a long history of mutual contempt.  When a young boy from one village throws a rock that hits a young girl from the other, anger, fear,  and hatred reach a fever pitch. The boy is captured by the girl’s village, and she is asked to throw a rock at him to begin another war. Instead she throws the rock to the ground and begins building a Forgiveness Garden where the two villages can to talk about their past and learn about each other.

PigeonPigeonettePigeon and Pigeonette By Dirk Derom. Illustrations by Sarah Verroken.  ©2009, Enchanted Lion Books. Ages 4-10. Pigeonette’s wings are so small he cannot fly. Pigeon is blind and cannot see where he is going. Understanding that each needs help from the other, they become good friends. After many attempts to learn the ups and downs of navigation and flying, they work together to leave the cold winter forest to travel to the place of sun and warm toes.


Beatrice’s Goat by Page McBrier. Illustrated by Lori Lohstoeter.  ©2001, Atheneum Books for Young Readers. Ages 4-10. Beatrice lives in a small village in Uganda where she must help her mother take care of the smaller children, plant the fields, feed the chickens and grind cassava into flour. What Beatrice really wants to do is go to school and learn to read and write. There is no money for books or a uniform, however.  When the news comes that they are going to receive a goat, the lives of Beatrice and her family take an amazing turn for the better.

Also read  GiveGoatGive a Goat by Jan West Schrock, illustrated by Aileen Darragh, a wonderful companion to Beatrice’s Goat.





Let’s Keep an Open Mind: Pokeiach Ivrim/Who opens our eyes

Books used in this review are from my personal library or were provided by my local public library. I am an Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book title referred to on my website and purchase it from Amazon, I may receive a very small commission on your purchase. You will incur no additional cost, however. I appreciate your support.
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I have been looking at the Nisim B’Chol Yom/the blessings for daily miracles recited during morning prayers. As a Reform Jew, I am most familiar with these blessings as found in the Mishkan Tefillah Siddur (the Reform Movement’s Shabbat prayer book) and recited on Shabbat mornings (Observant Jews say these prayers every morning and in a slightly different order.)  In a previous blog, we looked at books about time, because the first blessing is:

 “Praise to You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of the universe,

who has given the mind the ability to distinguish day and night.”

 The second blessing is:

 “Praise to You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of the universe,

who opens the eyes of the blind.”

 Even someone who is actually blind is required to read this blessing. That made me stop and think, are there other forms of blindness? That question led me to the value of Lifnei Iver/Do not put a stumbling block before the blind. It appears I discovered the “catch-all” mitzvah. Consider how many ways one might deliberately or inadvertently obstruct someone. If you wonder if something is right or wrong, apply the test of “Lifnei Iver/Do not put a stumbling block before the blind.” You will find your answer there.

As this one single value covers so much, I have narrowed my outlook to a certain form of blindness: The blindness that comes from not keeping an open mind to what is happening in the world around us.  Of course, being human, I suffer from this form of blindness no matter how hard I try to avoid it. I try to remember that there are two sides to every story, but often, I have my side determined and planted before the other side even speaks.  Still, I do listen, carefully, to what others say and do; I read everything I can get my hands on; I try to understand various viewpoints; and I have been known to have my mind and positions changed.

Getting a healthy dose of reality from children’s literature is very helpful. In the pages of these amazing books, people fight and make up, bad guys get what they deserve and lessons taught are lessons learned.  If only the world could be so easy.

Happy Reading!

Kathy B.

Here are a few of the books that have opened my mind lately:

DuckRabbitDuck! Rabbit! By Amy Krouse Rosenthal. Illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld. ©2009, Chronicle Books. Ages 3-8.  What do you see when you look at this figure? What does your child see? With very few words, and a very simple illustration, an entire lesson in perspective, listening and understanding can be generated. We all really do not see the world in the same way.

 NeverTomatoI Will Never NOT EVER Eat a Tomato. Written and illustrated by Lauren Child. ©2000, Candlewick Press. Ages 4-8. When I was a child, you could not get me to eat broccoli if my life depended on it. Lola feels the same way about peas, carrots, potatoes, mushrooms and many other kinds of foods, until her older brother Charlie figures out a creative way of looking at the food we eat.

AmazingGraceAmazing Grace. By Mary Hoffman. Illustrated by Caroline Binch. ©1991, Dial Books for Young Readers. Ages 4-8.”You can be anything you want, if you put your mind to it,” Says Grace’s Nana. Well, Grace wants to be Peter Pan in her school’s play. Even if Raj thinks she can’t because she is a girl. Natalie says she can’t because she is black. Grace will show them how she can, and will, and does!


The Most Magnificent Mosque. By Anne Jungman. Illustrated by Shelley Fowles. ©2004, Frances Lincoln Children’s Books. Ages 6-10.  Three young boys – Rashid, a Muslim, Samuel, a Jew, and Miguel, a Christian – play, and create mischief, together in the beautiful gardens of the Great Mosque in Cordoba, Spain. Until the day they were caught dropping rotten oranges on the Caliph! Their punishment – to work in the gardens for 3 months – creates a lifelong friendship between them and an enduring bond with the mosque. When a Christian king takes over Cordoba and threatens to destroy the Great Mosque, these three come to its rescue.

MrLincolnWayMr. Lincoln’s Way. Written and illustrated by Patricia Polacco. ©2001, Philomel Books. Ages 6-10. “Mean Gene” is the school bully, calling people terrible names, pushing smaller kids down, and he’s a terrible student as well. Mr. Lincoln, the principal, thinks the young man is “Troubled.” When Mr. Lincoln discovers that Gene is very knowledgeable about birds, a project develops into a friendship that turns a bully into a model citizen. Based on a true story.