Courage/Ometz Lev – The Strength of Heart to Show the Way
Right after Purim is over, I begin to think about Passover. It is an “event” in our home. I often tell people that when I converted to Judaism, I took all my “Christmas energy” and threw it into Passover. We write our own haggadah, are visited by some rather creative plagues and make sure our guests have a really good time.
While I read the Exodus story in preparation for the holiday, what always pops out is the courage of many of the Biblical characters. Of course, Moses, with his speech impediment (Ex. 4:10), repeatedly facing down Pharoah saying “let my people go!” (Ex. 5:1) is hard to miss. But it is the lesser known heroes that stand out in my mind, starting with the midwives who defied Pharoah by allowing the Hebrew women to give birth to their babies rather than killing them (Ex. 1:17). Then, Pharoah’s daughter who rescued Moses from the Nile to raise him as her own son (Ex. 2:6). Finally, Nachshon, the son of Amminadab, who was the first to put his foot into the waters of the Reed Sea so that those waters would part and the Israelites could walk across and be free (Ex. 14:22). When I read about these individuals, and most of what we know about them comes from midrash, I think to myself, “How did they learn to be so courageous? Where did they get their strength of heart? What kind of stories did their parents tell them?”
This month’s books all demonstrate the value of Courage/Ometz Lev. They would be the stories I would (and did) read to my children in the hope of instilling in them the ability to find their courage at the right moment.
Nachshon, Who Was Afraid to Swim: A Passover Story. By Deborah Bodin Cohen. Illustrations by Jago. © 2009, Kar-Ben Publishing. Ages 4-8. A 2009 AJL Sydney Taylor Honor Book. Nachshon, a young Israelite slave, was very brave. As a child, he smuggled water into the quarries and spied on Pharaoh and his guards. He was afraid of one thing, however – swimming. Even as he grew up and worked with the other slaves, he was still afraid to swim. Then he meets Moses who tells him, “Real freedom means facing your fears and overcoming them.” When Pharaoh relents and frees the Israelites, they find themselves trapped at the shores of the Sea of Reeds. Nachshon knows what he must do. Does he have the courage? Nachshon, Who Was Afraid to Swim, would be perfect at your Passover Seder. (BTW, if you are a PJ Library subscriber you may be receiving this book this month.)
Brave Bear. Written and illustrated by Kathy Mallat. © 1999, Walker and Company. Ages 3-7. A little bird falls from a tree. Little Bear wants to help, but to do so means he has to climb up the very tall tree, out on a very long branch to the little bird’s nest. He thinks he can. With some help, he does. Using very simple text, a minimal use of words, but extraordinary and beautiful illustrations, Ms. Mallat conveys Little Bear’s determination, fear, courage and ultimate triumph. One of my all-time favorite books.
Mirette on the High Wire. Written and Illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully. © 1992, G.P. Putnam’s Sons. Winner of the 1993 Caldecott Medal. In late 19th century Paris, the widow Gateau’s boarding house is where actors traveling in from all over the world find the best accommodations. Mirette, Madame Gateau’s daughter, worked at her mother’s side to ensure that all their guests were happy and content. When Mr. Bellini, a retired tight-rope walker visits, Mirette is intrigued. Watching him walk across a rope in the courtyard every day, she begs him to teach her how it’s done. When he refuses, Mirette teaches herself. Impressed, Mr. Bellini takes her on as a student. Soon the entire boarding house learns that their guest is “The Great Bellini,” whose tightrope feats are world famous. Unfortunately, he has become afraid and refuses to continue his work. Realizing that he must face his fear or disappoint Mirette, he arranges another performance. However, when the time comes to step out on the wire, he freezes. It is up to Mirette to teach her teacher the meaning of courage. Can she do it? This story will leave you with goosebumps. The illustrations evoke Toulouse-Lautrec’s art with their pastel colored backgrounds and their brightly colored highlights.
Rainbow Fish to the Rescue. Written and illustrated by Marcus Pfister. ©1995, North-South Books. In this sequel to The Rainbow Fish, all Rainbow Fish’s scales have been shared with his friends. A new fish wanting to join the game of “flash-tag,” learns that a flashing scale is required. Since there are no more flashing scales to be found, the other fish ignore him. When a shark attacks the group of fish, they run for cover. Unfortunately, the new fish is left alone. Rainbow Fish bravely goes out in order to save the new fish. His friends follow him to distract the shark while Rainbow Fish brings their new friend into the safety of the cave. As always with the Rainbow Fish books, the holographic scales on the fish will be very attractive to young readers, while the simple story and its message will be very evident.
Sheila Rae, the Brave. Written and illustrated by Kevin Henks. ©1987, Greenwillow Books. Sheila Rae is very brave. Braver than anyone. She steps on sidewalk cracks, giggles when the principal walks by and growls at stray dogs as she sings, “I am brave…I am fearless.” Sheila Rae is very brave. Until she decides to take a different route home from school. And things do not look the same, noises sound scary and she has creepy thoughts. Thank goodness her sister, Louise, is following her. In his inimitable style, Kevin Henkes brings us another loveable character and her sister to brighten our day, make us smile and teach us a thing or two about courage.
Testing the Ice: A True Story About Jackie Robinson. By Sharon Robinson. Illustrated by Kadir Nelson. ©2009, Scholastic Press. Most people know that Jackie Robinson was the African American baseball player who broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball. That achievement took enormous courage and was extremely public. This book, however, is about a feat of courage that took place in the privacy of his own home, in front of his children. It took place on a very cold winter’s day, when his children asked him to test the ice on their pond to see if it was safe for skating. He put on his boots and slowly walked out on the ice, tapping gently to make sure it would not crack. He declared it safe and the children rushed out on their skates to thank him. It wasn’t until many years later that they realized how courageous their father was, because Jackie Robinson could not swim. Beautiful, detailed illustrations bring this story to life.
I hope that you will find these books inspirational and meaningful as you plan your Passover experiences. Perhaps you will want to share them with your Seder guests or your hosting family.
On Monday evening, March 29, Jews all over the world, with family and friends, will be sitting down to retell the Passover story and the birth of the Jewish people. Whether you believe that every word you read in the Haggadah is true or that what you are reading are archetypal legends of the Jewish people, the fact remains that Passover is the most celebrated Jewish holiday in the Hebrew calendar. It took a lot of people (real or imagined,) with a lot of courage, to create a way to bring us together every year to remember, teach and celebrate these events.
I wish you a Passover season that is filled with blessings,
©2010 Kathleen M. Bloomfield and forwordsbooks.com all rights reserved.
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