Noted storyteller Eric Kimmel’s beautiful folktale, Nicanor’s Gate, is based on the ancient Jewish history recounted in the Mishnah and has been reissued in a beautiful edition with all new art. It tells the story of King Herod who, wishing to renovate and beautify the Temple in Jerusalem, requests contributions from artisans far and wide, but only those who will use the finest materials and pay meticulous attention to detail. In response to this call, wealthy Nicanor of Alexandria decides that this is his opportunity to use his bountiful resources to participate in a worthy project. He knows he can craft something magnificent and thereby play a role in this important endeavor.
Nicanor fashions two gates, made of the finest Corinthian gold, to be used for the Temple’s eastern entrance. When the spectacular gates are finally completed, he joyfully prepares to send them on to Jerusalem to enhance the newly renovated Temple and add to its glory. But one problem faces him as he attempts to achieve this goal; the gates are too heavy to transport such a long distance. He fashions special wagons strong enough to bear the weight of the gates and conveys them to the harbor where they are loaded onto a ship setting sail for the Holy Land. Nicanor decides to accompany his gates on the journey, planning to stay in Jerusalem and reside there permanently. When a fierce storm arises, the frightened sailors, hoping to lighten the ship’s load and prevent it from capsizing, toss one of the massive gates overboard. Nicanor, hoping to prevent the remaining gate from meeting the same fate, throws himself across the gate to protect it.
When the ship docks and the gate is unloaded, Herod admires its beauty but Nicanor cannot be consoled for the loss of its mate. To his amazement, the submerged gate rises from the sea and floats toward shore. Nicanor’s Gates, as they will be forever known, can now be installed at the Temple reflecting its honor and glory.
A perfect read-aloud, there is much material to spark discussion within this simple tale including the value of diligent work and its rewards, the role of creativity, and Nicanor’s faith in God. The lyrical text with its gentle rhythm is evocative of alluring tales of long ago. Illustrator Alida Massari’s lush, elegant art with its jewel tones and gracious lines transports the reader back to ancient times and far away settings. Her attention to detail echoes Nicanor’s artistry in the crafting of his legendary gates. This superb story is worthy of being read, shared, and reread often.
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.