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Picture book about family that celebrates Rosh Hashanah and Lunar New Year nabs top Sydney Taylor Jewish children’s book award

(JTA) — A lavishly illustrated children’s book about a Chinese Jewish family who celebrate both Rosh Hashanah and Lunar New Year is among the top winners of this year’s Sydney Taylor Book Awards for Jewish children’s books.

Meanwhile, the publisher of the imprint behind the popular Sammy Spider Jewish holiday books won an award for her lifetime of contributions to Jewish children’s literature.

Both prizes were revealed Monday as part of the American Library Association’s Youth Media Awards. Michelle Margolis, president of the Association of Jewish Libraries, made the announcement on a livestream from the ALA’s multi-day LibLearnX conference in Baltimore.

Named in memory of Sydney Taylor, the author of the “All-of-a-Kind- Family” series that is being made into a TV show, the Sydney Taylor Book Awards honor work that “exemplify high literary standards while authentically portraying the Jewish experience,” according to an statement by Aviva Rosenberg, chair of the Sydney Taylor awards committee.

“Two New Years” by Richard Ho, illustrated by Lynn Scurfield, took the top prize in the picture book category.

“The Dubious Pranks of Shaindy Goodman” by Mari Lowe won in the middle-grade category, marking the year in a row that Lowe has snagged the top prize in that category. Last year, her debut novel “Aviva vs. the Dybbuk,” like “Dubious Pranks” a story centered on an Orthodox girl character, won in the same age category.

And “The Blood Years,” by Elana K. Arnold, a stirring historical novel about a young Holocaust survivor from Romania, won in the young adult category.

In addition to the annual Sydney Taylor awards, the AJL awarded Joni Sussman its coveted body-of-work award, granted biennially “to an author or entity who has made a substantial contribution over time to the genre of Jewish children’s literature,” according to the AJL’s press statement.

Sussman is the publisher of Kar-Ben Publishing and the award-winning author of “My First Yiddish Word Book” and four Jewish-themed Sesame Street board books.

Sussman “has greatly increased the reach of Jewish children’s literature by producing a significant number of high-quality titles over an ever-expanding variety of Jewish topics,” In recognizing Sussman, the Sydney Taylor committee wrote that for the last 20 years at the helm of Kar-Ben. “Her efforts have put Jewish books in the eyes of the public and the hands of children on a new scale.”

“Sammy Spider’s Passover Shapes” is published by Kar-Ben, whose publisher is Joni Sussman. (Courtesy Kar-Ben)

Among Kar-Ben’s popular titles for readers of all ages is the best-selling Sammy Spider series, which depict a family of spiders learning about Jewish holidays from the family whose home they scurry about. More than 20 Kar-Ben titles have won Sydney Taylor awards.

“Two New Years” follows a Chinese Jewish family as they celebrate Rosh Hashanah in the fall and Lunar New Year in the spring. In straightforward, lyrical prose, Ho — whose own family observes both holidays — introduces young readers to Jewish and Chinese traditions for welcoming the new year. Scurfield’s brightly colored illustrations evoke the paper-cutting traditions of both cultures. Notably, the book adds to the growing list of books that reflect the wide range of diversity in contemporary Jewish life.

In “The Dubious Pranks of Shaindy Goodman,” readers meet Shaindy, a totally relatable, socially-awkward sixth grader in an all-girls Orthodox Jewish day school who yearns to fit in.

In spot-on self reflection and dialogue, Shaindy reveals that she feels like “a shadow. The girl no one notices,” at school, in her religious neighborhood or at summer camp, Lowe writes in this first person narrative.

As the new school year begins and the High Holidays approach, Shaindy is unexpectedly befriended by Gayil, the most popular girl in her class who lures Shaindy in to a series of seemingly harmless school pranks that target their classmates. When the pranks turn mean-spirited, Shaindy grapples with the search for identity and the meaning of friendship, as she comes to understand her own resilience and, the power of seeking forgiveness.

“The Blood Years” is Arnold’s poignant fictional story of 13-year-old Frederieke Teitler and her older sister, Astra, who, before the start of World War II, are raised by their mother and grandfather in the Romanian town of Czernowitz. When the war breaks out, their lives in the tight-knit Jewish community, are transformed with the invasion by the Soviet and Nazi Germany armies. Readers follow Frederieke as she is forced to make hard choices and navigates the harsh and sometimes brutal realities of survival.

