With All My Heart, with All My Mind: Thirteen Stories about Growing up Jewish

With All My Heart, with All My Mind: Thirteen Stories about Growing up Jewish

by Sandy Asher, Marc Chagall

Benjy has nightmares about his upcoming Bar Mitzvah ceremony. Rachel's grief over Grandma Hannah's illness turns her away from her temple. Jaci wrestles with peer pressure by day and angels by night, and when Cain and Abel double-date... well, growing up has never been easy.

As these and nine other stories in With All My Heart, with All My Mind demonstrate

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Benjy has nightmares about his upcoming Bar Mitzvah ceremony. Rachel's grief over Grandma Hannah's illness turns her away from her temple. Jaci wrestles with peer pressure by day and angels by night, and when Cain and Abel double-date... well, growing up has never been easy.

As these and nine other stories in With All My Heart, with All My Mind demonstrate, growing up Jewish adds its own twists and turns to the challenge. As we approach the end of the millennium, what does "growing up Jewish" mean? How can young people reconcile centuries of tradition with the modern world? Can they embrace their religion "with all my heart, with all my mind"?

Award-winning author and editor Sandy Asher posed these and other questions to thirteen Jewish writers: herself, Eve B. Feldman, Merrill Joan Gerber, Jacqueline Dembar Greene, Johanna Hurwitz, Eric A. Kimmel, Sonia Levitin, Carol Matas, Gloria D. Miklowitz, Susan Beth Pfeffer, Ruth Minsky Sender, Phyllis Shalant, and Jane Breskin Zalben. From the last days of Masada to the future colonization of the moon, these stories provide unique and personal insights. in the interviews following each story, the authors discuss their own experiences growing up Jewish.

These are stories that will make you laugh, cry, think, and above all, help you to explore what it means to be a Jew.

A portion of the money generated from the sale of this book will be donated to MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Encircled with a paper sash identifying it as an ideal bar or bat mitzvah gift, this anthology of original stories features Jewish boys and girls in coming-of-age scenarios. In Jacqueline Dembar Greene's "David's Star," the heroine keeps quiet about her Jewish identity until the anti-Semitism of her boss at an ice-cream parlor rouses her to action. The 13-year-old protagonist in Phyllis Shalant's "Pinch-Hitting" comes to terms with the anger, fear and sorrow elicited by her grandmother's case of Alzheimer's. Not all settings are contemporary: one story takes place at Masada; another takes place in 1930s Poland; and yet another imagines a futuristic society. Even so, the collection is fairly homogeneous, with most resolving conflicts a little too easily and reducing them to a single insistent message. There are two notable exceptions: Eric Kimmel's "Willow," which successfully juxtaposes a solemn story about faith in a concentration camp with a funny family story about purloined Passover dishes; and Susan Beth Pfeffer's "Cain and Abel Double-Date," a witty fantasy involving the sons of Adam and Eve. Asher (But That's Another Story: Favorite Writers Introduce Popular Genres) follows each entry with a brief interview with the author, plus a biography. This apparatus, unfortunately, may flatten the reading experience: the authors echo one another a little too closely as they speak of the importance of tradition and religion, and the interview questions hammer home the lessons of the stories. Ages 10-14. (Nov.) FYI: A portion of the proceeds from sales of this title will be donated to MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger. Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Children's Literature - Judy Chernak
What does "growing up Jewish" mean? So many different lives are spotlighted in this unusual volume, so many ways of learning and being and choosing and refusing. Ben Stein unburdens his pre-Bar Mitzvah fears to Frank, his diary, an unwanted present from an unknown relative in "Frank and Stein" by Eve B. Feldman. Yitzchak unravels the mystery of the connection between the word "Willow" stamped on the Passover silverware and, in so doing, opens the lid of his family's Pandora's Box of history in Eric A. Kimmel's story. Carol Matas, author of Daniel's Story, which forms the children's exhibit at the U. S. Holocaust Museum in Washington, offers a magical, mystical tale called "Wrestling With Angels" in which fourteen-year-old Jaci finds the courage to shed old friends heading into uncomfortable directions and instead discovers the value of questioning. Each of these vignettes is memorable. Several forced me from my comfortable reading chair to my feet, needing time to react and reflect before continuing. Together, they form a powerful and compelling venture into the intricacies of being Jewish in America. Conform? Melt? Return to ancient tradition? The award-winning authors share their own experiences, both woven into their fiction as well as in personal interviews following each chapter. Don't miss this book, as a gift for your favorite young reader and for yourself.
Library Journal - Library Journal
Gr 6-9-This uneven collection ranges from historical fiction to science fiction, although most of the stories are in the realm of realistic fiction. From a story about a boy during the battle at Masada, to one about standing up to anti-Semitism, to the diary entries of a boy about to become bar mitzvah, to a boy on his way to colonize the moon, to a girl who must come to terms with her grandmother's Alzheimer's disease, these stories run the gamut of human experience. Some of the selections stand out, with lyrical writing, good plotting, and interesting stories. Unfortunately, many of them seem incomplete, more like vignettes; in several cases, the Jewish theme overwhelms the plot and characterization. The authors include Johanna Hurwitz, Sonia Levitin, Carol Matas, Gloria Miklowitz, and Susan Beth Pfeffer, and not all of them seem comfortable within the confines of the short story. Each selection ends with an interview with the author; some are fascinating, while others are self-indulgent or inconsequential. Although there are some gems here, this is truly a mixed bag, and only libraries with a strong need for Jewish-interest titles will want to add it to their collections.-Amy Lilien-Harper, Ferguson Library, Stamford, CT Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.

