As incident after incident of antisemitism shakes our nation, an old story gains new life in a colorful picture book that aims words and art at younger readers. Almost thirty years ago in Billings, Montana, a nasty act of antisemitism against a Jewish family displaying their menorah turned the town into a supportive collective defending freedom of religion. Soon after, a moving picture book arrived that told this unsettling story with quiet dignity supported by realistic illustrations by Bill Farnsworth: The Christmas Menorahs: How a Town Fought Hate, by Janice Cohn.
Now a brand new volume presents the reality of what occurred, through minimal text and swirling art by an award-winning artist. In the new version, as young Teresa prepares Christmas festivities, she shares her holiday spirit with her friend Isaac in the midst of his Hanukkah celebrations. Suddenly a rock smashes the window where Isaac’s menorah glows. The frightening attack instigates Teresa to act, and soon the whole town joins in. They reject the vandalism by putting pictures of menorahs in their windows too. The town’s citizens, as the author notes, turn into upstanders, not bystanders.” The damage is repaired. The fear may not be entirely gone, but it is dispelled by supportive neighbors and friends. Young children grasp that when bad things happen, these acts are not okay; they must not be shrugged off, and if they are faced by the whole community, everyone grows stronger. Love can win; differences will be respected. In Billings, when the community stood up, the stone throwers backed down.
Dynamic, colorful, full pages of moving art deliver this message while the words focus on the children who set the example for the grownups. The message bursts with hope as each painting bursts from its page.
Ellen G. Cole, a retired librarian of the Levine Library of Temple Isaiah in Los Angeles, is a past judge of the Sydney Taylor Book Awards and a past chairperson of that committee. She is a co-author of the AJL guide, Excellence in Jewish Children’s Literature. Ellen is the recipient of two major awards for contribution to Judaic Librarianship, the Fanny Goldstein Merit Award from the Association of Jewish Libraries and the Dorothy Schroeder Award from the Association of Jewish Libraries of Southern California. She is on the board of AJLSC.