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, 21918 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, 13871 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, 18885 comments

Library Story Time — Sukkot!

High Holy Days are chugging right along. Next up this Friday night — SUKKOT!

Sukkot is a joyous, but contradictory holiday. We celebrate the glorious bounty of the fall harvest, enveloped by the warmth of fellowship and good food. But we do so in a structure that is highly fragile, leaving us exposed, vulnerable to the elements. What better metaphor for our current situation? And as I was searching for books to read to the kids, I was overwhelmed by the choices that would speak not only to the holiday, but to the reality of our lives. For more on sukkot, see (which includes a Leggo Sukkot movie!)

I began with ENGINEER ARI AND THE SUKKAH EXPRESS by Deborah Bodin Cohen. Engineer Ari is delighted to celebrate sukkot with his good friends at home, but is sad that he cannot also celebrate with friends he’s made on his train’s route. What do his friends do? They turn one of the train’s cars into a travelling sukkah! Now that’s innovative thinking!

With TBI and COM closed for services, it might be difficult for families to perform the mitzvah of the lulav and etrog. So I figured we could go on a SUKKOT TREASURE HUNT by Allison Ofanansky, about a girl and her family who look for the 4 species — lulav (date palm), arava (willow), hadas (myrtle), and etrog (citrus fruit) — tied to sukkot.

For older children (though the younger ones enjoyed it too), I threw in a slightly spooky story by Isaac Bashevis Singer called A TALE OF THREE WISHES — 3 children learn what happens on the last night of sukkot when, according to legend, the sky opens and your wish is granted…but only if you stand in a graveyard!

Oh, how many more books I wanted to read to them! For instance, TIKVAH MEANS HOPE by Patricia Polacco, could have been ripped from today’s headlines — a family in Oakland CA preparing for sukkot just as the wildfires of Oct. 1991 wreak havok.

Or our newest book, HILLEL BUILDS A HOUSE by Shoshana Lepon about a boy who loves to build things and realizes that sukkot is his perfect opportunity!

Please check out our online catalog, reserve whatever you like, and pick it up from the shul. It’s all waiting for you!

Chag sameach!

Posted by Rachel Haus

Library Story Time for Rosh Hashanah

Last Wednesday was my first Library Storytime of the new school year and of course I had a tech snafu. Still, in the end I had fun reading 2 wonderful books to lower elementary.

First was a brand new book written and illustrated by two Orthodox sisters back in May when everyone was in extreme lockdown. LET’S STAY HOME by Mushka and Bluma Lewis is a delightful rhyming story about a brother and sister trying to navigate their world — school on Zoom in their pajamas, everyone under foot and stressed (sound familiar?) — in the very strange reality of Covid-19. And yet they are thankful that they are safe, healthy, and able to communicate through the wonders of modern technology.

The second book was an old Rosh Hashanah favorite, but strangely appropriate for our times — THE WORLD’S BIRTHDAY by Barbara Diamond Goldin. Understanding that Rosh Hashanah celebrates, among other things, the world’s creation, a young boy wants to throw it a birthday party, complete with cake and candles. But how to invite the whole world? Why, bring the party (and the cake) outside, of course! Both books speak to our current challenges, but they suggest ways to enjoy daily and religious ritual through innovation and flexibility.

Thus, the Library may not be open physically, but through our new online catalog, you can still check items out (including the two books I read to the kids). Also, for the most up-to-date information on the Library and virtual literary programs, check us out on our Facebook page — or on Twitter —


Posted by Rachel Haus

In the Library בַּסִּפְרִיָּה 9/29

I was very pleased to hear, even from the little ones, that they understood precisely what was to come Sunday evening — Rosh Hashana, apples & honey, the shofar  and…The Book of Life and Death? I wasn’t sure how focused they were on the more serious aspects of High Holy Days, but I wanted the books we read to give them a taste.

The Kindergarteners read a lovely story called How the Rosh Hashanah Challah Became Round by Sylvia Epstein about a rather boastful boy working in his father’s bakery whose carelessness brings about the rabbinically-approved innovation — a round Rosh Hashanah challah! The entire town learns that a round challah symbolizes the eternal circle of life…and the boy learns not to be quite so boastful.,204,203,200_.jpg

Very few of the 1st/2nd graders seemed to know about tashlich, so I was happy to read Tashlich at Turtle Rock by Susan Schnur. 

