Title: Shabbat Hands
By Ken Bresler, Illustrated by Avi Katz
It’s funny to write a book review that is longer than the actual book, but that’s how it goes with children’s books. This one caught my eye because I’m always looking for quality Jewish children’s books to have around the house. How many of our memories and our subconscious symbols have been formed by beloved books that were read to us over and over when we were children? Friday night after candles and while all the children are going ballistic… ahem, screaming and fighting… er, looking for some interaction with adults and seeking entertainment – is a great time to reach for this book. My mom used to read to me all the time when I was a child and I loved it, but now that I’m a Savta I keep harking back to memories of my Oma reading us books once Shabbos started. She had a special quality of never rushing through a book. She always seemed to have all the time in the world, and nothing better to do and nothing she wanted to do more than read to her grandchildren. I can still hear her patient, loving voice, enunciating every word clearly and slowly. I’m pretty sure our little bodies relaxed and our pulses slowed down and our breathing got deep and even, sitting in Oma’s lap and listening to her read to us on Friday night after licht-bentching.
This book is about Shabbos and small children will relate to it because it is very physical. It has ten situations over the course of Shabbos where hands come into play. The first page is a summary that helps children anticipate: ten illustrations of one through ten fingers being held up, with a description of what each one will be in the book. My two-year-old granddaughter loves these types of recap pages (like the end of Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? where it reviews all the animals AND the teacher AND the students). I hold up the finger and she tries to hold up the finger. We do that for each illustration. We make eye contact, hold up fingers, I say the number and she repeats it (or eventually she learns the number and I point and hold it up and she says it herself and grins at me). We bond in a delightful immersive experience.
Since each page is something that we do with our hands, I do each action to or with my granddaughter. She copies me or she participates. Light the candles, take turns putting our hands “on keppy” for the bracha, mime netilas yadayim (washing hands before the meal), touch mezuzah and kiss, cover eyes for Shema, point at the place in the Torah scroll (and identify the yad that points to the words), point the finger at “Zos HaTorah” This is the Torah that Moshe placed before Bnei Yisrael by the mouth of G-d through Moshe. Shake hands after shul (where we have the option of saying both “Shabbat Shalom” and “Gut Shabbos”). Hold our hands up to gaze at them by the flickering light of the havdala candle.
I left out a couple of them that my bar mitzvah boy felt are somewhat arbitrary and not inherent to Shabbos. I’ll let you read the book for yourself to find those and you can deliberate them. (He did not object to Shema nor mezuzah, even though those are applicable on chol [mundane days] as well. Washing hands too, though one can argue that we specifically wash for three meals on Shabbos. See, even a preschool book can lead to rich debates with an older child reading over your shoulder.)
The illustrations are engaging and young children will enjoy the rhythmic, pedagogic, interactive nature of this book.
A fun factoid that author Ken Bresler shared with me is that the illustration of the aron and parochet (curtain) in the book are based on those in his own shul, Temple Emanuel in Newton, Massachusetts.