Saturday, December 08, 2007

All of a Kind Family and Finders Weepers

If you haven't read the All-of-a-Kind Family books, you're missing out on a treat! Sydney Taylor's books are charming and humorous evocations of a low-income Jewish family living in turn of the century New York City. It's definitely old-fashioned, but never cringe-worthy. The family's Jewishness is very much a part of the story, from Sabbath preparations to the High Holy Days.

Finders Weepers is also a delightful chapter book centered around a Jewish family through the eyes of the middle child, Molly. There are darker overtones to this story; the persecution of European Jews (but not the full horror of the concentration camps) is becoming known, and there are fears about relatives who remained behind. Molly's younger brother suffers from asthma and requires a hospital stay. However, the closeness of the family and descriptions of 1930s Brooklyn balance out the more sobering aspects of the story. Unfortunately, I'm finding the sequels to not be as satisfying as Finders Weepers, which I first read in elementary school.

I mention these two books because I found something very interesting in them: although both books feature an observant Jewish family, there is no mention of Hanukkah. Purim is the holiday most enjoyed by the children. There is emphasis on the seriousness and importance of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, but Hanukkah is not mentioned. This is because Hanukkah was a relatively minor holiday in the United States until recently (Hanukkah is not as emphasized in Israel as it is in the United States).

After reading these two books, I racked my brain trying to think of older children's books in which Hanukkah was mentioned. I vaguely remembered a Hanukkah lighting scene in The Diary of Anne Frank (the book's title is officially The Diary of a Young Girl or Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, and the title of the movie/play is The Diary of Anne Frank), so I searched throughout The Diary of a Young Girl to find mention of it. The Franks were assimilated Reform Jews, as were many German Jews at the time (the Franks moved to Amsterdam in 1933 and went into hiding in 1942). St. Nicholas's Day and Christmas are mentioned several times in Anne's diary, but I could only find one mention of Hanukkah. This is from her entry dated 12/7/42:

"Dear Kitty,
Chanuka and St. Nicholas Day came almost together this year-just one day's difference. We didn't make much fuss about Chanuka: we just gave each other a few little presents and then we had the candles. Because of the shortage of candles we only had them alight for ten minutes, but it is all right as long as you have the song. Mr. Van Daan has made a wooden candlestick, so that too was all properly arranged."

(I searched through our 1993 edition; the definitive edition does include entries that Otto Frank, Anne's father, excised from the original publication, but these entries were mainly about Edith Frank, Anne's mother.)

If you see a production of The Diary of Anne Frank (it's been years since I've seen the movie, but I'm sure it's in there as well), this is the song the actors will sing. I do not know if this is the song that Anne referred to in her diary. This is a traditional Hanukkah song:

"Oh, Hanukkah, oh Hanukkah
The sweet celebration
Around the feast we gather
In complete jubilation
Happiest of seasons
Now is here
Many are the reasons for good cheer
We'll weather
Whatever tomorrow may bring
So hear us rejoicing
And merrily voicing
The Hanukkah song that we sing"

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