Lenny and Benny

  • Review
By – March 15, 2021

The midrashic sto­ry of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza is a tra­di­tion­al Jew­ish moral­i­ty tale used to illus­trate the prin­ci­ple of base­less hatred, con­sid­ered so egre­gious and wide­spread in the lat­ter days of the Jerusalem Tem­ple, that it was thought to be the source of the Tem­ple’s destruc­tion in 70 CE.

Lenny and Ben­ny, by Naa­ma Ben­z­i­man, is an updat­ed ver­sion of this tale. The sto­ry takes place in a pris­tine for­est pop­u­lat­ed only by wildlife, where envy, revenge, and betray­al con­tin­ue to exist. Lenny is a cham­pi­on jumper, acknowl­edged by for­est friends as the very best. His friend Ben­ny admires Lenny’s prowess and asks whether he will teach him the fin­er points of jump­ing high. Lenny is glad to help. That is, until the day that the stu­den­t’s skills exceed those of the teacher and Ben­ny becomes the new very best jumper of all. Accu­sa­tions of cheat­ing fly. Ben­ny knows Lenny is upset with him and tries to make amends, but Lenny will not be mol­li­fied. Their friend­ship gives way to enmi­ty, and it seems that it can­not be repaired.

Some­time lat­er, Ben­ny throws a lav­ish birth­day par­ty and invites all the for­est folk, except for Lenny, but the post­man acci­den­tal­ly deliv­ers an invi­ta­tion to Lenny’s home. Hop­ing the feud is over, Lenny goes to the par­ty, but is denied admis­sion by a still angry Ben­ny. Lat­er that year, Ben­ny dis­cov­ers the gift and con­cil­ia­to­ry draw­ing Lenny left when he was turned away from the par­ty, and he is remind­ed of the won­der­ful times they shared. Peace and friend­ship are restored.

In con­trast to Lenny and Ben­nys hap­py end­ing, the sto­ry of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza ends on a trag­ic note, with no peace­ful res­o­lu­tion. Ben­z­i­man includes a sum­ma­ry of the tra­di­tion­al sto­ry and a note remind­ing the read­er about the val­ue of kind­ness, with tips on how to han­dle anger. The read­er leaves know­ing that a hap­pi­er end­ing is not only pos­si­ble, but is achiev­able through action. The les­son is gen­tly told, with no didac­tic over­tones, and Benziman’s seem­ing­ly sim­ple line draw­ings are teem­ing with detail far more com­plex than is evi­dent at first glance, using col­or to clear­ly dif­fer­en­ti­ate the characters.

Over­all, Lenny and Ben­ny tells an impor­tant sto­ry for each suc­ceed­ing gen­er­a­tion to inter­nal­ize and act upon. It would be of great use in both class­room dis­cus­sions and in fam­i­ly set­tings, mak­ing this charm­ing new ver­sion of an ancient tale high­ly recommended.

Michal Hoschan­der Malen is the edi­tor of Jew­ish Book Coun­cil’s young adult and children’s book reviews. A for­mer librar­i­an, she has lec­tured on top­ics relat­ing to lit­er­a­cy, run book clubs, and loves to read aloud to her grandchildren.

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