Private Joel and the Sewell Mountain Seder


With permission from their commander and matzah brought in on a train from Cincinnati, Jewish members of a Civil War regiment improvise a seder to remember. The participation of three former slaves, now members of their company, lends a special meaning to this celebration of freedom.
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With permission from their commander and matzah brought in on a train from Cincinnati, Jewish members of a Civil War regiment improvise a seder to remember. The participation of three former slaves, now members of their company, lends a special meaning to this celebration of freedom.
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Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature - Ali Fell
The Union Army is camped during the spring of 1862. It is almost time for Passover and several Jewish soldiers are feeling homesick. As they begin to make preparations for Passover, three Negro men from their regiment ask if they may join the Seder. Together, and with much improvising, a Seder table is created and the Seder takes place. This story serves at least four functions. First, it tells children how to prepare a Seder. Second, it talks about freedom from slavery. Third, it attempts to create a link between the history of Jewish slaves in Egypt and African American slaves. Fourth, it describes a few roles taken by Jewish men during the Civil War: slave holder, merchant, soldier, freedom fighter. There are enough kid-goofy antics in the story to get children laughing and to keep them engaged. The illustrations are pleasant oil reproductions and definitely add to the overall impact of the book. Reviewer: Ali Fell
School Library Journal

Gr 2-5- This Civil War story about Private J.A. Joel and 20 other Jewish soldiers in the 23rd Ohio Regiment is based on an article written by Joel and published in the Jewish Messenger in 1866. The third-person narration is presented in eight short, easy-to-read chapters. Bored and homesick while guarding a railroad line in West Virginia, the soldiers secure their commander's permission to commemorate Passover. They pay a sutler (traveling merchant) to ship matzah to them and obtain ingredients for the traditional meal. They find an egg for the Seder plate and use carrottops in place of parsley, a brick for charoset , a weed for bitter herbs, and hard cider for wine. Seated around a white-clothed table, they sing the Four Questions, tell the Passover story, and join together in song. Fireside's concluding note discusses her decision "to include some former slaves to share in this celebration." Matzah ball soup is placed on the menu, providing a humorous subplot and a connection to contemporary readers. Costello's vibrant paintings blend realistic and abstract styles, filling the spreads with color. Readers will need some background on the Civil War and Passover to navigate this story, making this book most useful in collections that support Jewish studies.-Laura Scott, Farmington Community Library, MI

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780822590507
  • Publisher: Lerner Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 4/28/2008
  • Series: Passover Ser.
  • Pages: 47
  • Sales rank: 1,512,814
  • Age range: 9 - 12 Years
  • Lexile: 800L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Bryna J. Fireside is the author of more than a dozen books for young readers. When not writing, Bryna loves to swim and participates in an annual one-mile swim across Lake Cayuga in Ithaca, New York, to raise money for Hospicare. She's also a founding member and past-president of Congregation Tikkun v'Or, a new Ithaca synagogue.

Shawn Costello lives and paints in Maryland and Down East Maine. She received her BFA from Maryland Institute of Art and her Masters in Baltimore. She has illustrated two children's books including A Bus of Our Own (Albert Whitman Company). The illustrations from A Bus of Our Own were selected for exhibition at the 2002 Bologna Book Fair in Italy. She is a member of the Portrait Society of America and has taught workshops at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

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