The gripping story is based on the life of Arnold’s maternal grandmother, a Holocaust survivor. Maintaining accuracy about the historical events and honoring the victims and survivors was a priority for Arnold. “It was incredibly important not to sensationalize the Holocaust,” she told Publishers Weekly. An Author’s Note gives historical context and elaborates on her grandmother’s extraordinary life story.

The Sydney Taylor committee named 11 honor books; three were designated as notable. The manuscript award went to Marlaina Cockcroft for “Ava’s Golem.”

Among the other awards announced at the Youth Media awards by the ALA were the Caldecott, Coretta Scott King, Newbery and Printz awards. “The Blood Years” was a Prinz award finalist.

From left: Brendan and Neal Shusterman, as seen in 2015. (Courtesy of Neal Shusterman)

Neil Shusterman (“Game Changer,” “Bruiser,”), whom the Jewish Journal dubbed “a Jewish literary powerhouse,” won the Margaret A. Edwards Award for lifetime achievement in writing for young adults. His most recent work, the graphic novel “Courage to Dream: Tales of Hope in the Holocaust,” was a finalist for a Sydney Taylor award, though his work has otherwise largely not focused on Jewish stories. Shusterman has spoken about the influence of his Orthodox Jewish grandmother on his writing and previously authored a book about mental illness based on his experience parenting one of his sons.


The post Picture book about family that celebrates Rosh Hashanah and Lunar New Year nabs top Sydney Taylor Jewish children’s book award appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Exclusive: Iran Sends Russia Hundreds of Ballistic Missiles, Sources Say

Russian President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi during a meeting in Moscow, Russia, Dec. 7, 2023. Photo: Sputnik/Sergei Bobylev/Pool via REUTERS

Iran has provided Russia with a large number of powerful surface-to-surface ballistic missiles, six sources told Reuters, deepening the military cooperation between the two US-sanctioned countries.

Iran‘s provision of around 400 missiles includes many from the Fateh-110 family of short-range ballistic weapons, such as the Zolfaghar, three Iranian sources said. This road-mobile missile is capable of striking targets at a distance of between 300 and 700 km (186 and 435 miles), experts say.

Iran‘s defense ministry and the Revolutionary Guards – an elite force that oversees Iran‘s ballistic missile program – declined to comment. Russia‘s defense ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The shipments began in early January after a deal was finalized in meetings late last year between Iranian and Russian military and security officials that took place in Tehran and Moscow, one of the Iranian sources said.

An Iranian military official – who, like the other sources, asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the information – said there had been at least four shipments of missiles and there would be more in the coming weeks. He declined to provide further details.

Another senior Iranian official said some of the missiles were sent to Russia by ship via the Caspian Sea, while others were transported by plane.

“There will be more shipments,” the second Iranian official said. “There is no reason to hide it. We are allowed to export weapons to any country that we wish to.”

U.N. Security Council restrictions on Iran‘s export of some missiles, drones and other technologies expired in October. However, the United States and European Union retained sanctions on Iran‘s ballistic missile programme amid concerns over exports of weapons to its proxies in the Middle East and to Russia.

A fourth source, familiar with the matter, confirmed that Russia had received a large number of missiles from Iran recently, without providing further details.

White House national security spokesperson John Kirby said in early January the United States was concerned that Russia was close to acquiring short-range ballistic weapons from Iran, in addition to missiles already sourced from North Korea.

A US official told Reuters that Washington had seen evidence of talks actively advancing but no indication yet of deliveries having taken place.

The Pentagon did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the missile deliveries.

Ukraine’s top prosecutor said on Friday the ballistic missiles supplied by North Korea to Russia had proven unreliable on the battlefield, with only two of 24 hitting their targets. Moscow and Pyongyang have both denied that North Korea has provided Russia with munitions used in Ukraine.

By contrast, Jeffrey Lewis, an expert with the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, said the Fateh-110 family of missiles and the Zolfaghar were precision weapons.

“They are used to point at things that are high value and need precise damage,” said Lewis, adding that 400 munitions could inflict considerable harm if used in Ukraine. He noted, however, that Russian bombardments were already “pretty brutal”.

