This year’s list reflects the turbulent times in which we live.:
- Dreams Never Dreamed by Kalman Samuels (Toby Peres, 2020) - Never settle for less than the exact fulfillment of your dream
- For the Shabbat Table by the late Rabbi Chaim Wilschanski (Gefen Publishing, 2001) - only the tip of the iceberg
- I Am a Cat by Galia Bernstein (Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2017) - We are all different and all the same
- How Women Rise: Breaking the 12 Habits That Hold You Back from Your Next Raise, Promotion, or Job by Sally Helgesen and Marshall Goldsmith (Hachette Books, 2018) - Know your faults so you can work with them (or get rid of them)
I was already excited about Dreams Never Dreamed and the story of Shalva. But looking back, and after watching many videos, I was amazed at the humility and awesomeness of Malka Samuels, whose ideas and dreams came true. She saw a need and worked hard. And once she knew what she needed and what she wanted, she was determined to make it happen. And not just to check it off the list. For example, when designing the new center, she insisted on a particular color of tile. She ended up going to Italy, designing custom tiles, and then redyeing it when it was not exactly the right shade. The result is a beautiful, warm, welcoming place for all who enter.
We bought For the Shabbat Table many years ago and read from it each week during Shabbat lunch. Part of the reason we enjoyed it so much was that in almost every election, Rabbi Wilschanski would demonstrate a point "with the following anecdote." The rabbi "left this world on the eve of Passover" this year, and I feel a very personal loss. When we read the book, all I knew was that Rabbi Wilschanski was leading a congregation in London and then retired to Israel. Reading his obituary, I understand that his book is just a small piece of an amazing total package. A native of Germany, he had to flee from the Nazis. He went to the Gateshead Yeshiva with a small Torah scroll in his suitcase. He got married and studied at the Gateshead Kollel, then taught in London. He and his wife had five children, and he served as rabbi at Hampstead Garden shteibel for over 45 years, where he was a dynamic and popular speaker with a huge impact on the community. He also played the violin. After his retirement he would talk to Jewish students who had attended non-Jewish schools. He and his wife moved to Jerusalem when he was 83, and he remained active in his studies. He got to see the fifth generation of his family.
But more than that, when I told my family he has passed away, everyone remembered the stories from twelve years ago that included "the following anecdote." May he use his warm personality and dynamic speaking skills to be a meilitz yosher (strong advocate) for all of us.
These uncertain times have brought to the forefront of what used to be hidden hatred and violence. Many librarians and groups have offered books to help young readers cope with the situation and learn more about different groups and cultures (see AJL's "Love Your Neighbor" lists). I Am a Cat is a little gem that uses all kinds of felines to make its point. Simon is a small domesticated cat, but when he greets his cousins, the big cats are amused. The lion tells Simon that he is not a cat because he has no mane or tuft on the tip of his tail, and no one will be afraid of him. The cheetah tells Simon that he is not a cat because he is not sleek or graceful and cannot run fast. Other cats tell Simon that he is mistaken because Simon does not live in the mountains and jump, he is not black and he does not live in the jungle, and he is not big and strong and orange.
As a cat lover, I adore this book. As a librarian I see it works on so many levels. It's about cats, it's about differences, it's about similarities, it's about making your point in simplicity and courtesy. The illustrations are colorful and cute, and it can work with any of the sub-themes of books dealing with diversity and respecting others.
How Women Rise is a career counseling book for women who have reached a certain level and realize that something is holding them back from advancing further in their company or in their field. But it reads like a book about middos. It helps you identify things you do or say (or do not do and do not say) that can be perceived as weaknesses or faults. For example, many women work diligently and do not talk about their accomplishments because they think they will sound boastful and egotistical if they "toot their own horn." While on the one hand, working hard is a good trait, if people don't know what you're doing or how hard you're working, they will not value your contributions. They are ways to let people know your achievements, such as weekly or monthly updates, quick meetings with the boss, or memos that can let people know how indispensable you truly are.
The Real Cats of Israel have been luxuriating in the heat:
May 5781 be a year of health, happiness and good reading!!