L’chaim! Malka Drucker

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“I think that for most of us, child­hood can be very scary, be­cause we don’t un­der­stand any­thing,” said Rabbi Malka Drucker. “I re­mem­ber, as a child, read­ing bi­ogra­phies and be­ing heart­ened be­cause the sub­jects all started out small, some­times with hand­i­caps, and they went on to lead re­mark­able lives.”

Drucker, who leads the HaMakom com­mu­nity in Santa Fe, is the au­thor of sev­eral books for chil­dren, and some for adults, many of which fo­cus on Ju­daism. In Grandma’s Latkes, il­lus­trated by Eve Ch­wast, a lit­tle girl named Molly helps her grand­mother make potato latkes for Hanukkah while be­ing told about the mir­a­cle of the oil that rep­re­sents the hol­i­day. The story of how the Syr­ian king An­ti­ochus tried to make Jews in Is­rael give up their re­li­gion and de­stroyed their tem­ples, only to be de­feated by Ju­dah Maccabee and his band of brothers, is as bru­tal as any found in the Bi­ble. But the tale of un­der­dog hero­ism is skill­fully wo­ven into a sweet, re­al­is­tic nar­ra­tive about tra­di­tional hol­i­day cook­ing that in­cludes an easy-to-fol­low latke recipe and even a few handy tips, like how to get bro­ken eggshell out of the bowl by us­ing an­other piece of eggshell.

Ja­cob’s Res­cue: A Holo­caust Story, writ­ten with Michael Halperin, is for slightly older read­ers who are ready to delve into how some chil­dren lived in East­ern Europe dur­ing World War II. “I read The Di­ary of Anne Frank when I was thir­teen, and it dev­as­tated me. She was my age,” Drucker re­called. In Ja­cob’s Res­cue, the ti­tle char­ac­ter and his lit­tle brothers are hid­den from the Nazis in Poland by an al­tru­is­tic Chris­tian fam­ily — which Drucker be­lieves is an im­por­tant piece of his­tory for Jewish chil­dren to learn. “There were Chris­tians who put their lives at risk to save Jews.”

Though it’s told as warmly as pos­si­ble and has a happy end­ing, there is tremen­dous loss and vi­o­lence in Ja­cob’s Res­cue, which can­not be avoided if an au­thor wants to deal hon­estly with the topic. “I never en­cour­age this book to be read be­fore a kid is ten,” Drucker said. And even then, she added, some tenyear-olds might not be ready, but it is im­por­tant for par­ents and teach­ers to re­mem­ber that books are not trau­ma­tiz­ing in and of them­selves, even if the sub­ject mat­ter is dif­fi­cult. “Maybe you don’t give a kid with a dif­fi­cult home life a book about a kid like him, be­cause maybe that kid needs a book that’s an es­cape. But I have no ques­tion that it’s im­por­tant that kids re­ally pay at­ten­tion to what the world is about and learn about it through fic­tion that’s based in re­al­ity. When I was a kid, I got a lot of com­fort from read­ing about other kinds of fam­i­lies.”

In 1991, Drucker wrote for a youn­gadult book se­ries about fe­male artists; it was pro­duced by Ban­tam in as­so­ci­a­tion with Barnard Col­lege. At first she was go­ing to write about Anna Freud, daugh­ter of Sig­mund, who be­came a well-know psy­cho­an­a­lyst. Drucker be­gan the re­search but soon found that Freud was not the kind of per­son she wanted to lift up as an ex­am­ple to young women. “Her father psy­cho­an­a­lyzed her; she was trau­ma­tized. She lived with a woman for 30 years, and no one knew the na­ture of that re­la­tion­ship. She was the most clos­eted per­son, and there was noth­ing to learn.” She pitched the se­ries edi­tors a book about Frida Kahlo in­stead, in the early days of our grow­ing cul­tural ob­ses­sion with the Mex­i­can artist who was per­ma­nently in­jured in a bus ac­ci­dent as a teenager. The book, Frida Kahlo, was re­pub­lished in 1995 by the Univer­sity of New Mex­ico Press and is now read by teens and adults in­ter­ested in learn­ing about Kahlo as a model of courage and per­se­ver­ance in the face of in­cred­i­ble ob­sta­cles. Drucker’s most re­cent book is Por­traits of Jewish

Amer­i­can He­roes, which is part of a se­ries of no­table Amer­i­cans from dif­fer­ent cul­tural and eth­nic back­grounds. Jewish Amer­i­can He­roes in­cludes pro­files of the poet Emma Lazarus, ma­gi­cian Harry Hou­dini, sci­en­tist Al­bert Ein­stein, fem­i­nist pi­o­neer Glo­ria Steinem, and Supreme Court Jus­tice Ruth Bader Gins­burg, among oth­ers.

“In my books I want to speak to that child who was sit­ting out there like me, dis­cour­aged, and as­sure them that there is a fu­ture,” Drucker said. “I find that I’m not so much writ­ing for chil­dren but writ­ing for the child within my­self.” — Jen­nifer Levin

Anne“I read FrankThe Di­ary when ofI was thir­teen, and it dev­as­tated me. She was my age.”

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