February 26, 2015

L710Having grown up in the Land of Liberty, I always took it for granted that my life was more or less my own. After all, the U.S.A. wasn’t the U.S.S.R., and yet, even good ole’ Uncle Sam sees fit to listen in on calls for the good of the state.

President Bush authorized warrantless wiretapping on civilian phone calls in the wake of the September 11th attacks, and the surveillance situation has only gotten more invasive since. National security issues aside, the erosion of privacy is palpable. Even though my conversations generally center on family and work updates, it still gives typical folk like me the creeps to imagine anyone listening in on over a decade of my calls. (Did they ever get bored and hang up?)  It isn’t difficult to imagine how an entire population could be reduced to mass paranoia, especially if that population is living under Communist rule…

The Krasnikov family has major reasons to look back over their shoulders. Anya is a young Moscow mother living the good life, on the payroll of the KGB. Her husband Lev teaches at the local university and her daughter Karina is enrolled in a full-day government-run preschool. Anya enjoys imported products that only foreign currency can buy, ignores the plight of the disloyal enemies of the state being interrogated in her office’s basement, and seems to have an idyllic warped Soviet existence – until everything unravels. Anya is a Jew by birth, but Lev has taken his birthright much further. So far, that everyone he loves may soon be taken hostage because of it.

Even the people who extend their hands to help the Krasnikovs are suspect. And it’s easy to understand why: Most Soviet citizens were trained to save their own skin at all costs. Who can the Krasnikovs trust when their very survival is at stake? Read Hostage (from the front to the back – no cheating!) and you’ll know.

Guest Blogger: Sara Miriam Gross

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NEW RELEASE! 23 Under 1 Roof – Vol. 3: Under Renovation

February 25, 2015

C390If you’re ever in the neighborhood, you’re invited over to view some priceless artwork. Inspired by the Great Masters and executed by a minor, our stairwell, walls and even the side of one large cabinet, proudly bear the signature (and other scribbles) of someone we love.

Interested in free home improvements? No one does them better than a kid. Unless you happen to have more than two minyanim of kids. In that case, the results are guaranteed to be even more, uhm, spectacular…

The 21 Schneider children and their parents are back home in Israel, after a whirlwind tour of England, and their cousin’s chasunah.

Home. We all know that there’s no place like it, but sometimes that’s exactly the problem. Their home is so small that it’s wall-to-wall beds — dooming homework, pet ants and dusty yarmulkes to a watery grave when the negel vasser spills. The solution is to renovate their apartment and add a new floor, but that’s easier said than done when one of your workers is a bonafide cookie and cola thief!  When the children decide to take over the job and save Abba money they seem to have everything figured out. After all, why spend good money so the workers can make a mess, when the kids are willing to make an even bigger mess for free!

Each book in this popular series is a separate adventure so your kids can join the Schneider gang now even if they weren’t with them in England.

Warning: This book is as funny as the first two. Do not give it to any literate child while anyone else in the house is sleeping. The laughter will wake them up. (My signed testimonial will be on file at the Israel Bookshop Publications office, minus the name of the son who woke everyone up.)

*Paint not included.

Guest Blogger: Sara Miriam Gross

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NEW RELEASE! Hashem’s Candy Store

February 23, 2015

C392“Mommy, could you buy grapes for Shabbos?” my daughter asked me one Thursday, as I left the house to do some Shabbos shopping.

“Sure,” I said, pleased that she was asking me to buy that and not some kind of junk food.

As I began filling a bag with grapes at the store, the thought occurred to me that grapes kind of look like sucking candies…you know, they’re round and brightly colored, plus they’re honey-sweet… And then I had a brilliant idea: What if I used these grapes in place of candy for my kids’ Shabbos treat?

It was a wild idea, especially considering the fact that, when it comes to the various types of nosh out there on the market, my children are quite savvy and picky. No doubt, they’ve picked up this quality from their mother, who’s known to have quite the sweet tooth herself… But lately I’d been trying to encourage healthful eating in the family, and so I decided to give my experiment a shot.

To my utter surprise…it actually worked! My kids were hooked on those delicious red grapes and clamored for more, as if it was the most exotic nosh around! And my daughter who’d asked me to buy the grapes was proud as a peacock that her siblings were enjoying the fruits (pun intended!) of her labor. After all, let’s get it straight: buying the grapes had been her idea.

I realized, of course, that I could not possibly get away with substituting fruit for “real” nosh every Shabbos–like I said, my kids are real nosh connoisseurs, and that just wouldn’t happen with them–but for that Shabbos, as they munched on those grapes, I allowed myself to sit back and shep nachas. Kids eating healthfully–and enjoying it, too…isn’t that every Yiddishe Mama’s dream?

And you know what? When you think about it, that really should not be a dream that’s out of our reach. “Hashem’s candy” is oftentimes even more delicious than the manmade, empty-calorie-laden variety…there’s really no reason why kids should turn down that piece of juicy watermelon or that nectarine oozing with sweet goodness. It really all depends on how we, as parents, present nature’s bounty–“Hashem’s candy”–to our children.

