October 29, 2010 / 4:24 PM / 9 years ago

Historic German Jewish children's book goes on sale

BERLIN (Reuters Life!) - Six and a half decades after the Holocaust, the first Jewish publisher of children’s books in Germany will issue its inaugural title on Monday.

Filmmaker and author Myriam Halberstam, a German-American Jew, said she set up “Ariella Books” in May 2010 because there was a lack of children’s books on Judaism in Germany.

“A Horse for Hanukkah” — a humorous story about a horse who wreaks havoc on a family’s celebrations during Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of lights — is Halberstam’s first attempt to cater for Germany’s 200,000-strong Jewish community.

“At Christmas there are all these books you can buy for your children, but if you’re Jewish and you want to read them something about Jewish holidays, you can’t,” she told Reuters. “I needed to create something for my own daughters.”

Presenting the book in Berlin’s Jewish Museum on Friday, Halberstam said there was a need for the books in Germany because local communities had grown rapidly in recent years due to an influx of Jews from the former Soviet bloc after 1989.

Halberstam said she wanted to be able to pass on her Jewish identity to her two young daughters via the book, which is intended for children aged 4-8.

The 32-page book — which is being published in English and German — is not just aimed at Jews. Halberstam said she hoped Gentiles in Germany’s increasingly multicultural society would also read the book and become aware of Jewish traditions.

“It would be nice if Jews and Judaism would become a normal part of German society — but only if you know about Jews can they become normal,” she said.

Halberstam said the book, which features colorful illustrations by prize-winning U.S. illustrator Nancy Cote, was a “milestone” on Judaism’s path back to normality in Germany, whose Nazi leaders exterminated some 6 million European Jews.

“In Germany the Shoah is omnipresent, it’s still in the media and it determines the relationship between Jews and non-Jews,” she said. “I wanted to do something that looks to the future in a positive way without the burden of the past.”

Halberstam has pledged three euros from each 12.95 euro copy of “A Horse for Hanukkah” sold to the German-Israeli foundation for children with cancer, a charity which aims to fight the disease and foster closer ties between the two countries.

Most German literature on Judaism still focuses on the Holocaust so it was important to have a book in which “Jews are normal and nothing terrible happens to them,” she said.

“One has to remember the past but it’s very difficult,” she said. “When do you start burdening Jewish children with that, especially when you’re living in Germany?”

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