A few weeks prior to each holiday, I gather my books from the shelf and start reading. I also conduct an internet search for resources and get lost in articles, recipes and craft ideas. I enjoy refreshing my memory on the purpose and meaning of the holidays and finding new inspiration for the cooking I do for my family and the crafts I do with my children.
There are a vast number of books and websites providing information about the Jewish holidays. While none of them are my perfect solution to preparing for the holidays, there are several books that I consistently look at.
The Children’s Jewish Holiday Kitchen by Joan Nathan, author of several cookbooks, including The Jewish Holiday Kitchen and Jewish Cooking in America. This book is set up such that each chapter begins with holiday menu suggestions. Nathan provides a brief description of the holiday - including family stories and several recipes that adults and children can make together. Her mission with this book is not only to encourage the exploration of Jewish food, but to encourage families to sit down and enjoy time together and to teach children cooking basics. A list of ingredients, utensils and equipment is provided as well as easy steps for working with children. She also includes some art projects and other ways to get children excited about their heritage.
In The Jewish Holidays: A Guide & Commentary by Michael Strassfield, you will find a description of ancient traditions presented in a way that inspires for modern times. He includes the commentaries of five of his colleagues in the margins of his book. Chapters are set up with an introduction of the holiday, the rituals for the holidays, how to step up your own observance of the holiday and a more in depth look at the meaning within each holiday. In the back are appendixes providing information on the Halacha or laws associated with each particular holiday, Hebrew blessings, Hebrew terms, and a list of Torah portions read on the specific holidays. This is not light reading. This book is for the reader who wants to educate him or herself. Whether you are just beginning or want to add more to your knowledge base, this book can serve you well.
The ArtScroll Youth Series has put out a book by Shmuel Blitz called My First Book of Jewish Holidays. A little wordy and busy for the very young child, a parent can use this book as a tool for teaching children. Each chapter includes a description or story about the holiday. There are beautiful pictures on each page to enhance a child’s experience. There are several extra blurbs throughout each chapter – sometimes many on one page – providing additional tidbits about the reading. There are also blurbs titled “a closer look” offering additional questions, stories and descriptions about the particular topic. Each chapter also includes the Laws associated with the holiday. From Rosh Hashana to Tisha B’Av, all the major holidays are covered in this book.
Finally, a book called Jewish Days written by Francine Klagsbrun and illustrated by Mark Podwal. This special book covers not only the Jewish holidays but all of the special days within a Jewish year. This is a book that would appeal to those just discovering Judaism as well as to those who want to continue their learning. Klagsbrun poses great questions, provides profound insights and even includes details about the holidays and their laws. She goes beyond the holidays to include historical events in Jewish life. It is poetically written and artistically decorated. It is a book I turn to often and always get something new from it. It is a piece of art on my bookshelf.
A value inherent in Jewish life is that of education. It is our responsibility to learn about the holidays on the Jewish calendar beyond the experience we may have been given as children. There are vast lessons to be learned and growth experiences to be embraced.
Each of the books above enhances my experience of the Jewish holidays in a different way. I encourage you to explore some of these (or other) books on your own and start to build your own library.