While my students are Christian (most Catholic, as are my daughters) I see a great value in reading stories about Judaism (as well as other religions). I mean, we share a whole Old Testament of history and beliefs with the Jewish people, and it creates a great opportunity to teach about differences. The simple bottom line that I share with kids is that the Jews don’t believe Jesus is as important as we do, but we still have lots in common.
Two titles I’ve shared with both sets of “kids” recently:
The Story of Hanukkah by David A. Adler, illustrated by Jill Weber
This picture book has a fairly short chunk of text on each page, along with colourful illustrations that take kids back to Israel at the time of the King Antiochus IV and the Maccabees. My kids were fascinated to learn about the miracle of the oil, and are so innocent that they were shocked to learn religious freedom didn’t (and doesn’t) exist everywhere.
The back of the book also has a recipe for latkes and instructions for how to play the dreidel game, two other ways to expose kids to other religious traditions.
The Christmas Menorahs: How a Town Fought Hate by Janice Cohn, illustrated by Bill Farnsworth
Also picture book style, this story is actually much longer than a traditional picture book, with many of the 39 pages completely full of text. (Not a quick read-aloud.) I read this to my students over the course of two days, and used it as an exercise in visualization, as the kids sketched what they were picturing as they listened.
The Christmas Menorahs is the true story about the town of Billings, Montana, where a rock was thrown through the window of young Isaac Schnitzer’s bedroom simply because it was lit up with a menorah. The book recounts how the community came together, with many of those who were not Jewish placing menorahs in their windows as well to stand up against hate and prejudice.
One line that really resonated with the students and helped them to relate: “She had been trying to imagine how she would feel if someone threw a rock into her window because she had a Christmas tree.”
While on the one hand I think it’s very important for children to have a certain awareness about prejudice, I also find it heartwarming that at this point, the idea that someone could be targeted because of their religion is a completely new concept for most of the children in my life.