The Yan­kee at the Seder

Elka Weber, Adam Gus­tavson, illus.
  • Review
By – January 16, 2012
It comes as no sur­prise to find out that the author of this impres­sive pic­ture book debut is also a his­to­ry teacher. She must be a good one, because she has a nat­ur­al abil­i­ty to make his­to­ry come alive for young read­ers. This seem­ing­ly sim­ple tale of a cor­po­ral from Philadel­phia being invit­ed to a Vir­ginia Seder the day after Robert E. Lee sur­ren­dered, is a many-lay­ered sto­ry that draws the read­er in from its first page. The ten­sion is pal­pa­ble as we con­sid­er the dis­com­forts that were sure­ly felt around the fine­ly set Seder table that day. The ami­able young sol­dier sees the Passover saga as a sign of his right­eous cause, while the South­ern fam­i­ly patri­arch rel­ish­es the cus­tom of pour­ing a bit of wine from the glass (when recit­ing the ten plagues), say­ing vic­tors should not feel com­plete­ly at ease, know­ing that oth­er peo­ple have suf­fered.” The appeal­ing, real­is­tic oil paint­ings in dark browns and blues char­ac­ter­ize the time and place well. The author’s notes at the end of the book which are enti­tled, The Real Sto­ry”, inform us that, Dur­ing the war, six to nine thou­sand Jews fought for the North and about two thou­sand Jews fought for the South.” We also find out that this book is based on the sto­ry of Myer Samuel Levy, a Union cor­po­ral, who had found him­self in a Vir­ginia town for Passover and told the sto­ry to his fam­i­ly. Even if it were not based on truth, the idea that being Jew­ish seems to trump even the tragedy of wartime dif­fer­ences is reas­sur­ing. This book can be appre­ci­at­ed at many lev­els — even in high school class­es — and will pro­vide much thought­ful dis­cus­sion about the nature of what the hol­i­day of Passover tru­ly rep­re­sents. Ages 6 – 10.
Lisa Sil­ver­man is direc­tor of Sinai Tem­ple’s Blu­men­thal Library in Los Ange­les and a for­mer day school librar­i­an. She is the for­mer chil­dren’s book review edi­tor of Jew­ish Book World.

Discussion Questions