US AID DELAY WEAKENS UKRAINE’S DEFENCES

A Ukrainian military source told Reuters that Kyiv had not registered any use of Iranian ballistic missiles by Russian forces in the conflict. The Ukrainian defence ministry did not immediately reply to Reuters’ request for comment.

Following the publication of this story, a spokesperson for Ukraine’s Air Force told national television that it had no official information on Russia obtaining such missiles. He said that ballistic missiles would pose a serious threat to Ukraine.

Former Ukrainian defense minister Andriy Zagorodnyuk said that Russia wanted to supplement its missile arsenal at a time when delays in approving a major package of US military aid in Congress has left Ukraine short of ammunition and other material.

“The lack of US support means shortages of ground-based air defense in Ukraine. So they want to accumulate a mass of rockets and break through Ukrainian air defense,” said Zagorodnyuk, who chairs the Kyiv-based Centre for Defense Strategies, a security think tank, and advises the government.

Kyiv has repeatedly asked Tehran to stop supplying Shahed drones to Russia, which have become a staple of Moscow’s long-range assaults on Ukrainian cities and infrastructure, alongside an array of missiles.

Ukraine’s air force said in December that Russia had launched 3,700 Shahed drones during the war, which can fly hundreds of kilometres and explode on impact. Ukrainians call them “mopeds” because of the distinctive sound of their engines; air defenses down dozens of them each week.

Iran initially denied supplying drones to Russia but months later said it had provided a small number before Moscow launched the war on Ukraine in 2022.

“Those who accuse Iran of providing weapons to one of the sides in the Ukraine war are doing so for political purposes,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanaani said on Monday, when asked about Tehran’s delivery of drones to Russia. “We have not given any drones to take part in that war.”

Rob Lee, a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, a Philadelphia-based think tank, said a supply of Fateh-100 and Zolfaghar missiles from Iran would hand Russia an even greater advantage on the battlefield.

“They could be used to strike military targets at operational depths, and ballistic missiles are more difficult for Ukrainian air defences to intercept,” Lee said.

DEEPENING TIES WITH MOSCOW

Iran‘s hardline clerical rulers have steadily sought to deepen ties with Russia and China, betting that would help Tehran to resist US sanctions and to end its political isolation.

Defence cooperation between Iran and Russia has intensified since Moscow sent tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine in February 2022.

Russia‘s Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu met the head of Iran‘s Revolutionary Guards Aerospace Force, Amirali Hajizadeh, in Tehran in September, when Iran‘s drones, missiles and air defence systems were displayed for him, Iranian state media reported.

And last month, Russia‘s foreign ministry said it expected President Vladimir Putin and his Iranian counterpart Ebrahim Raisi to sign a broad new cooperation treaty soon, following talks in Moscow in December.

“This military partnership with Russia has shown the world Iran‘s defense capabilities,” said the military official. “It does not mean we are taking sides with Russia in the Ukraine conflict.”

The stakes are high for Iran‘s clerical rulers amid the war between Israel and Palestinian Islamist group Hamas that erupted after Oct. 7. They also face growing dissent at home over economic woes and social restrictions.

While Tehran tries to avoid a direct confrontation with Israel that could draw in the United States, its Axis of Resistance allies – including Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthis in Yemen – have attacked Israeli and US targets.

A Western diplomat briefed on the matter confirmed the delivery of Iranian ballistic missiles to Russia in the recent weeks, without providing more details.

He said Western nations were concerned that Russia‘s reciprocal transfer of weapons to Iran could strengthen its position in any possible conflict with the United States and Israel.

Iran said in November it had finalized arrangements for Russia to provide it with Su-35 fighter jets, Mi-28 attack helicopters and Yak-130 pilot training aircraft.

Analyst Gregory Brew at Eurasia Group, a political risk consultancy, said Russia is an ally of convenience for Iran.

“The relationship is transactional: in exchange for drones, Iran expects more security cooperation and advanced weaponry, particularly modern aircraft,” he said.

