Leadership in the Torah

It’s funny how some things coalesce. In the middle of a contentious election, we are also reading about our first matriarch and patriarch — Sarah and Avraham. What made G-d choose them to be the progenitors of our Jewish family? Were they born true leaders, or did they evolve into the role?

Reading accounts in Genesis, the answers are not hard to discern. They were flawed human beings, but they had vision and displayed great kindness and generosity. The youngest students discovered that in SARAH LAUGHS by Jacqueline Jules. But I also wanted them to see these same leadership qualities in a more prosaic setting, so I read to them a new book — JUDAH TOURO DIDN’T WANT TO BE FAMOUS by Audrey Ades, set in early 19th century New Orleans. Wealthy merchant Touro is wounded in the War of 1812 and realizes life is meaningless without helping others. So he becomes a philanthropist (including buying the freedom of many slaves and setting them up in business). Most importantly, he insisted on anonymity, which Maimonides identified as one of the highest forms of tzedakah.

For our older children, we had more of a free form discussion, comparing and contrasting moral and leadership qualities in Noah and Avraham. We went through the Torah line by line. A summary of the comparison can be found here:…/from-noah-to-abraham/What made Avraham a great leader for any age? Speaking truth to power, in which he argues with God about whether it is right to destroy all of Sodom and Gomorrah, sweeping away the good with the bad. Read more about it here:…/challenging-the…/

An excellent resource for families to learn about all of these issues is in GENESIS: THE BOOK WITH SEVENTY FACES by Esther Takae. Whether we take it literally or not, the Torah is a transformational document that has a lot to teach us.

Posted by Rachel Haus

Halloween at the Library!

Golems, witches, dybbuks, ibburs, demons, monsters — things that go bump in the night — AAHHH!!! (It must be Halloween!)

If you think Jewish tradition isn’t rife with evil creepy things, you’d be wrong, DEAD wrong! So convinced were they that demons existed, our talmudic rabbis explained in a midrash exactly why and how G-d created them on the 6th day. There are multiple mentions of witches directly in the Torah (the Witch of Endor comes to mind) and even of sea monsters and divination. Read more about it here:…/demons-dybbuks…/

The Talmud is also replete with tales of demons and witches and how to overcome them. One of the most famous is THE RABBI AND THE TWENTY-NINE WITCHES retold by Marilyn Hirsh, in which the wise rabbi of a small town outwits the witches who terrorized the population at every full moon.

I followed up with DEBORAH THE DYBBUK: A GHOST STORY, also by Marilyn Hirsh, about a mischievous girl who dies and whose ghost inhabits a living girl, making her do all sorts of outrageous things. (In this too, a wise rabbi solves the problem. I sense a pattern.)

With the older children, I explained the basics of midrash, especially in relation to demonology. The Rabbis not only believed in demons, but in their ability to thwart them with incantations, superstitious ritual, and excessive piety. Folk religion took up the mantle with amulets and incantation bowls buried beneath the floors of houses.

And since there can be no discussion of magic without a Harry Potter type book, I introduced JORDAN AND THE DREADFUL GOLDM by Karen Goldman, about a group of children in Israel with special powers who must face an existential threat. The kids can check it out through our online catalog

Posted by Rachel Haus, 21914 comments

Noah’s Ark at the Library

We’re chugging right along with the Torah. Next Shabbat is the story of Noah, and Noah’s ark books abound! Problem is, which to choose? I decided to focus on community helpers, small and big.

I went with a charmer called THE CHAMELEON THAT SAVED NOAH’S ARK by Yael Molchadsky. Things are humming right along in the ark, except the chameleons are proving to be picky eaters. Then, Naamah (Noah’s wife) discovers worms eating all the produce! What to do? The tiny chameleons show the way by gobbling up the worms (except 2 of course), thereby saving the food supply. Even little ones can help in a big way!

Our 2nd book was a midrashic tale called OG’S ARK by Allison Marks, depicting the giant Og, who looked pretty scary, but loved animals and helped Noah herd them onto the ark in exchange for a place to rest (on TOP of the ark!) during the flood. Though his size made him an outcast, he ended up being the biggest helper of all!

(Og, King of Bashan, is actually in the Torah, but lived on extensively in midrash. For a whimsical outline of his exploits, try this:…/Memoirs-of-Og-the-Not-So…).

