Introducing children to different flavors of Judaism

By Rabbi Rachel Esserman

Lilian Rosenstreich and Mitchel Weiss are not exactly new to Northern Pennsylvania: the two came to the area first as weekenders for 15 years and, now that their children are grown, they are now living here as full-time residents. “We can’t imagine being anywhere else!” Rosenstreich said in an e-mail interview. “We absolutely love the natural beauty and slower pace of this area.” 

But they are keeping busy with their Jewish publishing house, Kalaniot Books, which publishes Jewish books for children. Kalaniot’s website notes that its “mission is to help parents expose their children to the rich mosaic of Jewish culture and history.” Rosenstreich believes one way to do this is by offering books featuring different types of Jewish stories. “We feel it is important to give Jewish parents the opportunity and support to help them teach their children about their culture,” she added. “Too often others dictate the definition of what being Jewish means. For each family, this may mean something different. Our goal is to give voice to this variety.”

Rosenstreich sees books as helping parents in two ways. “Books act as both a window and a mirror of the world for young readers,” she said. “As a window, books can offer a peek at others’ lives and outlooks, and as a mirror they can reflect and add depth to our own experiences. At Kalaniot Books, our aim is to offer both.”

Part of this is highlighting the variety of Jewish practice. “For the window, we look to the wider Jewish community for inspiration,” she noted. “We are a people often living in countries where we are in the minority. Yet, somehow Jews find ways to interact with these cultures, at times incorporating local traditions. At the same time, Jews have the commitment to continue to practice and celebrate their own customs. So, while a Jew in India and a Jew in Italy may have a slightly different flavor to their Shabbat dinners, ultimately they both hold the same basic ideals. If they were to meet each other on the street, there would be an understanding between them.”

Kalaniot Books looks for just this variety and connection in the books the press publishes. Rosenstreich also noted, “Of course, kids also want to see themselves in the stories they read. To that end, in our books we try to include a variety of religious practice and ethnic diversity that is the reality of the Jewish community today. And of course, we all need a bit of silly fun as well. These days laughter can be the best medicine!”

Four books are already available for purchase: “The Littlest Candle: A Hanukkah Story” written by the father and son team of Rabbis Kerry and Jesse Olitzky with illustrations by Jen Kostman; “Soosie: The Horse that Saved Shabbat” by Tami Lehman-Wilzig with illustrations by Menahem Halberstadt; “Sarah’s Solo” by Tracy Brown with illustrations by Paula Wegman; and “Not So Fast, Max: A Rosh Hashanah Visit with Grandma” by Annette Schottenfeld with illustrations by Jennifer Kirkham. Future book releases include “My Israel and Me” by Alice McGinty with illustrations by Rotem Terplow; “The Candy Man Mystery: by Rabbi Kerry Olitzky with illustrations by Christina Mattison Ebert; “The Rabbi and the Painter” by Shoshana Weiss with illustrations by Jennifer Kirkham; and “A Snake, a Flood, a Hidden Baby: Bible Stories for Children” by Meir Shalev with illustrations by Emanuele Luzzati and a translation by Ilana Kurshan. Rosenstreich noted that they have other books in the works, “but we’re always looking for interesting stories that reflect our dynamic community.”

The pandemic has made it more difficult to publicize the books. Their original plan was to visit synagogues and Jewish centers in person, but that hasn’t happened. Rosenstreich hopes they’ll be able to have in-person events soon. She is also looking forward to publishing even more books. “We’d like to continue to offer books that speak to the variety of Jewish practice and people within the community,” she said. “We’re also looking for ways to individualize and amplify the reading experience. When a child can more thoroughly immerse themselves in the culture, it naturally becomes internalized and a seamless part of their lives. With our books we currently offer games and activities that allow readers to extend their participation. We hope to expand on this with added crafts, games, and personalized books.”

Anyone interested in submitting a manuscript can do so through the press’ website, KalaniotBooks.com, or by e-mailing Submissions@KalaniotBooks.com. “We apologize in advance,” Rosenstreich said. “Sometimes it can take us a month to respond because of the number of submissions we receive. Nudges are welcomed. Please note that our list is very small. This means that we often pass on many wonderful manuscripts because we simply don’t have space in our program.”

To learn more about the press and its books, visit KalaniotBooks.com.