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Archive for December 24th, 2015

Oskar-and-the-Eight-Blessings 1

by Sam Juliano

Oskar’s mother and father were firm believers in blessings.  They lit the menorah, and were confident their faith would insure their safety.  Then, on November 9, 1938 many German Jews found their homes and places of business damaged, synagogues destroyed and many people murdered.  Thousands of windows were shattered in the most vicious pogrom ever perpetuated against the Jews, and the name “The Night of the Broken Glass” (Reichskristallnacht) was ascribed to the two day assault.  In the soulful picture book Oskar and the Eight Blessings by Richard and Tanya Simon with Mark Siegel serving as illustrator, this pre-title page prologue visualizes this horrific event by showing a horizontal triptych with smoke billowing from a synagogue,  the frenzied feet of the perpetrators, and a Jewish family in hiding.

For some Jews the writing was clearly on the wall, and these opted not to wait very long.  Armed only with a photo of his never seen Aunt Esther and his father’s priceless last words “Oskar, even in bad times, people can be good.  You have to look for the blessings,” the boy is boarded on a ship to New York City, whose skyline comes into focus on the expansive title page spread when the cruiser arrives in the harbor.  In a wonderful kinship of the Jewish and Christian religions the Simons have Oskar arrive on the seventh day of Hannakah, which also happens to be Christmas Eve.  While a seagull perches on a wooden dock support, with the Statue of Liberty in the background, Oskar again examines the photo of his aunt, simultaneously realizing that to arrive at her home in time for the lighting of the menorah at sunset he’d have to successfully negotiate one hundred blocks up Broadway.  Oskar was awe-struck by the immense size of the big city, and how he was merely a dwarf in it, and “Broadway stretched before him like a river.”  Inevitably Oskar by then was tired, cold and hungry.  His first encounter was New York City’s version of the bird lady in Mary Poppins, who is feeding pigeons.  She hands Oskar a morsel to feed them, but she understands when he eats it himself.    She then gives him a full loaf, kept warm and fresh inside her coat. (more…)

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