L’chaim! Malka Drucker
“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.”