Rabbi Benjamin’s Buttons by Alice B. McGinty

“Celebrate the holidays with faith, family, friends … and food!”

Rabbi Benjamin’s Buttons by Alice B. McGinty with illustrations by Jennifer Black Reinhardt (Charlesbridge, $17.95, Ages 4-8).

⭐︎Starred Review – Publishers Weekly

Rabbi-Benjamins-Buttons-cvr.jpgWhat’s the best part about Jewish holidays? The time spent with family welcoming in the Jewish New Year (it’s 5775 now), the world’s birthday? Maybe it’s rejoicing during the harvest festival, Sukkot, that arrives five days after Yom Kippur. That’s when we spend time in the sukkot, or huts, that harken back to when the Israelites built temporary homes of palms and branches as they wandered in the desert for 40 years. Whatever the holiday, another essential element is the food, the delicious, traditional food we eat whenever we celebrate.

A new picture book, Rabbi Benjamin’s Buttons, humorously exemplifies how much food is intertwined with every Jewish holiday, and I know how true this is because it’s when I pack on the pounds every year!

Beloved by his happy congregation, Rabbi Benjamin is bestowed with a handmade vest featuring four shiny buttons at the New Year’s service. “How the rabbi smiled when he put on that beautiful vest! It fit just right.” But alas, with a year’s worth of holidays including Rosh Hashanah, Sukkot, Chanukah and Passover and a year’s worth of dining on delicious meals, the rabbi’s belly expands. So what do you think happens next? Yes, all the buttons eventually pop off, often landing in a dish of fabulous food.

Reinhardt’s watercolor illustrations are as rich as the food Rabbi Benjamin is served at every holiday.  They’re cheerful, radiant, expressive and perfectly reflect the rabbi’s favorite saying, “A happy congregation is the sunshine of my heart.”

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Interior spread from Rabbi Benjamin’s Buttons by Alice B. McGinty with illustrations by Jennifer Black Reinhardt, Charlesbridge Publishing ©2014.

To solve his dilemma, Rabbi Benjamin performs various good deeds, or mitzvot, within his community from planting a garden to climbing into a congregant’s attic to hide some Chanukah gifts. Over the course of the following year, the rabbi’s positive actions help his belly dwindle down in size. But without buttons, how can he fasten his vest and wear it for the approaching New Year’s service?

After reading this picture book, children will appreciate how one good deed begets another, often when least expected. Also, rather than pull out the elastic waist pants, perhaps more apples and less strudel couldn’t hurt!

Make sure you check out the end pages for a glossary of words used in the story. I love that a mouth watering selection of recipes for such traditional dishes as honey cake, latkes, matzoh ball soup and strudel are also included. There’s also an Educator’s Guide available for downloading by clicking here.

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 


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