"Suzanne Wolfe and Jeffrey Ebbeler have taken the old, rhythmic, nursery rhyme, 'There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly,' and transformed it into a joyful hymn dedicated to Jewish parents. The young rabbi of the title is a religious professional, a mother, and a daughter to aging parents. In this Hanukkah story, the rabbi’s incredible skills at multitasking and her evident fulfillment in all she accomplishes, make her a truly memorable new symbol of the holiday.
When readers first meet the rabbi, she is reading the Torah in her synagogue; a helpful text box clarifies that the Torah is read on Hanukkah, although the story of Hanukkah is not recorded in the Torah. Ebbeler’s illustrations are a wonderful mixture of realism and caricature. The rabbi’s less than perfectly styled hair and oversized glasses, as well as her big smile, make her a familiar image of motherhood, but with enough specific charm to provide individuality. Next she lights the menorah, with her husband and children looking on with loving admiration. Flipping latkes from her frying pan into the air, slamming the oven door shut with her foot as she cooks brisket, and spinning dreidels with her family are all part of her busy holiday observance. Yet the rabbi is not a supermom with stellar abilities which no ordinary parents could hope to imitate; multigenerational cooperation is a big part of her success. Two children assist her in unrolling the Torah scroll and her whole family actively participates in each Hanukkah tradition. A child with a disability is also part of their festive meal. The rabbi opens a gift in a small box from her appreciative husband, who earlier is shown on a snowy night bringing the grandparents, as well as a cake beautifully decorated with a Star of David, to their home. A particularly appealing image shows grandparents watching proudly as the rabbi’s young daughter lights the Hanukkah menorah. One may infer that these are the rabbi’s parents, given the family resemblance between the older and younger woman, which Ebbeler emphasizes humorously by their similar big eyeglasses and warm smiles.
In addition to the information about Torah reading on Hanukkah, Wolfe includes a note about the seven-branched menorah in the Temple era, to accompany Ebbeler’s picture, one of two which brings the book into the past of historic events. Nevertheless, this highly recommended tale is fundamentally a book about family and about the strength of Jewish women, focusing on the rabbi’s melding of her maternal and rabbinic roles. The lilting text and bright pictures create a modern counter-text to the fly-swallowing old lady. Instead of the funny absurdity in that piece of folklore, the young rabbi’s story is one of energetic purpose, as she brings Hanukkah to her family and community." — Emily Schneider, Jewish Book Council—Website
"There Was A Young Rabbi, A Hanukkah Tale, written by Suzanne Wolfe and delightfully illustrated by Jeffrey Ebbeler (published by Kar Ben and available on September 1), uses a familiar song to show how the young rabbi celebrates Hanukkah in style. With fun repetition popularized by the old tune 'There Was an Old Woman Who Swallowed a Fly,' we follow the rabbi as she lights the menorah and makes latkes, with applesauce, of course.
The story is sprinkled liberally with all the beloved traditions, from dreidels, chocolate gelt, and a warm family gathering at the end. Children will delight in repeating each verse as it gets longer and longer. A dash of Hannukah facts and a back page that retells the story of the Maccabees round out this story. A fun read for any Hanukkah celebration." — Marcia Berneger, San Diego Jewish World—Website
"Wolfe's rhyming story features a friendly looking woman rabbi in a kippah going through eight holiday-related activities for the eight nights of Hanukkah. Ebbeler's illustrations add not only whimsy but also detail, showing that the rabbi is a mom as well as a religious leader. The activities start with the ritual—‘She read from the Torah / and lit the menorah’—and soon move to cooking ‘latkes yummy’ that ‘filled up her tummy,’ as well as ‘applesauce sweet / for a Hanukkah treat.’ Making ‘kosher brisket’ after that seems like overkill, but celebrating for eight nights, eating chocolate gelt, and playing dreidel ‘to win’ are classic Hannukah activities. (The newer custom of gift-giving is notably absent.) Besides focusing on the holiday, the book makes the ‘young rabbi’ seem fun and relatable. The strong rhyme scheme and repetition in this Hanukkah tale will soon have young listeners chanting along, ‘She lit the menorah, / as we all know, / to remember a miracle / from a long time ago.’ A great holiday read-aloud." — Miriam Aronin, Booklist—Journal
This Hanukkah tale shares the joy of a family celebration of this holiday borrowing the rhythmic, cumulative style of 'There Was an Old Woman Who Swallowed a Fly' nursery rhyme. The focus of the text is the young rabbi, who 'made latkes yummy and filled up her tummy. She read from the Torah and lit the menorah. She lit the menorah, as we all know, to remember a miracle from a long time ago.' This rabbi also 'made a nice brisket. It’s kosher of course, or she wouldn’t risk it!' The rhyming fun continues with holiday traditions such as playing dreidel, enjoying sweet applesauce, chocolate gelt, and spending time with family.
The energetic style of the text is furthered by the animated, whimsical, yet relatable illustrations that convey warmth and enthusiasm for the holiday celebration, but reflect a family dynamic that would only be present in a non-orthodox household. Traditional roles are modified in this tale. Both mother and father, female- and male-presenting children wear kippot in a synagogue setting and at home. The female rabbi leads the religious observance in the synagogue and home, and the food preparation, with the father playing a supporting role.
The family celebrations consist of Ashkenazic style food, and are inclusive of a child with a disability and presumably the grandparents, or other older relatives or friends.
Refreshing in this Hanukkah tale is the downplaying of gift-giving; although the illustrations do include a few gifts,
these gifts are not a part of the rhyming narrative. The text also includes a side-bar to explain that although the story of Hanukkah does not appear in the Torah, the Torah is read during the holiday, a note about the seven branched menorah from the Temple, and back matter which provides a synopsis about the origin of the Hanukkah holiday.
The text presents not only a positive Jewish female role model able to balance both her professional and parental responsibilities, but through the rhythmic rhyme a reminder of the roots of this celebration: '… as we all know, to remember a miracle from a long time ago,' and rituals that we can share with family and friends. This entertaining tale is a wonderful holiday reada-loud that invites lively family participation." — Ellen Drucker-Albert, AJL Newsletter—Magazine
"Synopsis: Hanukkah is a Jewish festival commemorating the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean Revolt against the Seleucid Empire. It is also known as the Festival of Lights.
Hanukkah is a very busy time! In 'There Was a Young Rabbi: A Hanukkah Tale' by author/storyteller Suzanne Wolfe and artist/illustrator Jeffrey Ebbeler, children ages 4-9 will enjoy joining a young rabbi as she makes festive preparations (spinning the dreidel, cooking a tasty meal, lighting the menorah, and more) in a cumulative, rhyming picture book story reminding young readers of the Hanukkah miracle of long ago!
Highly recommended for family, daycare center, preschool, elementary school, and community library Holiday collections, 'There Was a Young Rabbi: A Hanukkah Tale' will help children to learn about Hanukkah's festivities and rituals, and about the Jewish holiday itself." — James A. Cox, Midwest Book Review—Website