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(An illustration by children’s book author and illustrator, Ezra Jack Keats, author/illustrator of “A Snowy Day,” “A Whistle for Willie,” and 20 other books, translated into some 20 languages. Born Jacob Ezra Katz in Brooklyn, NY., Keats’ books introduced multiculturalism into American Children’s literature.)
I knew I was taking a risk,
When I gave notebooks marked’
“The Book Of Life,”
To each of our granddaughters,
Ages 14, 11 & 7,
At Rosh Hashanah dinner,
With a side of rainbow-colored challah.
“The Book of Life,” intimidated me
Since I became a Jew at age 30.
“The Book,” where it’s written
For eternity, who shall live, and who’ll die,
And how we’ll go, by and by.
“The Book of Life,” the book of death,
The very notion sucked my breath.
But, I was determined to minimize the fear,
And teach them, that to celebrate the New Year,
We had to approach things with eyes so clear,
Like theirs, that saw what others missed;
With ears sharply attuned to hear
What the Shofar was awakening us to do,
In worlds beyond our doors, and those quite near.
I asked each to think about things they liked best
About the year just passed. Answers came so fast—
Concerts, movies, & favorite foods;
Road trips, & Taylor Swift, and pets, so good.
Write these in your books, I said,
And, for a fleeting moment,
I could only see the tops of their heads.
So, I pushed my luck,
And, playing my usual role of Puck,
Asked them to think how they’d fix a world run amuck.
It was as if we’d stepped onto a soaring coaster ride;
Their ideas tumbled out—some by whisper, some by shout.
“No discrimination; treat everyone alike; Give Trans kids healthcare,”
Such, their visions of repair! “Write, write,” I pleaded. And they did.
Then the youngest one, clearly having fun, got quiet.
“I’d get rid of all the guns,” she said. “I’d get rid of all the guns.”
Stunned, we wrote it in our Books of Life, and learned
That all the Second-graders had a lock-down drill,
And, rather than unleashing screams so shrill,
They quietly filed into “the room behind the classroom.”
The teacher turned out the lights and they sat in silence,
On the floor, in a small room, as dark as night. Until it was “all clear.”
We took a breath, and dipped apples in honey for a “sweet New Year,”
And talked of how we’d feed the hungry, and stay awake
To everything that needs to be repaired, and not be scared.
We’d shower each other with love, and when we stepped outside,
Bathe in the speckled brightness of the stars above,
And be awake to the beauty all around,
Our own lights shining from hearts & souls we’d found.
We entered pages into our Books of Life,
Knowing that memories can fail, unlike ink, however light.
One moment, a gift; the next, perhaps, a fright–
So we laughed and hugged forever, into the night.
Again, I sounded the Shofar, from a homemade cardboard horn,
“Awake! Alive! Take Action!” I bleated like a ram at dawn,
Singing songs of hope, to guide us through each storm.