Shoham’s Ban­gle

By – September 9, 2022

Israel is a coun­try born of immi­gra­tion and has, since its found­ing, wel­comed var­i­ous com­mu­ni­ties of Jews into its midst, many of whom have strug­gled in their coun­tries of ori­gin. One of the groups air­lift­ed to Israel dur­ing the 1950s was the Iraqi Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty. Shoham’s Ban­gle is the sto­ry of a young Iraqi-Jew­ish girl whose fam­i­ly is get­ting ready for a new life in a new homeland.

Shoham has always loved hear­ing the jin­gle of her Nana Aziza’s arm­load of ban­gle bracelets as they work togeth­er in the kitchen, in the gar­den, and around the house. Even Shoham her­self sports a beau­ti­ful ban­gle bracelet. When they are told that the Iraqi gov­ern­ment will not allow them to emi­grate with any jew­el­ry, they remind one anoth­er that all they real­ly need is for the fam­i­ly to be togeth­er. Nev­er­the­less, they clev­er­ly bake their trea­sured ban­gle bracelets into the dough they bring for the trip. The pita looks deli­cious — and it now hides a pre­cious secret.

Warmth and fam­i­ly val­ues are the hall­marks of this stun­ning pic­ture book. The most touch­ing parts cap­ture the inter­gen­er­a­tional bond between Shoham and her lov­ing grand­moth­er. The pre-immi­gra­tion kitchen scenes are rem­i­nis­cent of the Israelites prepar­ing to flee Egypt; and the col­or­ful art evokes a sense of life with­in Iraq and then with­in Israel, show­ing groups of immi­grant chil­dren play­ing in the street. In oth­er words, Shoham’s Ban­gle presents a slice of Jew­ish and Israeli his­to­ry, but it is also filled with fam­i­ly feel­ing, nos­tal­gia, and hope.

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.

Discussion Questions

Cour­tesy of Sarah Sassoon

1. Remem­ber Bangles 

Shoham’s ban­gle is a spe­cial object that helps her feel a sense of attach­ment, belong­ing and remem­ber­ing. She remem­bers where she comes the Jew­ish world in Bagh­dad. She also remem­bers Hebrew words for set­tling in her new home in Israel. We all remem­ber dif­fer­ent things which are impor­tant to us. We all have dif­fer­ent objects that are mean­ing­ful to us, and help us remember.

Dis­cus­sion Ques­tion: Do you have a spe­cial object that reminds you of some­thing, or makes you feel spe­cial? Per­haps you have a fam­i­ly object, like Shoham’s ban­gle which is spe­cial to your family.

Activ­i­ty 1: Make paper remem­ber ban­gles — Each child can dec­o­rate and write on their ban­gle, a Hebrew word they want to remem­ber, or some­thing impor­tant to them, before it’s attached as a ban­gle on their wrist. 

Activ­i­ty 2: What’s your sto­ry? Just like Shoham’s ban­gle has a sto­ry, every­one can write/​draw/​bring from home their own spe­cial objects and tell their sto­ries. Every­one can take turns show­ing and shar­ing their objects and stories. 

2. Bak­ing Date Cook­ies 

Shoham comes from Iraq, which is in the Mid­dle East. She cuts out Iraqi date cook­ies called Ba’aba Tamar with her ban­gle. When she arrives in Israel there are dif­fer­ent cook­ie ingre­di­ents so she makes semoli­na cookies. 

Dis­cus­sion Ques­tion: Each coun­try has their own spe­cial cook­ie recipes. What’s your favorite cook­ie? Per­haps you have a spe­cial fam­i­ly recipe, maybe even from anoth­er coun­try like Shoham.

Activ­i­ty: Bak­ing Cookies 

Make Baba Tamar-Iraqi date cook­ies using ban­gles to shape them, just as Shoham does. Could also do semoli­na cook­ies as they baked in Israel, because flour was scarce at the time. The chil­dren can learn how dates were the main Iraqi fruit, used in many Iraqi-Jew­ish dish­es, and can com­pare it to choco­late cook­ies — which can also be made (in my expe­ri­ence all chil­dren pre­fer choco­late to date.) 

