This season, books typically reserved for the synagogue are headed home. A children’s prayer book; a volume on the kaddish, a prayer said in memory of a loved one; and a haggadah, in which the Passover story is retold—all hope to revitalize elements of the Jewish liturgy for the lay reader.
Halleli Nafshi: A Weekday Siddur for Children, edited by Rabbi Amy Bardack and Rabbi Beth Norton (Solomon Schechter Day School of Greater Boston, Aug.) is the traditional prayer book redesigned to be accessible to children. Big, bold typography and colorful pictures drawn by Solomon Schechter students fill the pages. Prayers are accompanied by kid-friendly translations as well as thought-provoking questions and explanations to “spark reflection and discussion.”
A prayer close to the hearts of many, the kaddish, is explored more fully in The Illuminated Kaddish: Interpretations of the Mourner’s Prayer. With paintings, calligraphy, and interpretations by Hyla Shifra Bolsta (Ktav, May), this supplication--which is said daily for eleven months after a close relative has died--receives in-depth analysis. Black-and-white calligraphy and bold illustrations personify the more abstract meanings of the verses. Bolsta translates and attempts to unravel some of the words and phrases and offers related quotes from the Jewish tradition that discuss God and death. Readers both familiar and unfamiliar with the prayer will find much to contemplate here.
Asked why this market is seeing a sudden growth, publicist Fern Reiss at Publishing Game, which handled Halleli Nafshi, believes it has much to do with the insecurity people feel in these turbulent times. “There's so much uncertainty right now--economic uneasiness; worries about our kids growing up in such a disconnected, wired world; concern about Israel because of the Iranian nuclear threat--that people are looking for some mooring and tradition that will provide some stability. That's making Jewish liturgical books hot right now.”
With The New American Haggadah, edited by Jonathan Safran Foer and translated by Nathan Englander (Little, Brown, March), the Passover seder gets a fun and intelligent new addition. The traditional Hebrew text is translated faithfully but is also supplemented by commentary, both insightful and engaging, written by recognized Jewish literary and intellectual personalities Jeffrey Goldberg, Lemony Snicket, Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, and Nathaniel Deutsch. A timeline atop most pages marks significant milestones in Jewish freedom and suffering, brilliantly expressing what the holiday is all about. Employing an entertaining design, the text, timeline, and commentary all run in different directions. A healthy dose of humorous comments is certain to keep seder participants animated and awake as the night grows long.