Giving Meaning to Jewish Games
As we have all found in recent months, real life can be stranger than fiction. Yet we often turn to books to provide a much-needed escape from reality. Sometimes a story is a window onto different worlds, other times they serve as mirrors, reflecting and articulating our own thoughts and actions. ‘Windows and mirrors’ is a term that my team and I regularly discuss, ensuring the children and their families we partner with either get a chance to see themselves, or to learn something new, on the pages of a book.
This month, PJ Library sent books about the Jewish festivals, to 8,000 children throughout the UK. The titles are pictured below and when I started to read them, I was struck by an unintentional theme running through this year’s choices. They all place a simple children’s game at the heart of the narrative, to depict a more powerful message about the forthcoming festivals, which anchor the Jewish calendar.
One Two Three Rosh Hashanah invites a child to count the different elements and rituals associated with the New Year – pomegranate seeds, slices of apple, shofar blasts. A counting game is a simple way to keep a young child occupied but also provides an opportunity to pass on precious traditions to the next generation.
Hillel Builds a House tells the story of a small boy who loves to construct hideouts he can call his own, feeling disappointed that each festival does not require a den, until of course Sukkot arrives! The festival that children love to prepare for by building, decorating and (sometimes!) camping out in their own booths. The humble sukkah reminds us that while our regular homes may look sturdy, life is fragile and in the hands of a higher power.
A Rainy Day Story tells the tale of Rabbi Hanina who appears to play with the weather patterns before realising that while something may be good for the individual, it can have negative effects on others. A notion we have all been made far too aware of in this difficult year gone by.
Finally, Tashlich At Turtle Rock is about a family who go for a walk on Rosh Hashanah afternoon, adapting the age-old tradition of Tashlich for their own family. Some thought-provoking questions and a picturesque stroll in nature leads to a cleansing, contemplative ritual for them all.
As we say goodbye to a challenging year and usher in the new one with some trepidation, we can take comfort in enabling our children to follow in the footsteps of their ancestors, finding the fun in our games and festivals but also the many layers of meaning they offer, while adding our own personal footprints along the way.
Lauren Hamburger is the Director of PJ Library in the UK .
If you know a child age eight years or under, sign them up for their free Jewish monthly book at pjlibrary.org.uk