Soosie: The Horse That Saved Shabbat

Tami Lehman-Wilzig, Mena­hem Hal­ber­stadt (illus.)

By – March 1, 2021

Res­o­nant with the atmos­phere of old Jerusalem — traces of which can still be found in the mod­ern city — this heart-warm­ing tale was inspired by the his­to­ry of the ven­er­a­ble Angel Bak­ery, a well-known Jerusalem insti­tu­tion, orig­i­nal­ly estab­lished in 1927. Its pro­pri­etors, their remark­able deliv­ery horse, and the city, itself, are all the heroes of this gen­tly humor­ous and emo­tion-laden sto­ry which reads like a folk tale. This is a sto­ry in which you can almost hear the sounds of the city, see its leg­endary sights, and inhale the aro­ma of fresh­ly baked bread.

Esther and Ezra, the bak­ery’s own­ers, rose ear­ly every Fri­day morn­ing to mix, knead, and bake chal­lah dough so their cus­tomers could prop­er­ly observe Shab­bat. Jacob, their deliv­ery boy, along with Soosie their horse, rode through town each week sell­ing the fresh­ly baked chal­lah to the appre­cia­tive res­i­dents of the city. After the cus­tomers at each stop deposit­ed their pay­ments into the tin bank Soosie car­ried, the boy and the horse moved on, mak­ing sure every­one in town had chal­lah for their Shab­bat meals.

One day, Jacob became ill and could­n’t deliv­er the week’s chal­lah. Esther and Ezra were at a loss: how could the fresh­ly baked loaves be dis­trib­uted on time? Soosie, though, was pos­i­tive­ly rar­ing to go and was famil­iar with her route. So Esther and Ezra loaded Soosie’s wag­on with fresh chal­lot, the tin bank, and a note explain­ing that Jacob was unwell. Then Soosie set out along her usu­al path. Soosie stopped at all the reg­u­lar sta­tions, the cus­tomers read the note, then each took their loaves and deposit­ed their coins. Ezra and Esther wor­ried about their dear horse, hop­ing she had­n’t bro­ken a leg or met with oth­er mis­for­tune but reli­able Soosie knew her job. After sev­er­al hours she returned with the tin bank filled with coins. Soosie deserved her long rest that Shabbat.

Lehman-Wilzig’s love­ly sto­ry, Hal­ber­stadt’s evoca­tive, rich­ly col­ored art, and the atmos­phere of Jerusalem, itself, com­bine to teach young read­ers about respon­si­bil­i­ty, hon­esty, and lov­ing ani­mal-care. It’s a beau­ti­ful­ly ren­dered sim­ple sto­ry on the sur­face but it’s a com­plex one, too, redo­lent of car­ing rela­tion­ships between ani­mals and peo­ple and filled with a sense of Shab­bat peace.

An author’s note tells the his­to­ry of Angel Bak­ery, explains the bless­ing over the Shab­bat chal­lah, pro­vides some bib­li­cal back­ground for the Jew­ish val­ue of kind­ness to ani­mals, and presents a his­to­ry of Jerusalem’s pop­u­la­tion. She also clues the read­er in as to why she chose the name Soosie for her won­der­ful main char­ac­ter; Soos is the Hebrew word for horse.

This high­ly rec­om­mend­ed sto­ry would make a won­der­ful read-aloud and is an excel­lent resource for edu­ca­tors, par­ents, ani­mal lovers, chal­lah con­nois­seurs, and those — like Soosie — who love to wan­der the streets of Jerusalem.

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

The folk­loric style, the his­tor­i­cal Jerusalem set­ting, the engag­ing illus­tra­tions, and the upbeat mes­sage will delight all read­ers of this charm­ing tale. Every Fri­day, Jacob, the bak­ery deliv­ery boy, hitch­es his beloved horse Soozie to the wag­on, and off they go — deliv­er­ing deli­cious chal­lahs to the Jerusalem neigh­bor­hood. Neigh­bors drop their coin pay­ments into the tin bank and call out Shab­bat Shalom!” as Soozie swish­es her tail and neighs. But one day Jacob isn’t well enough to make the rounds and the bak­ers come up with an alter­nate plan. They write a note under the tin bank and send Soozie on her way, alone. She knows the way, and the buy­ers drop in their coins as they take a fresh chal­lah. Upon her return, a tired Soozie has earned her day of rest.” This is a love­ly sto­ry about Shab­bat, hon­esty, neigh­bor­li­ness, and Jew­ish tra­di­tion, with bright, adorable illustrations.