Let My RV Go!

Let My RV Go! – by Nicole Nathan.
Review by Batya Medad
Web site for the book

I never got up the guts to publically laugh at myself the way Nicole Nathan, the author of Let My RV does in her wonderfully entertaining book.

Let My RV Go! can be purchased in both eformat and as a “real book.” It was sent to me for review. I had no idea what to expect. It opened up a whole new world for me. I thought that I was the only one who felt “different” even though outsiders don’t see it. I study Bible and even give classes and lead tours of Tel Shiloh in Israel. But the real me will always be a bit different. In recent years I’ve requested that those giving our local women’s Shabbat shiur never ever use the phrase:

כמו שכולנו למדנו בגן….
Kimo sheculanu lamadnu bagan…
Like we all learned in pre-school…

I and others who are either converts or BT’s never learned in such pre-schools and it makes me feel very left out and rejected to hear such a phrase.

Let My RV Go! is about the bonding of two BT families and their adventures and misadventures on the way to spending a rather unconventional Passover. Adding to their Passover challenge and time limitations, they had been given an important package to deliver before the Holiday to a “mystery person.” Neither full name nor address, just a vague description of who he is and where he lives.

You need not know much about Judaism and Pesach to enjoy reading the book. I have no doubt that anyone who has attempted a family vacation in an RV, whether Jewish or not, will identify with some of the problems the families encounter. This is more than just a Jewish book.

By adding humor to all situations, whether between husband and wife, parents and children or navigating new roads, this is a book people will enjoy reading. Yes, I do recommend the book!

The message is that “it all works out in the end.” Yes, it’s an upbeat book with a happy ending, just the sort of book I needed to read.

The Book of the People – The ArtScroll Siddur at 25

Assuming I must have missed something — something that would be hard to miss, but stranger things have happened — I did a Google search before I wrote this article:



For all practical purposes, at least as far as I can tell, the 25th anniversary of the publication of the first edition of the Artscroll Siddur has gone unremarked.

In a way, this is of a piece with the fundamentally restrained, dignified style of Mesorah Publications. It is also consistent with the central theme of their incredible endeavor, a perspective from which 25 years is, in the scheme of things, pretty small potatoes, and in which the publishers and authors of the Artscroll “series” (really an undertaking far greater than a “series”) see themselves as conduits of something far greater than themselves.

But we can do it for them, and not only because 25 years is, in our individual lives, a very significant amount of time, but because the publication of the Artscroll Siddur in 1984 literally turned a page in the history of the Jewish people.

In a time when more Jews were more ignorant of their heritage than ever before, and more in danger of disappearing from the nation of Israel as identifying Jews in no small part because of the inaccessibility, mystery and intimidation of the tradition, Artscroll fulfilled the dictum in Pirkei Avos, “In a place where there are no men, strive to be a man.” A man was needed; more than one, in fact; but fundamentally two — Rabbis Meir Zolotowitz and Nosson Scherman — stepped forward and took the responsibility to do the work.

For all the sweat, heart and brain that was poured into the Artscroll Siddur by these men and those who worked with them, I cannot believe that they could have had an inkling of just how phenomenal this work would be, and how much it would mean to people such as you and me.
Of course they must have realized that never before had the traditional Jewish liturgy — including the full range of responsibilities of a Jew besides “merely” understanding the words of prayer found in any bilingual siddur — become so completely accessible to so many seeking access. They knew that, even if it was not perfect, no more comprehensive, approachable siddur had ever been published in the vernacular for non-scholarly use in the home and synagogue. And they cannot have been unaware of at least the possible “political” impact this assertive broadside from the once-quiescent English-speaking community of strictly orthodox or “yeshiva” Jews would have on the course of Jewish communal and religious life for a generation.

But they could not have realized what it would mean to us to find out that, yes, there is one — there is a book — a siddur — there is one work you can buy that will tell you how to do it: How to go about being really Jewish in prayer and, in no small measure, throughout the day. When to stand in shul; when to sit; what to answer; when to bow, and in which direction — all those mysteries that, observed in our peripheral vision, kept so many of us, too self-conscious or proud to look like complete dorks in an orthodox shul or to require the embarrassing personal tutelage of an insider to even consider stepping through that door.

Now we could learn how to do it, and to some degree why we were doing it, and how much more we had to do, at our own pace; in private; and on an adult level.

This was a gift of freedom that I can hardly imagine Rabbis Zlotowitz and Scherman could have understood they were giving so many of us.

The Artscroll Siddur turned 25 last August, quietly. But the voices it enabled, empowered and amplified — hundreds, no, thousands of Jewish spirits — have not only filled the Heavens with a magnificent raash gadol [great noise] for 25 years, but have unleashed an eternity of song for which so many of us and our descendants will always be grateful.

Thank you, Artscroll.

