On Mon­day, Lau­rel Sny­der blogged on writ­ing a book about inclu­sion and diver­si­ty. She is the author of the pic­ture book Bax­ter, the Pig Who Want­ed to Be Kosher. She will be blog­ging all this week for the Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and MyJew­ish­Learn­ing.

For a long time I’ve want­ed to write about Bax­ters ded­i­ca­tion, which reads: This book is ded­i­cat­ed to Jer­ry Sorokin, who offered me a place at the table. But also, this book is ded­i­cat­ed to any­one who ever felt exclud­ed in any way. Which is to say, this book is ded­i­cat­ed to everyone.”

Now — the sec­ond part of the ded­i­ca­tion is obvi­ous in its mean­ing. But a lot of peo­ple out there have no idea who Jer­ry Sorokin is, or why Bax­ter is his book. So I’d like a chance to explain.

Jer­ry isn’t my hus­band or my father or my esteemed ex-writ­ing-pro­fes­sor. Jer­ry Sorokin is the direc­tor of Hil­lel at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Iowa. For one short year of my life he was my boss, at the job I only took because I was tired of wait­ing tables, and because I need­ed health­care. It was a year that changed my life in many ways.

I didn’t just grow up in an inter­mar­ried home. I also grew up in the city,” far-removed from most of the sub­ur­ban Bal­ti­more Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty. I didn’t real­ly have any Jew­ish friends, cer­tain­ly none in my neigh­bor­hood. Then I moved to Chat­tanooga, where I was one of twelve Jews at my col­lege. With the excep­tion of a semes­ter in Haifa, Jew­ish prac­tice had noth­ing to do with community.

By the time I got to Iowa for grad school, my Judaism was some­thing almost entire­ly inside myself — large­ly aca­d­e­m­ic. I read Jew­ish books and watched Jew­ish movies. I fast­ed alone on Yom Kip­pur.

But then Jer­ry offered me a job, and this huge new world opened up for me — this world of com­mu­ni­ty and sup­port. I was intim­i­dat­ed by all that I didn’t know — the prayers I couldn’t say and the mis­takes I made, by the fact that the stu­dents knew more than I did. But Jer­ry made that all seem just fine. He said things like, You know things they don’t know.” He reas­sured me in a way that felt like the truth.

So I learned to keep a kosher kitchen. I stud­ied with Ortho­dox rab­bis. I built a sukkah and lit can­dles every Fri­day night. I couldn’t believe it! Me – Lau­rel Sny­der! Instead of fast­ing alone that year, I gave a D’var Torah at Yom Kip­pur ser­vices, and I did it my way. Over a year I learned some­thing I didn’t know it was pos­si­ble to learn. I learned comfort.

And when I left at the end of the year, to move to Atlanta for per­son­al rea­sons, I felt ter­ri­ble. I apol­o­gized to Jer­ry, and he said, Nev­er apol­o­gize for doing what is right for your fam­i­ly.” I remem­ber this clearly.

And that was when I knew he was part of my fam­i­ly too. He taught me that every­one has some­thing to con­tribute. He made me believe that all these Jew­ish val­ues we talk about are true, enact­ed dai­ly in this rich diverse com­mu­ni­ty of Jews.

He made me feel like that was my job too.

Bax­ter, the Pig Who Want­ed to Be Kosher comes out this week. Check back all week to read Lau­rel Snyder’s posts on the Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and MyJew­ish­Learn­ings Author Blog.

Lau­rel Sny­der is the author of many books for chil­dren, includ­ing the Geisel-win­ning Char­lie and Mouse series, the Syd­ney Tay­lor Award-win­ning The Longest Night, and Orphan Island, which was longlist­ed for the Nation­al Book Award. A grad­u­ate of the Iowa Writ­ers’ Work­shop, Lau­rel also writes occa­sion­al­ly for such out­lets as The New York Times, The Atlantic, and NPR’s All Things Con­sid­ered.