Sharon Elswit, author of The Jewish Story Finder, now resides in San Francisco, where she has been helping students visiting 826 Valencia locations around the city to write stories and poems and getting adults up and retelling Jewish folktales to share with their own spin.
One City, Two Brothers
When two brothers come to Solomon with a dispute about land inheritance, the king tells them the story of two other brothers who secretly transfer grain, each from his own stock to add to his brother’s storehouse in the night. In the morning, they are puzzled and dismayed to find their own stores undiminished and, the next night, try again. On the third night, each bearing more sacks of grain for the other, they meet and embrace. This spot becomes the site of the holy temple and the very city of Jerusalem. The legend about Jerusalem has been widely told in English collections of Jewish folklore for generations. What makes this telling different is that Smith, who spent time working in Gaza and the West Bank, now casts it as a Palestinian Arab tale. He steps neutrally through the narrative, except that God is not mentioned as blessing the spot where the two brothers meet. No synagogues are present in any of the city scapes. Asterisks appear near proper names, such as Solomon, where Muslim readers might want to add “may peace be upon him.” The production is certainly lovely. Stately Arab brothers move through acrylic blues and greens and reds that fill each page with rich color and simply illuminate the action. Smith took liberty to wrap the story of two loving brothers within the frame of two squabblers, which reinforces the theme of sharing. With his best wishes for peace, it is also unfortunate that Smith gives no sources for his claims in the afterward that this story belongs to both Arabs and Jews. Was it first told by an Arab farmer to a traveler? Is it now told by Arabs who live around Jerusalem? Right now, with Waldman’s and Freedman’s picture books out of print, this is the only illustrated retelling of the tale. It is a beautiful tale of unselfishness, though not presented here as a Jewish one. For ages 4 – 8.
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