With Bracha Goetz’s new book, Hashem’s Candy Store, parents are given the perfect opportunity to teach their children about the wonders of “Hashem’s candy”–a.k.a. fruits and vegetables. Written in adorable rhyme and illustrated by the talented Dena Ackerman, this book will wow your kids into eating their fruits and veggies without any fuss at all!

Have your kids hear about the secrets hidden within each of “Hashem’s candy”–how the tomato, which has four chambers like a heart, is actually good for the heart, and how kidney beans are actually good for the kidneys. Amazing, isn’t it? Your kids will think so, too…and you can hope that maybe, just maybe, that broccoli you’re serving for dinner tonight will actually get eaten by them…

Hey, maybe I can get away with serving up honeydew for next week’s Shabbos party, after all?

Click here to purchase online.

NEW RELEASE! I Can’t Fall Asleep!

February 20, 2015

C391It was one of those nights when, no matter what I did or said, the kids kept coming out of their beds.

“Just one more drink, Mommy! Really, it’s the last one!” (When have I heard that line before?)

“I need to go to the bathroom! Sooo badly!” (Please, go!)

“There’s a bug in my room. I’m too scared to stay in my bed.” (Note to reader: any piece of lint or thread on the wall or carpet can take on the dimensions of a bug when necessary.)

And my favorite: “It’s so boring in my bed! I have nothing to do there!” (Why, what would you like to do in your bed, darling? Would you like to make an arts ‘n crafts project there, maybe? Or perhaps dance the hora?)

Suffice it to say, Mommy was not in her most patient and loving mood. That’s when inspiration struck.

“Kids,” said I, “I want you all to try very hard NOT to fall asleep until Totty comes home! You hear me? Lie in bed, but keep your eyes wide open and whatever you do, DO NOT fall asleep! Let’s see if you can stay up until then!”

Less than ten minutes later, the house was quiet.

Nothing like a bit of reverse psychology sometimes…

Of course I knew this trick could only be used once–or maybe twice, depending on each child’s memory. But what can a mother do with children who refuse to fall asleep at night?

For starters, they may want to buy the book I Can’t Fall Asleep! and read it to their kids.

I Can’t Fall Asleep! was written by popular children and teen’s author M. Jakubowicz, in an adorable and original  limerick style. The book tells the story of Moish, a very familiar-sounding child who just can’t seem to stay in his bed long enough to fall asleep at night. Of course, the next morning he can’t wake up on time, and he suffers the consequences of his too-late bedtime…

Through the course of this book, Moish learns how important it is to go to bed–and stay there!–on time each night, and he teaches himself some tips and techniques so that he can fall asleep.

This book promises to be a great boon to all parents struggling with The Great Bedtime Issue. Who knows? Perhaps Moish will influence your child to go to sleep on time, too, and all that’ll be left for you to do will be to simply smile sweetly and say, “Good night, darling…”

Click here to purchase online.

NEW RELEASE! Portraits of Prayer

February 18, 2015

L709Remember the davening contests and charts our kindergarten teachers used to make for us, to get us all to daven nicely? Remember how we used to screech the words of Adon Olam and Krias Shema at the top of our lungs, so that we could get that coveted gold star next to our name? Never mind that we did not know what we were saying or how our tefillos had relevance to our daily lives. We were talking to Hashem, and our teacher told us that we were making Hashem proud—and that was enough of a reason to get us to continue with our scree—I mean, davening. Oh, and we were also going to get a prize once we had enough gold stars.

That might have been fine for us as kindergarteners. But we would hardly be impressed with an adult who davened like this. No matter how loudly one davens, if one does not understand what he’s saying and how the words of his prayers can affect his life, well, such a person will not be called a “good davener.” And certainly such a person will not be getting any gold stars for his prayers, or winning any prizes.

How can a person work on having the tefillos he says “speak” to him?  A great book that can help you achieve this goal is Portraits of Prayer. Here is a treasury of stories, all on the words of the daily tefillos, each explaining, clarifying, and bringing down to our level lessons that we can learn from those tefillos.

On the words “she’tatzileini…mei’adam ra u’mei’chaver ra” (Yehi Ratzon after Birchos Hashachar), you’ll read how Rav Yaakov Yitzchak Ruderman escaped meeting up with a person about whom, fifty years beforehand, the Alter of Slabodka had warned Rav Ruderman to stay away from; and on the words “v’rachamav al kol ma’asav” (Ashrei), you’ll read about the Arizal’s admonition to a person who removed a ladder from his home, thus preventing the chickens he raised from having access to their water bowl. Truly there is something for everyone in this book.

Prayer is something that is always in need of chizuk. After all, it is our lifeline to our Creator. Once you read Portraits of Prayer, you can be sure that the tefillos that leave your lips each day will take on an entirely different meaning—and you will be the one to benefit from that.

Click here to purchase online.