Connect with us


A visit to the Lower East Side’s Tenement Museum inspires a new picture book

(New York Jewish Week) — A new picture book set on the Lower East Side during the flu pandemic of 1918 is ostensibly about the values of education and community. 

But “Rivka’s Presents” was not created in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, as you might expect. Instead, it was written 15 years ago, after author Laurie Wallmark made a visit to the Lower East Side’s Tenement Museum, a living history museum that highlights how immigrants lived in the neighborhood in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Wallmark first visited the museum around 18 years ago. At the time, she thought, “Someone would write a book about people who lived in these tenements,” Wallmark told the New York Jewish Week. When she returned a few years later for another tour, she had the same thought. This time, Wallmark decided to write the book herself. 

Wallmark, who was working as a computer programmer at the time, thought “Rivka’s Presents” would be her first book. But life had other plans. After numerous publishers rejected the book, Wallmark went on to publish six biographies for children about women in STEM, including mathematician Grace Hopper and codebreaker Elizebeth Friedman, and a bedtime book, “Dino Pajama Party.” 

And then, in 2021, Wallmark received a call from her agent saying that Random House wanted to publish “Rivka’s Presents.” The book, with illustrations by Adelina Lirius, was released on July 11. 

“People always have a book of their heart,” Wallmark said. “This one was the book of my heart.” 

The protagonist of the 40-page book, Rivka, is a young girl growing up on the Lower East Side. She is elated to start school — but when her father gets very sick from the flu and her mother has to work in a shirtwaist factory, Rivka must take care of her younger sister, Miriam. Despite the setback, Rivka is determined to learn, so she ventures out with her sister and offers to do chores for the tailor, the grocer and an elderly neighbor in return for lessons in reading and writing, math and American history. 

Being a children’s book, there is a happy ending: Rivka’s neighbors surprise her with gifts to celebrate her love of learning. And, even better, her father recovers and she is able to start school.

“Rivka’s Presents” is Laurie Wallmark’s eighth picture book. (Images courtesy of Laurie Wallmark)

The book is a very personal one for Wallmark, whose grandparents all grew up on the Lower East Side around the same time that the book takes place. “I always heard stories about growing up there,” she said.

The characters, Wallmark said, are inspired by her family members: Wallmark’s grandmother worked in the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, and served as inspiration for Rivka’s mother. Rivka’s excitement for learning, meanwhile, was inspired by Wallmark’s mother. The sprinkle of Yiddish words throughout the book — like bubbeleh (darling) and shayna maideleh (beautiful little girl) — is in honor of one of her grandfathers, who never learned English. 

“Of course, whenever my parents did not want me to know what they were saying they would speak Yiddish,” Wallmark said, echoing a common refrain. 

Other than the occasional Yiddish words, however, “Rivka’s Presents” is not explicitly Jewish in content — and that’s by design. “Where are the books where there’s a little kid who happens to be Jewish? Maybe [he] isn’t even the main character, but he’s wearing a kippah?” Wallmark said. “We also want diversity and inclusion [in children’s books] to include little Jewish boys and girls.”

An obvious value in “Rivka’s Presents” is education, and Wallmark says the story is ideal for children who might be afraid or not excited about attending school. “Here, they see this little girl who can’t wait to start school and can’t wait to learn,” Wallmark said. “[Readers] see that learning can be fun, can be something you want to do, not something you just have to do.”

“Rivka’s Presents” is a social and emotional learning book, which Wallmark credits as one reason why it was published now. These types of books that “help kids understand and cope with the challenges of living in today’s world” are in increasing demand, she explained.  

Wallmark hopes that “Rivka’s Presents,” like her other books, will “inspire curiosity, help kids learn about the world around them, and enjoy different aspects of the world.”

The post A visit to the Lower East Side’s Tenement Museum inspires a new picture book appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Israeli Actress Shira Haas Wins Award for Role in Upcoming TV Series ‘Night Therapy’

Shira Haas on the set of “Night Therapy.” Photo: Nati Levi

Israeli actress Shira Haas was awarded the Special Jury Prize at the Monte Carlo Television Festival on Tuesday night for her role in an upcoming Israeli television series titled “Night Therapy” that will premiere later this month.

Haas stars in the 10-part psychological drama alongside Yousef Sweid (“Munich Games,” “Game of Thrones”), as well as Lucy Ayoub, Yaakov Zada Daniel, and Firas Nassar, all of whom have starred in the popular Israeli series “Fauda.”

Haas, who accepted her award from the Monte Carlo Television Festival via video because she was in the United States filming, took to Instagram to thank the festival for her award.