Like for so many of our holidays, symbolism is used as a teaching tool; in this case, the items we throw in a moving body of water symbolize the sins or misdeeds we wish to eliminate from our lives through prayer or action. The school will be conducting a field trip to Woods Lake Sunday , October 6 so that everyone can participate in tashlich.

I read a simple folktale to the 3rd/4th graders; though they are beyond picture books, this story Even Higher by I.L. Peretz, retold by Barbara Cohen seems to touch on the most important message of High Holy Days — that the way to be close to G-d is simply to be kind and loving to other people.
Posted by OKCJS Director, 630 comments

In the Library בַּסִּפְרִיָּה 9/22

I had enjoyed the past few weeks discussing the themes of the month of Elul with the kids, but with High Holy Days (Yamim Noraim) nearly upon us, I knew it was time to dig down into the “meat” of the holidays.

I had a ball with the Kindergarten class reading a robust, exciting Big Sam: A Rosh Hashanah Tall Tale by Eric Kimmel.,204,203,200_.jpg

The book combines the sensibility of American folktales with lessons about tikkun olam, ecology, and challah baking. The kids had fun stomping their feet like Big Sam and imagining a spoon the size of a redwood tree!

I took a chance that the 1st/2nd graders could handle a slightly more sophisticated story, so we read  The Secret Shofar of Barcelona, a picture book by Jacqueline Dembar Greene.,204,203,200_.jpg

The story takes place in 16th century Spain during the Inquisition, but don’t worry — there was nothing scary, though kids learned a little about what it was like to have to hide who you are. They also pretended to blow a shofar along with the main character — again and again and AGAIN! (Ouch, my ears are still ringing!) 

I had a very meaningful discussion with the 5th-7th graders. I asked them what they thought of the High Holy Days, and they gave very lovely stock answers. Then I asked what they thought of High Holy Day services…yes, I wanted honesty. As I suspected, most of them never even glanced at the torah and haftarah selections in the machzor (the HHD prayer book), so we plunged into the haftarah for Yom Kippur morning — Isaiah 57:14-58:14.

But before that, I gave them my usual 5 minute history of the period, i.e. when the prophet Isaiah (Y’shayahu) was active — a couple hundred years after the death of King Solomon and before the Babylonian Exile, approximately 750-700 BCE. We discussed the Book of Isaiah from the Tanach, which may contain prophecies by 3 entirely different people — 1st, 2nd, and even 3rd Isaiah, based on linguistic, historical, and thematic differences. Then we discussed the reason why the Rabbis chose this section of Isaiah to be read on Yom Kippur — because Yom Kippur isn’t just about fasting, but about FEEDING THE HUNGRY AND FIGHTING OPPRESSION! Isaiah is shouting to us all to wake up, clear a path, storm the barricades! There is truly nothing like it and truly nothing like Isaiah. Please, if you haven’t already, read it and then discuss it with your kids. You won’t be sorry.

Posted by OKCJS Director, 2 comments

In the Library – בַּסִּפְרִיָּה

In the Library – Ba-sifriah

The 1st day of Religious School in the Fisher Library — what could be better? With High Holy Days a few weeks off, Librarian, Rachel Haus, focused on our current month of Elul — a time of introspection and preparation.

The Kindergartners learned all about loving-kindness and the golden rule using a delightfully illustrated book by Laurie Keller called
Rachel chose a longer story for the 1st-2nd graders called YETTELE’S FEATHERS about the long-lasting cruelty of lashon ha-rah (evil speech, or gossip and how there are some actions that require more than simple apologies.
Finally, for the 4th-7th graders, we discussed the connection between the month of Elul and Shir Ha-Shirim (Song of Songs) found in the Tanach. Shir Ha-Shirim is a book of love poetry, but the Rabbis interpreted these beautiful and sensuous verses, especially “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine” as representing a loving relationship between God and Israel.
The 4th-7th grade students learned that there cannot be true atonement without love. That kind of close relationship was emphasized by existential philosopher Martin Buber in his book I AND THOU.
Posted by OKCJS Director, 3 comments