The post Exclusive: Iran Sends Russia Hundreds of Ballistic Missiles, Sources Say first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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Middlebury College Response to Antisemitism Allegations Slammed by Watchdog Group

Signage for the U.S. Department of Education – Federal Student Aid Office at 830 First Street NE Washington, D.C., USA, on November 28, 2023. Photo: Gen Namer via REUTERS CONNECT

Middlebury College on Tuesday issued, as well as deleted, statements which indirectly responded to allegations of institutional antisemitism that a civil rights group lodged against its administration last week.

As The Algemeiner previously reported, StandWithUs (SWU), a nonprofit that promotes education about Israel, filed a complaint with the US Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR) alleging that high level officials at the school fostered a “pervasively hostile climate” for Jewish students by refusing, in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, to enforce anti-discrimination policies equally.

A timeline of events laid out in documents provided by SWU begins after Hamas’ massacre across southern Israel on Oct. 7, when the school issued a statement that did not acknowledge the deaths of Israelis, but instead only alluded to “violence happening now in Israel in Palestine.” The following week, the administration allegedly obstructed Jewish students’ efforts to publicly mourn Jews murdered on Oct. 7., denying them police protection for a vigil, forcing them to hold it outside, and demanding that the event avoid specifically mentioning Jewish suffering.

Middlebury responded to the charges on Tuesday, explaining the college’s “Educational Approach to the War in Gaza and Israel,” in two statements, the first of which was later deleted and replaced with a revision containing numerous “stealth” edits.

The first defended chanting “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” a slogan widely considered as a call for a genocide of Jews in Israel, as utterance protected by its free speech policy.

“We are fully aware that, while this phrase is divisive, it is experienced and interpreted differently by different groups,” the school said. “Middlebury has extensive structures in place for mitigating ham that controversial speech can cause, and our open expression policy safeguards a learning environment ‘where all voices can be heard and have the opportunity to contribute to the conversation.’”

According to the StandWithUs Center for Legal Justice, Middlebury’s response did not directly address its handling of a vigil that Jewish students organized on Oct. 9 to mourn the victims of Hamas’ massacre across southern Israel, which happened two days prior. In its complaint, SWU alleged that Middlebury roadblocked the event, denying Jewish students police protection and demanding that they omit direct references to Jewish suffering in their remarks and promotional materials. In an email to the Jewish group that planned the vigil, Vice President and Dean of Students Derek Doucet said, “I wonder if such a public gather in such a charged moment might be more inclusive.”

Additionally, no high level administrators agreed to speak at the vigil and condemn antisemitic violence, as well as terrorism. However, a month later, the administration accommodated Students for Justice in Palestine’s “Vigil for Palestine,” providing campus police, space on campus, and a speech from a high ranking official diversity-equity-and-inclusion (DEI) official, a request, StandWithUs insists, which organizers of the Jewish vigil had been denied.

In Tuesday’s deleted statement, Middlebury claimed that president Laurie Patton provided the Jewish students “remarks that were read at the vigil, condemning Hamas and pledging support and care for students.” Not true, StandWithUs, explained. Patton’s statements, like Middlebury’s previous statements about Oct. 7, mentioned only “violence we have seen in Israel and Gaza,” a description of the conflict at which SWU takes umbrage for its equating Hamas’ atrocities with Israel’s self-defense.

StandWithUs said in a press release on Wednesday that Middlebury’s statement is “mendacious,” noting that members of the Coalition for Dismantling Antisemitism at Middlebury are all hired faculty and staff, some of whom are accused of antisemitism in its complaint. SWU also charged that Middlebury’s claim to collaborate with a local Chabad organization is misleading as well, noting that “for over six years” the school has denied the group’s entreaties for formal recognition, a designation that would qualify it for funding and the privilege to reserve space on campus for events and other activities.

“It is no wonder that by the morning of February 20, 2024, Middlebury took its statement down from its website entirely and replaced it with an even more misleading post,” StandWithUs CEO Roz Rothstein said. “Middlebury can no longer hide from its legal and moral duty to provide a campus environment for its Jewish students free from discrimination and harassment.”

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

The post Middlebury College Response to Antisemitism Allegations Slammed by Watchdog Group first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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Courage to disagree, with respect: York University student initiative Bridging the Gap promotes civil dialogue on Israel

How a campus initiative was revived following Oct. 7.

The post Courage to disagree, with respect: York University student initiative Bridging the Gap promotes civil dialogue on Israel appeared first on The Canadian Jewish News.

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