(JTA) — An illustrated book about an inspiring Holocaust survivor and two works of fantasy featuring dybbuks and Jewish demons have won this year’s top prizes in Jewish children’s literature.
The Sydney Taylor Book Awards are awarded annually to outstanding works of Jewish literature for children, as part of the American Library Association’s youth media awards and in conjunction with the Association of Jewish Libraries.
This year, the top winner in the picture book category was ““The Tower of Life: How Yaffa Eliach Rebuilt Her Town in Stories and Photographs” by Chana Stiefel, illustrated by Susan Gal. “Aviva vs. the Dybbuk” by Mari Lowe won in the middle-grade level. And “When the Angels Left the Old Country,” the debut novel by Sacha Lamb, garnered the young adult award.
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 prestigious award “recognizes books that exemplify high literary standards while authentically portraying the Jewish experience,” according to the award committee announcement.
As chair of the Sydney Taylor award committee for the past three years, Martha Simpson sees a growing diversity in Jewish children’s books. This year, they considered an array of new titles that portray global Jewish life, others that feature neurodiverse characters and LGBTQ kids and more set in Orthodox communities, she wrote in an email.
“There are many different ways to live a Jewish life,” Simpson said. “It’s wonderful that these stories are finally being written and published so that readers can see themselves and also learn about other experiences.”
The top picture book tells the story of Yaffa Eliach, who survived the Holocaust in hiding with her family after being expelled from their hometown of Eishyshok, a Polish shtetl (now in Lithuania) where she had helped in her grandmother’s bustling photography studio taking portraits of the Jewish villagers.
After immigrating to the U.S. and becoming a historian, Eliach set about a globetrotting journey to thousands of photographs and remembrances from Eishyshok’s Jewish families. Her ambitious project is now a centerpiece of the core exhibit at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. She died in 2016.
Gal, a previous Sydney Taylor winner and past recipient of the National Jewish book award, brings Eliach’s story to life through her richly colored illustrations interspersed with photographs of Eliach.
Lowe’s “Aviva vs. the Dybbuk” is a suspenseful coming-of-age novel about an introspective 11-year-old girl that opens a window into daily life in a tight-knit Orthodox Jewish community in New York. After the traumatic accidental death of her father, Aviva and her increasingly reclusive mother move into a small apartment above the old mikveh, the ritual bathing house where Aviva’s mother becomes the caretaker. A supernatural, troublemaking dyybuk, whom only Aviva can see, becomes Aviva’s confidant. The tale of resilience deals with grief, memory, the ups and downs of teen friendship, acts of antisemitic violence and the healing power of love and community.
A demon named Little Ash and an angel named Uriel are the compelling otherworldly characters at center stage of “When the Angels Left the Old Country,” Lamb’s lyrically penned historical fantasy. As the page-turning drama unfolds, the pair of unlikely, centuries-old Talmud study partners, who take on human-like form, set out from their small Pale of Settlement shtetl and head to New York City on a quest to find the village baker’s missing daughter.
In their journey, they confront the perils faced by Jewish immigrants — a deceitful rabbi, probing Ellis Island officials, exploitative sweatshop bosses and the pushes and pulls of Jewish assimilation. Lamb, a 2018 Lambda Literary Fellow in young adult fiction, paints a richly textured tale of pathos and wit, filled with Jewish culture that explores gender identity and the bonds of friendship.
“Angels” took home two other ALA prizes, including the Stonewall book award for LGBTQ works for young readers.
In addition to the top winners, the Sydney Taylor committee named nine books as silver medalists and nine notable titles of Jewish content. Winners will be honored in June at the AJL’s digital conference. https://jewishlibraries.org/2023-digital-conference.
Other books with Jewish characters and themes also garnered several ALA awards including, “The Life and Crimes of Hoodie Rosen,” by Isaac Blum, which won the William C. Morris young adult debut award; and “Just a Girl: A True Story of World War II” by Lia Levi, illustrated by Jeff Mason, which won the Batchelder prize, adapted for young readers, and translated from its original in Italian.
Jewish children’s books recently recognized by the Jewish Book Council’s National Jewish book awards were “The Very Best Sukkah: A Story from Uganda” by Shoshana Nambi, illustrated by Moran Yogev, and the middle-grade novel “The Prince of Steel Pier” by Stacy Nockowitz.
Last week, the Association of Jewish Libraries announced separately that Omer Friedlander won the organization’s fiction prize for “The Man Who Sold Air in the Holy Land,” a collection of short stories set in Israel.
Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.
Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary
By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”
Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)
Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station
This is a developing story.
(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.
An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.
Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.
The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.
The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.
Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.
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