“This is such a special project for me, a personal and genuinely (ongoing) healing one, and I can’t wait for you all to meet Yasmin very soon,” she wrote, referencing her character’s name in the show.

Written and created by Raanan Caspi, “Night Therapy” is about an Arab-Israeli psychologist named Louie (Sweid) who struggles to raise his two children after his Jewish-Israeli wife commits suicide. To be more present for his children during the day and to better balance his work and home life, Louie decides to shift his practice so he sees patients at night. Haas plays one of his patients — a computer genius named Yasmin who rarely leaves her home and prefers to spend her time in the virtual world instead of the real one.

“Through the gateway and magic of the late clinic hours, and flashback scenes where Louie acts as an unseen observer to their problems, the series depicts refreshing points of view on life, which often require unusual treatments,” according to a synopsis provided by Yes Studios, which is distributing the show. “Combining absorbing therapy sessions — written with the input of practicing psychologists — with storylines and characters from Louie’s personal life, ‘Night Therapy’ is a touching, emotional and sexy new drama series.”

The show premieres on Yes TV in Israel on June 30 and is being sold internationally by Yes Studios. The series is directed by Gabriel Bibliowicz and produced by Dafna Danenberg, Aviram Avraham, and Benny Menache at Eight Productions.

Haas previously had starring roles in the hit Israeli television series “Shtisel” as well as the film “Unorthodox,” for which she won an award. She also became the first Israeli television actress nominated for a Golden Globe for her role in “Unorthodox.” Haas Tribeca Film Festival for starring in “Asia,” in which she played a terminally ill character, and additionally won two best supporting actress awards at the Israeli Academy Awards. She is reportedly scheduled to appear in Marvel’s upcoming film “Captain America: Brave New World” as an Israeli superhero named Sabra.

The post Israeli Actress Shira Haas Wins Award for Role in Upcoming TV Series ‘Night Therapy’ first appeared on

Continue Reading


Swiss Museum Sells Monet Painting in Settlement With Heirs of Former Jewish Owner Forced to Sell Artwork During WWII

A partial view of Monet’s “L’Homme à l’ombrelle.” Photo: Kunsthaus Zürich via Wikimedia Commons

The largest art museum in Switzerland announced on Wednesday that it is selling a painting by Claude Monet as part of an agreement with heirs of the artwork’s original Jewish owner, who was forced to sell it during World War II when he fled Nazi Germany.

The Kunsthaus Zürich said it reached a “fair and just solution” and “amicable settlement” with the heirs of Jewish entrepreneur Carl Sachs regarding the painting “L’Homme à l’ombrelle” (“Man with a Parasol”) from the late 19th century. Proceeds from the sale will be allocated between the museum and Sachs’ family.

Sachs and his wife fled Nazi persecution in Germany and moved to Switzerland in 1939. He was forced to sell “L’Homme à l’ombrelle,” and several other pieces from his art collection, to the Kunsthaus Zürich in order to make a living. “The sale of Monet’s ‘L’Homme à l’ombrelle’ to the Kunsthaus Zürich was the first work that Sachs had to sell due to the acute financial emergency just a few weeks after fleeing Nazi Germany to Switzerland,” the museum explained.

“A swift sale was needed to provide the couple with money to live on, and he was therefore acting under duress,” the Kunsthaus Zürich said. Sachs died shortly afterward in December 1943 and by that point he had sold 13 artworks from his collection.

Philipp Hildebrand, the chair of Zürcher Kunstgesellschaft, said: “Of course we regret that this wonderful painting will leave the Kunsthaus. At the same time, this step underpins the seriousness of our provenance strategy and our fundamental attitude towards a transparent and solution-oriented approach to works in our collection in which there are substantiated references to Nazis [or] there is a situation of a persecution-related predicament.”

The post Swiss Museum Sells Monet Painting in Settlement With Heirs of Former Jewish Owner Forced to Sell Artwork During WWII first appeared on

Continue Reading


United Against Hate Canada is a new nonprofit founded by Marvin Rotrand, a former Montreal city councillor who once led B’nai Brith

Marvin Rotrand, a former Montreal city councillor and former leader of B’nai Brith Canada, announced the incorporation of a new nonprofit dedicated to combating hate earlier this week. At a press conference on June 19, Rotrand outlined the priorities of the newly formed United Against Hate Canada (UAHC) organization. A press release from the group […]

The post United Against Hate Canada is a new nonprofit founded by Marvin Rotrand, a former Montreal city councillor who once led B’nai Brith appeared first on The Canadian Jewish News.

Continue Reading

Copyright © 2017 - 2023 Jewish Post & News