Posts Tagged ‘Ometz Lev/Courage’

Be Strong and of Good Courage/Ometz Lev

We are entering the Jewish month of Nissan, the month during which Jews and their families all over the world celebrate the holiday of Passover.  At a special meal, the Seder,  using a special book, the Haggadah, we retell the story of the Israelites’ miraculous escape from slavery to the Ancient Egyptian Pharaoh and recount their wandering in the desert as a free people. During the Seder, we are reminded that we must see ourselves as if we, each of us, personally went out of Egypt. As if we, each of us, personally were a slave and now we are free. As if we, each of us, personally, had been redeemed by the Holy One.

What I think about each Passover – OK,  after the Seder invitations are out, the plague bags are decided upon and the menu is finalized…What I think about as I am putting together our Haggadah, is the amount of courage it must have required for the Ancient Israelites to pack up their families, what few possessions they had and to leave it all behind, for something they could not see or touch-freedom. And though we read several times in the Torah, that the people complained and  may have wanted to go back, they never did. Freedom once tried cannot easily be returned.

This month’s book list honors the courage shown by our ancestors as they travelled out of their slavery and into freedom by providing a taste of that courage through the reading experience.

Younger Readers

Sheila Rae, the Brave. Written and illustrated by Kevin Henkes. Greenwillow Books, © 1987. Everyone knows that Sheila Rae is very, very brave. She giggles when the principal walks by,  steps on sidewalk cracks, and rides her bike with no hands.  One day, however, after deciding to take a different path home from school, she loses her way.  Suddenly, she is not as brave as she thinks. Fortunately, she receives help from a very special source. Ages 4-8.

The Empty Pot. Written and illustrated by Demi. Henry Holt and Company, © 1990. The Emperor of China is growing old and must chose a successor.  He decides to give all the children in China a seed from his garden and tells them to grow it. Ping loves to grow plants, but no matter what he does, his seed does not grow. When all the other children bring pots full of beautiful flowers to share with the Emperor, will Ping have the courage to share his empty pot? Ages 4-8.

Nachshon Who Was Afraid to Swim. By Deborah Bodin Cohen. Illustrated by Jago. Kar-Ben Publishing, © 2009. Nachshon is a slave to the Ancient Egyptian Pharaoh. He is very brave, avoiding the Pharaoh’s taskmasters and spying for his people, until he is invited to swim in the water. Then he steps back.  Nachshon is frightened by the water. When the slaves are freed from Pharaoh’s slavery and they find themselves at the Red Sea, however, someone must be the first to step in or the waters will not open. Who will have the courage to enter the sea first? Ages 5-9.

Mirette on the High Wire Written and illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully. G.P. Putnam’s Sons, © 1992. Winner of the Caldecott Medal. Mirette’s mother runs a boarding house for performers visiting Paris. One day, Mirette meets a very talented man who is practicing walking the tightrope in her backyard. He dismisses her requests to learn this skill. Nevertheless, she begins to teach herself. Seeing that she has talent, and determination, he begins her training. Mirette learns however, that he will not take her on the road with him, because he is very afraid after suffering an accident. Can she help him find the courage to return to show business? Ages 5-10.

Call It Courage. Written and illustrated by Armstrong Sperry. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, © 1940. Winner of the Newbery Award. Mafutu is the son of the great chief of a Polynesian clan that worships the sea and courage. However, he is afraid of the water because when he was a young child the sea took his mother’s life and almost his own. In this classic story, Mafutu becomes a legend when he decides to overcome his fear and take on the challenges of the sea. Ages 8-12.

Older Readers

Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword. Written and illustrated by Barry Deutsch. Amulet Books, © 2011. Winner of the Sydney Taylor Award for Older Readers. Mirka, an 11-year-old Orthodox Jewish girl, wants to fight dragons. In order to do that,  she must find a sword. No easy task in the Ultra-Orthodox community where she lives. However with the help of her wise stepmother, a talking pig, a wicked witch and an evil ogre, Mirka achieves her dream. Ages 10-14.

The Breadwinner. By Deborah Ellis. Groundwood Books, © 2000. Parvana and her family are living in a one room apartment in a bombed-out neighborhood in Kabul, Afghanistan. Her father has been arrested for having a college education and is in prison. The only way for her mother, three siblings and herself to survive is for her to dress as a boy and earn a living on the streets. However, the consequence if she is caught…she does not want to think about, she must simply find the courage to do what must be done to survive.  Ages 11-14.

The Storyteller’s Beads. By Jane Kurtz. Harcourt Brace & Company, © 1998. Due to war, famine and drought, Sahay, a Christian orphan girl, must leave Ethiopia immediately. For religious reasons, Rahel, a blind, Jewish Ethiopian girl is also leaving the country. When these two girls’ paths cross, they must overcome deep animosities toward each other in order that they may both achieve their dreams: Freedom in another country. Ages 11-14.

Homeless Bird. By Gloria Whelan. HarperCollins Publishers, © 2000. A National Book Award Winner. Koly, a 13-year-old Indian girl,  is forced to marry a sickly boy. This is her fate. When he dies, she  becomes part of an Indian widows’ community. When her talent for embroidery is discovered by the community’s benefactor and a new young man begins to take interest in her, will she have the courage to change the path tradition and fate have handed her? Ages 13-16.

The Boy Who Dared: A Novel Based on the True Story of a Hitler Youth. By Susan Campbell Bartoletti.  Scholastic Press, © 2008. Not every German believed the propaganda that was fed to them during World War II. Some individuals did what they could to deliver a different message to the people. This is the story of one such individual who gave up his life for the truth. Ages 14-18.

* * * * * * * *

These titles provide a broad understanding of the value of Ometz Lev/Courage. As you sit at your Seder, whether at home or elsewhere,  listen carefully as the Haggadah is read. If you hear a story, a song or a prayer that sounds like it is describing a brave, daring or courageous moment, shout out, “Ometz Lev. Courage!”  Of course, others at the Seder may stare at you. That’s OK. You can share what you learned and the book you read later, during dinner.  If you are looking for additional information about Passover including a free downloadable Haggadah, visit

Wishing you a Passover season filled with fabulous food, fun and frogs,

Happy Reading,

Kathy B.

©2011 Kathleen M. Bloomfield and all rights reserved.
Books used in this review were from my personal collection and from my local public library.
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Book Review | Resistance Book 1
by Carla Jablonski

Score: 3

Art by Leland Purvis Color by Hilary Sycamore © 2010, :01/ First Second. In this exciting and emotionally powerful graphic novel set in France during World War II, three young people get involved in the French Resistance. Paul and his sister, Marie, must shepherd their Jewish friend, Henri, to a safe house in Paris to [...]

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Book Review | Nachshon Who Was Afraid to Swim
by Deborah Bodin Cohen

Score: 4

Illustrated by Jago © 2009 Kar-Ben Publishing. A 2009 Sydney Taylor Honor Book. This is a beautifully written midrash about the story of Nachshon, the individual who was the first to step into the waters of the Reed Sea thereby enabling the Jewish People to reach freedom on the other side. Nachshon is portrayed as [...]

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