People often ask why a particular story might be conceived as a board book. For me, Counting on Shabbat had to be a board book because I was writing it to thank the little great grandchildren that were bringing my elderly mother so much happiness with their visits and to encourage little ones everywhere to remember our seniors with visits and cheer.
I had been thinking a lot about my mother living alone – with wonderful, hired help, but not the people that surround you when you are a baby, a child, a student, a parent, or a working person. I was thinking about how we welcome people to our Shabbat celebrations, which is a lovely and important thing to do. But then I considered how easy it is in our busy lives to forget the people who cannot come to our homes because they can no longer drive or walk there.
In fact, as people grow older or have dementia as my mother does, it may become disorienting to leave a familiar place to go to other people’s homes.
The book begins with an elderly man getting ready for Shabbat. He is alone except for “4 kittens to be fed.” Everything changes, however, when there are “5 knocking at the door” and a couple with three children arrive bringing food and cheer.
I thought that I would be presenting Counting on Shabbat primarily to children at Jewish preschools. I wasn’t counting on my first three presentations occurring at secular elementary schools because the teachers wanted their children to hear a story that encouraged kindness and taught them about Jewish traditions that they might not know about otherwise.
To help kids relate to the story, I collected and brought props so we could act it out. Two children help put a tablecloth on a table as we start with “1 table draped in white,” while two more come to place candlesticks on the table when we read “2 candles set to light.” There’s an unexpected twist that gets them laughing when we get up to the “7 matzoh balls go ‘round.’ But for me, the real highlight is “9 pictures bringing cheer,” because that leads to my COUNTING ON KINDNESS project: having children create notes of cheer to deliver to senior centers.
I look forward to presenting the book to Jewish children at the New York Jewish Book Festival November 19 and the Margot Rosenberg Pulitzer Dallas Jewish Bookfest December 10. But it has filled my heart to see how all children respond to a story about remembering and caring for our seniors and how open diverse groups are to learning Jewish traditions.
It has been a joy to share the book with the inspiration for the book—my mother. Now, at 96, my mother cannot read the kinds of books she used to devour daily. But we were able to read Counting on Shabbat together. Again and again. She was delighted to learn I had written it for her. Again and again. One of my dreams for this book is that it will bring generations together, particularly seniors and toddlers. I am already grateful for how it has brought my mother and me together and how it has shown me how much kindness there is in the world. I hope this little book will help that kindness grow.