Fan and Hyman Jacobs Library

The Fan and Hyman Jacobs Library is a treasure trove hidden in plain sight, just a few steps off the main floor of Oheb Shalom. 

With over 5,000 items, there is something for everyone.  Books on philosophy, biography, history, and holidays fill the shelves.  The fiction, selected for all age levels, includes both modern and classic works by Jewish and Israeli authors.  There are special areas for graphic novels and for parenting advice.  A collection of DVDs is growing. 

Borrowing is simple, and there is never a late fee.  The catalog is available online.  Our librarian, Aileen Grossberg, is on site Sunday and Wednesday mornings, but you are welcome any time. 

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Oheb Shalom Online Catalog

THIS WEEK'S Message From Our Librarian

Power of Books

When we think of children’s books, most of us remember the books of our childhoods or our children’s childhoods: cute animals, pretty pictures, soothing stories, sometimes funny.

What we don’t imagine is the kerfuffle that a book for kids can cause. Children’s literature and especially picture books have a long history of dealing with important and sometimes controversial issues: racial equality, abuse, gender issues, war, bullying and so forth.

Jewish themed children’s books may have come late to the table but recent books have dealt with sexual abuse, same sex marriage, and race relations. If it’s a contemporary issue, a book for children has touched on the subject.

With today’s renewed conversation on diversity in books, children’s books depict many different kinds of Jewish communities and feature a variety of interpersonal relationships. Books like The Purim Super Hero and The Flower Girl Wore Celery are good stories that matter-of- factly have adult gay characters. Hush by Eishes Chayil, a young adult book, deals with abuse.

The latest issue is medical. Who would have ever thought that a Hanukkah themed children’s picture book from a small press would have caused a minor uproar.

Judah Maccabee Goes to the Doctor is a simple story of a little boy who sets a good example for his little sister when it’s time for his inoculations.  Set during Hanukkah, little Judah uses the example of Judah Maccabee for his own brave behavior at the doctor’s office. After all, getting shots can be a little scary and also hurt a little.  The bright cheerful illustrations emphasize the upbeat message of the book.

The message is age appropriate and explains that inoculations are a shield against certain illnesses just as Judah Maccabee’s shield protected him against the weapons of the enemy.

According to Ann Koffsky, author and illustrator of more than thirty books for children and art director at Behrman House Publishers (annkoffsky.com), she was not surprised by some of the negative response to the book but she was “startled by its ferocity”- ratings on Amazon dropped; she was accused of brainwashing and for being responsible for damaging children.

Koffsky says that she was prompted to write this book because at the day school that her own children attend, some parents were using religious grounds to opt out of having their children vaccinated.

Although some rabbis have argued against vaccination, Rabbi Shalom Shu chat stated that “ halachically a person is obligated to follow the doctor’s opinion, especially in matters pertaining to vaccines and other forms of medicine which prevent illness and death.

Koffsky noted that while she did not expect to change the minds of rigid anti-vaxxers, she hoped to reassure parents who are vaccinating. “It’s just a picture book, but I want to make them feel good about their choice and communicate that to their kids.”

The controversy has brought this book to the attention of readers beyond the Jewish community.  It’s been praised by some pro-vaccine and science websites with its message that crosses religious boundaries and the commercial reviews have been positive.

“It feels like Kiddush Hashem –sanctifying God. These are Jewish values, and these are universal values, and it feels good to be part of that conversation, “said Koffsky.

“We didn’t do this in order to run into a debate,” said Vicki Weber, of Behrman House, the venerable publisher that released the book under its Apples & Honey imprint. “We like to use Jewish life and Jewish views to tell stories that are different, and we thought this was a really interesting way to show courage in a small child.”

Not bad for a little picture book from a small Jewish press in suburban New Jersey.

By the way, the book is hard to get because of all the interest that’s been generated, but it’s available in the Jacobs Library.

New and newish Hanukkah books- not so controversial:

Other Hanukkah books are located in the 244.1 section or can be found by searching the online catalog.

Glaser             Way Too Many Latkes: a Hanukkah in Chelm- a typical Chelm story with a subtheme of hospitality.

Groner             Maccabee Meals: food and fun for Hanukkah. Kid friendly recipes and information.

Koster              Little Red Ruthie- a Hanukkah take on Little Red Riding Hood with a subtheme of bravery.

Rocklin             The Very Best Hanukkah Gift-8-year-old Daniel learns the joy of giving and overcomes his fear of dogs in this middle grade chapter book.

Stein                A Hanukkah with Mazel- a different kind of Hanukkah miracle and kindness to animals.

Schur               Potatoes at Turtle Rock- celebrating Hanukkah in a different way and celebrating nature.

Yolen               How do Dinosaurs Say Happy Chanukah? - dinosaurs model good behavior.

Aileen Grossberg, Librarian

Librarian Hours: Wednesdays & Sundays from 9 am to 12 pm. The library is open daily.