Oh man. Being Jewish in New York was super easy. Say for instance you’re not sure which night of Hanukkah it is. In New York, just glance in the window of any Korean deli and see how many candles are lit on the electric menorah.
In Greater Boston it takes a bit more effort. It’s not that the area is devoid of Jews. But local references to “the Tribe” are usually with respect to the Wampanoag. And good luck finding a decent bagel to schmear. (In fairness, decent bagels are commonplace. But I know of only one truly good bagel in the area.)
Complicating matters, my son is suddenly smitten by the Easter Bunny. Fox has been making weekly pilgrimages to the mall, where to his utter amazement a six-foot fluffy bunny offers redemption, resurrection, and a seated photo-op.
Ironically for Jews, we have abysmal marketing for our holidays. Hanukkah pyrotechnics are cool and all; but the menorah is no match for Santa Clause and the firmament of Christmas lights. Worse is our secular answer to a Christmas tree: the Hanukkah bush. It’s like a case study in penis envy.
This week, amid Easter egg hunts and chocolate bunnies, I’m stuck trying to get my two year-old excited about the ten plague finger puppets his grandma sent for Passover. I got as far as covering his thumbs with lice and boils before Fox refused any more role-play with afflictions.
Given my son’s age, it’s awhile before I need to make sense of all this. But when the time comes, I’ll be thankful to have the divinely inspired children’s bible, The Oldest Bedtime Story Ever. Thoughtfully written and gorgeously illustrated by Ben Morse, this bible comes as a revelation.
Morse manages to simplify the Old Testament without ever patronizing his young audience. He faithfully presents episodes of pathos, violence and mystery as timeless human experience. Yet he emphasizes the recurring themes of hope, perseverance, and justice.
The narrative is impressive in scope, and widely accessible. These are stories not about archetypes, but individuals. They follow parents and siblings caught between divinity and despair. Morse’s prose reflects a love for the text that is both scholarly and personal. And his telling honors the shared legacy of the Hebrew Bible, without excluding any singular interpretation. Clever trick, that.
Most sensational are the illustrations. So many biblical drawings preempt your imagination, leading you by the nose to stodgy visions of a bearded God or men in tunics. Morse deploys a dazzling array of shapes, patterns, color and even textures. He’s created mesmerizing collages to fuel the visions of any aspiring prophet.
Following on the acclaim for his first book, it is rumored that Mr. Morse is working on a children’s version of the New Testament. I’m hoping that by then, the boys in marketing will have a campaign to compete with the Easter Bunny.
The Oldest Bedtime Story Ever, by Benjamin Morse; $30, ages 3 to 969