An alter­na­tive is to make khubz - a typ­i­cal Iraqi pita bread, like Shoham’s nana makes, and see how a bub­ble forms in the mid­dle, and how some­thing like a ban­gle can be hid­den in it. 

3. The Jews of Iraq

The Jews of Iraq trace their ori­gins to the time of the Baby­lo­ni­ans, 2,500 years ago. This means they have dif­fer­ent tra­di­tions, foods and lan­guage to Jews from Europe and oth­er places. This is an oppor­tu­ni­ty to explore dif­fer­ences as well as sim­i­lar­i­ties. Which shows each Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty is con­nect­ed but has it’s own unique cul­ture, such as giv­ing young girls bangles.

Dis­cus­sion Ques­tion — What do you know about Jews in the Mid­dle East? Iraq? What cul­tur­al dif­fer­ences do they have?

Activ­i­ty — Match It Game — Present the cul­tur­al sim­i­lar­i­ties and dif­fer­ences through a match it game, thus intro­duc­ing Iraqi-Jew­ish tra­di­tions. For exam­ple a pic­ture of chal­lah and Iraqi flat­bread would be a match. The chil­dren could dis­cuss how both Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ties would bless two breads for Shab­bat, but dif­fer­ent types of bread. Oth­er exam­ples of pic­ture match­es would be:

Shab­bat Can­dles — Europe — Can­dle sticks 

Iraq — A glass bowl hang­ing with three sil­ver chains from the ceil­ing, with sev­en cot­ton wicks. 

Rab­binic Dress — Europe — Black coat and fur hat

— Iraq — Col­or­ful embroi­dered robe and turban

Syn­a­gogues — Europe — Elab­o­rate, big Syn­a­gogue like in Rome

— Iraq — The Great Syn­a­gogue in Bagh­dad had an open roof

Music — Euro­pean — Klezmer Band

— Iraq — Chalqi Band (very dif­fer­ent instru­ments eg. the oud.)

4. The Iraqi-Jew­ish his­to­ry of Oper­a­tion Ezra & Nehemiah

Oper­a­tion Ezra & Nehemi­ah was a his­toric event where 120,000 Jews, like Shoham and her fam­i­ly, left Iraq and were air­lift­ed to Israel from 1951 – 52

Dis­cus­sion Ques­tion — Shoham flew to Israel on an air­plane, and it felt like being car­ried on a giant eagle’s wings. What does fly­ing feel like? What does it mean when an entire com­mu­ni­ty flies out of a country. 

Activ­i­ty 1 - World Map

The idea of immi­gra­tion mov­ing from one coun­try to anoth­er is some­thing hard to imag­ine until you see it visu­al­ly. Every­one would receive a small paper map, paper peo­ple to cut out, and a plane they can col­or in and mark. 

Track Shoham’s air jour­ney from Iraq to Israel. Track the route from where you live to Iraq and to Israel. Explore the world map with dif­fer­ent ques­tions such as: 

  1. Shoham’s fam­i­ly orig­i­nates from Iraq, where does your fam­i­ly orig­i­nate from? Find it on the map and col­or it in. Track it from where you live now.

b) Which coun­tries have you trav­eled to on the map? Where would you want to trav­el to? Col­or and track it on the map. 

5. Immi­grant Experience 

There are many peo­ple who have had to leave their coun­try of birth and move to a new one like Shoham and her fam­i­ly. Under­stand­ing the chal­lenges of the immi­grant, such as learn­ing a new lan­guage, eat­ing new foods, not hav­ing mon­ey, such as Shoham had to face, widens our hearts and under­stand­ing of oth­er peo­ple, so that we treat them with respect and dignity.

Dis­cus­sion Ques­tion — What it is to leave a place you were born in to rebuild a whole new life in a for­eign, new coun­try? How we can have com­pas­sion for immi­grants, such as Shoham, who have to leave their homes? Have you, or do you know any­one, who has moved homes, cities, coun­tries? What was dif­fi­cult for them?

Activ­i­ty 1 - Shoham and her fam­i­ly could only pack one suit­case. What would you pack in your suit­case if you could only take one suit­case? It’s not easy to decide is it.

Activ­i­ty 2 — Build Shoham a home. What would Shoham need to start a new life in a for­eign place? Draw or with paper cut outs — cre­ate Shoham a new home and life, with every­thing she needs.