Finally, I was able to corral some more older students to read a book I introduced last week — JONAS SALK AND THE POLIO VACCINE by Katherine Krohn. Aside from reading the book, I also put together a slide show of the era. They had never heard of Salk or polio (aren’t they lucky!), so this was a good lesson.

All these books and more can be checked out from our website

Posted by Rachel Haus, 13747 comments

Creation Stories at the Library


Yup, post-Simchat Torah, that’s where we will be in the Torah cycle this coming Shabbat, meaning it’s time for creation stories!

I chose a beautiful one called HOW TZIPI THE BIRD GOT HER WINGS by Bernard M. Zlotowitz and Dina Maiben. G-d creates Gan Eden (the Garden of Eden) as well as the animals, charging them to tend the Garden; unfortunately, none feel like doing so until little Tzipi, the wingless bird, encourages them all to work together to be partners in G-d’s creation. Suddenly, Tzipi sprouts wings and soars!

The kids immediately understood that they too must be partners with G-d in maintaining this earth. But our partnership also extends to OUR ability to create for the greater good, leading me to read a new book in our library — JONAS SALK AND THE POLIO VACCINE, a biography in comic book form by Katherine Krohn.Though meant for the slightly older kids who were also tuning in for library today, I took a chance that the younger kids would be interested in Salk’s story.None of the kids had ever heard of polio, which meant that the vaccine had done its job of eradicating it from our lives, for which we can all thank Jonas Salk. He and the others who worked with him were truly partnering with G-d to make this world a better place. Read more about him here:…/

Jonas Salk vaccinating child.
Posted by Rachel Haus in Lower Elementary Library, 18740 comments

Library Story Time for Simchat Torah

We’re in the final stretch of High Holy Days — Hoshana Raba, Shemini Atzeret, then Simchat Torah — the last of which was my focus on Wed. when I read to the lower elementary.

I started with tried and true SAMMY SPIDER’S FIRST SIMCHAT TORAH by Sylvia Rouss. It’s all there — the autumn leaves, the candy apples, the flags, the parades, the singing and dancing with the Torah.

The main message? Just as with our favorite storybook that we read over and over, getting new things out of it each time, so we begin the Torah anew each year, understanding it better as we grow and learn.

I took a slightly different tack with our 2nd book — EZRA’S BIG SHABBAT QUESTION by Aviva Brown. Simchat Torah is, indeed, about the Torah, so why not discuss what is actually IN the Torah — laws and mizvot?

Ezra has a big question is whether we are allowed to tie a knot on Shabbat. Shabbat prohibitions are treated broadly in the Torah — do not work at your occupations — but that was insufficient for the Rabbis of the Talmud. What if you accidentally did something that was prohibited? Big trouble, right? So the Rabbis teased out the detail that surely was there all along, using work definitions involved in constructing the Mishkan Ba-Midbar (the portable sanctuary in the wilderness) as a guide. Learn more here:…/shabbats-work…/

As an aside, I would like to mention that one of the attractions of EZRA’S BIG SHABBAT QUESTION is that it depicts a Jewish family of color, an important new trend in Jewish book publishing. I chose not to point this out to the kids; I wanted them to simply absorb and internalize the wonderful diversity in the Jewish world!


Posted by Rachel Haus in Library, Lower Elementary Library, 24493 comments

Library Story Time for Yom Kippur — Teshuva and Mechila

Yom Kippur is on the horizon and so I read two books to the kids that touched on the choices we make and the power of forgiveness.

The first was relatively new — YOM KIPPUR SHORTSTOP by David A. Adler. What do you do when the most important Little League game of the year falls on Yom Kippur, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar? Similar to the quandary faced by world-famous ball player Sandy Koufax, Jacob must make a tough decision — which team is more important to him?

Our 2nd book was tried and true SAMMY SPIDER’S FIRST YOM KIPPUR by Sylvia Rouss.

Of course, Josh and Sammy learn all about saying “I’m sorry”, but the bigger lesson they learn is the importance of mechila (forgiveness). Teshuva (repentance) is a two-way street; if teshuva is sincere and lasting, then the wronged person is REQUIRED to offer mechila, bringing healing to both sides. See the following for more info:…/is-forgiveness…/

Tzom kal and gamar chatima v’tova — Easy fast and may you be sealed for good [in the Book of Life].

Posted by Rachel Haus, 12038 comments