Review of Sondra’s Search – About Being Jewish in Rural Kansas

By Sybil Kaplan

Most writers write about what they know best, their own lives and experiences. This is the case of Ester Katz Silvers in “Sondra’s Search,” a novel for middle school and high school youth.

The prologue introduces the reader to the heroine, Sondra Apfelbaum, who is returning from Israel with her fiancé. The remainder of the book is a flashback, starting in 1965.

Sondra Apfelbaum is 11 years old and lives in a small, rural Kansas town where her father, Julius, is a salesman at the local department store owned by Uncle Simon. Sondra and her father and mother, Helga, a Holocaust survivor, live on a farm. Sondra and her cousins, Howie and Lisa, are the only Jews in the school. The town has no rabbi and no synagogue, but a lot of Sondra’s family live there.

Helga is in denial about her Holocaust background. Her parents and sister were murdered and whenever anything unpleasant about her background or Holocaust experience comes up in conversation, she goes to the bedroom.

As Howie and Sondra reach middle school and high school, we see the contrasts between how the families treat them as teens. For example, Howie is allowed to go out with non-Jewish girls, but Sondra cannot date non-Jewish boys. Then Sondra goes to visit an Aunt and Uncle in Kansas City and becomes involved with an Orthodox youth group.

As Sondra visits more often, makes friends and becomes more involved with the youth group, she also becomes more identified as a Jew through high school and her first year at a local college then on into young adulthood.

I really loved this coming of age book, not because it dealt with Kansas, but because the issues Silvers deals with for young adults are so well done. Growing up Jewish in a small town is a clear-cut and mature presentation. The narrative is clear, and the characters all add to the plot. The writing is well done and Silvers meets the challenge of explaining the issues of growing up in a small town as a Jew and having a parent who is a Holocaust survivor for young adult readers very successfully.

Author’s history

In an email interview, Silvers wrote that she felt “compelled” to write the book because of the question she heard so many times, “you mean there are Jews in Kansas?”

She grew up in Wichita, an only child, like her heroine, Sondra. Her father, like Julius, left Germany very much the way Sondra’s father did, but her mother was born in Leavenworth, Kansas to immigrant parents and was not a Holocaust survivor. Whereas Sondra and her family live on a farm, Silver’s did not, but her cousin did and she visited her every summer. She said her favorite uncle is a rancher in Oklahoma.

For Silvers, Wichita was a “wonderful place to grow up for a Reform Jew. There was little, if any, pollution, traffic jams or anti-Semitism. What there was was a beautiful downtown, lovely parks, plenty of open air, and a nice amount of culture.”

In the book, the heroine’s father works at an uncle’s department store. Silvers wrote that “my great-uncle had a big department store in Stillwater, Okla., and used whatever connections he had to get his family into America under the quota system.”

As a child, Mrs. Silver visited Kansas City since her father was a haberdasher and he would go to the men’s market. They would meet relatives from McPherson, Kan., in the lobby of the Muelbach Hotel and she and her cousins would ride the elevator.

When she was older, her parents took her to Starlight Theatre in the summer and downtown theater in the winter.

At Silvers’ Bat Mitzvah, she read from the Sefer Torah her uncle had rescued following Kristallnacht. Growing up, she attended youth activities in Wichita and was in NCSY, the organization Sondra is exposed to the most when she comes to Kansas City.

“As a teenager, I would come to [Kansas City] for BBYO conventions. We thought we were going to the BIG city!” she said.

Like Sondra, “inter-dating was a big issue. Although there were fifteen other Jewish kids my age in town, there was always the feeling of being different. We all dealt with it in different ways. Some married out, others followed their parents’ approach to Judaism and three of us became Orthodox.”

At Arizona State University, she mether husband. They became observant, then married and lived in Phoenix. In 1986, they moved to Israel with five children, aged two months to nine years. They settled in a Judea/Samaria community called Shilo “because it fit our needs — a rural type community with a yeshiva, grammar school, plenty of children our children’s ages, a grocery store, doctor, nurse, and clinic, as well as very nice people.” The Silvers have had two more children since then, and their seven children now range in age from 14 to 31.

Shilo is more than 20 miles north of Jerusalem and held a central place in the history of Israel as the religious center and assembly place for the tribe of Israel and where the tabernacle sat. In 1978, a Jewish community settled there, and today, there are about 300 families of all ages.

Silvers spends her time as a homemaker and, when not writing, with learning, sewing and community service.

The Silvers family lived in Shilo during the Intifada and she characterizes those years as “hard, but that was all for Israelis.” She has written some articles on that subject: “Shilo: A Mother’s Diary” and “Community Anguish.”

Silvers is currently working on the sequel focusing to “Sondra’s Search” focusing on the heroine, Sondra, and her cousin, Lisa, whom she tries to involve in becoming more Jewishly-identified in the book.

Originally published on the Kansas City Jewish Chronicle