Mayer Aaron Levi and His Lemon Tree & Lotty's Lace Tablecloth- A Book ReviewCategory: Literature Issue No. 140
Both by Tami Lehman-Wilzig
Gefen Publishing House.
2007 pp 36 $12.95
Reviewed by Gloria Deutsch
Reading books out loud to my grandchildren is one of my least favorite occupations so it is a tribute to these two books that I actually enjoyed them and, what's more to the point, so did the children. While 'Mayer Aaron Levi and his Lemon Tree' seem to be more oriented to boys and 'Loty's Lace Tablecloth' to girls I can report that my three macho football mad boys enjoyed them both equally.
Besides having the knack of telling a good yarn, Tami aims for her stories to have a message and in both books her objective is to inculcate specific Jewish values into her young readers. The 'moral' of the lemon tree is to convey the importance of Jewish tradition that is handed down from one generation to the next with an emphasis on charity and giving to the needy, while the lace tablecloth story suggests a love of Sabbath observance. In both books a contemporary child, one a boy and one a girl, take us back in time to tell stories that happened to their recent ancestors.
The first depicts life in the Eastern European stetl and the illustrations by Ksenia Topaz are especially evocative. I did query whether a lemon tree could thrive in that cold climate and Tami agreed there was a certain amount of artistic license in that story. But how nice it was to be able to pick up the phone and ask the author a direct question and what a pity we can't do that with Shakespeare!
The second book is set in Vienna in the nineteenth century and again the illustrations are exactly right. It had a certain poignancy in view of what subsequently happened to the Jews of Vienna.
At the end of the books, space is left for the children to write their own similar stories and when we had finished the lace tablecloth story they asked if I had anything that came down from my grandparents like to girl in the book. I didn't – but was able to show them my husband's barmitzvah present of a Kiddush cup which was actually a christening cup from 1830 complete with symbols of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. They thought that was really cool.
The two books are the first in a series which the publishers, Geffen, have dubbed Jewish Heirloom Stories and the aim is to bond Jewish grandparents, parents and children with their ancestors and heritage and to get Jewish values across in what the author terms a 'non-preachy' manner. In these two books I truly feel she has accomplished her aims.