Product Details

Simon Pulse
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.08(w) x 9.26(h) x 0.70(d)
Age Range:
12 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt

With All My Heart, With All My Mind

Thirteen Stories About Growing Up Jewish
By Chagall, Marc

Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing

Chagall, Marc
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0689820127


"Take My Grandmother, Please"

by Jane Breskin Zalben

It was a warm Saturday morning at the beginning of May - Mr. Pearlstein's Bar Mitzvah day. Lou Pearlstein was the upstairs neighbor in apartment 5B of our brownstone. Several years ago after my grandfather had died, Mr. Pearlstein started coming downstairs to the first floor where my grandma lived to have a glass of tea and mandlebrot. Sometimes, I'd hear his footsteps thumping past my front door, because my family lived in between them, and I'd make some lame excuse to join them both downstairs.

I don't know if it was Mr. Pearlstein, his jokes, or both, that made me want to be with him. Maybe it was his bright blue eyes? They'd get all watery when he laughed. Tears would come out of the corners, and he'd wipe them with the white handkerchief he always kept tucked in his shirt pocket. His eyes reminded me of my grandpa's as they looked in the photographs of him Grandma still kept on the top of her mahogany dresser.

This particular Saturday morning was kind of special because Mr. Pearlstein and I had struck up a deal after he and Grandma Rose started getting real friendly. Since he had never become a Bar Mitzvah, and I was in the midst of studying for mine, I would give him Hebrew lessons. In exchange, he'd fill me in on his routine from the old days.

He had been the warm-up act for Henny Youngman in vaudeville, and I wanted to be a comedian someday. I don't know if it was a match made in heaven, but our pact seemed to work.

There was a lot of motion in the air - just like when my mother and grandmother cooked together in our kitchen for the Jewish holidays. No one stood still for a minute. Grandma was such a nutcase about Mr. Pearlstein's big day that she ran upstairs a few times to our apartment asking, "Should I redo my bangs? I must have slept the wrong way. I look like a porcupine. How's my dress? Not too short? I want to look my age."

I wanted out of here, so I went upstairs to check on Mr. Pearlstein and see how he was doing while my mother took the blow-dryer to Grandma's bangs. I mean, it was his Bar Mitzvah.

He opened the door. "Hi, Andrew."

"You look taller today," I said, staring at him in his navy blue suit. This was the first time I had ever seen him all decked out.

"Maybe I grew, who knows?" he teased as he bent over and adjusted my tie a little, near the knot. "Now it's straight."

"Are you nervous?" I asked.

"With a teacher like I had, who could be nervous?"

I looked down and smiled. "Well, as they say in the business, break a leg."

"Thanks, boychik." He shook my hand. "Before you go, I want to show you something. Come on in."

Some eggplant-colored tulips from Grandpa's prizewinning garden that he had planted in the backyard over the years were in a crystal vase in the center of a table. Mr. Pearlstein saw me eyeing them. "Your grandma, Rose, gave them to me."

Next to the tulips was a thick blue-velvet pouch with gold embroidery on the front. He unzipped it. "What's this?" I asked.

"Your grandmother also lent this to me last night. It was your grandfather's tallis. Could you believe I forgot to get one?"

"Grandma gave you his prayer shawl? I thought he was buried in it?

"He was - with the one he wore in temple. This is the one he was called to the Torah in when he was bar mitzvahed. He also wore it when he married your grandmother. I hope you don't mind. It's only a loan." I shifted from side to side and shook my head no. "Because if you do, I won't wear it."

"No, I don't think I mind." I examined the black stripes and the white silk tassels at the ends. Then I felt the silver threads near where Grandpa's neck would have been. His skin had touched this very spot. I put my finger on a vine of twisted flowers and left it there.

Mr. Pearlstein put the tallis around my shoulders, and it drooped way past my knees. He laughed. "When you're thirteen, and it's your Bar Mitzvah, I know your grandmother will want to pass it on to you. I could also get you your own. There are these great little places in Brooklyn where the men who sew them make me look like a youngster. I'll take you there. It's always nice having two." I liked the idea of Mr. Pearlstein still being in my life when I was thirteen. I hadn't thought about it. I hoped he would be. "So, is it a deal?"

I nodded. "It's a deal."

"So" - Mr. Peartstein patted my back - "are you ready to go to shul?"

"I am," I said.

"Then so am I." Mr. Peartstein and I walked downstairs together.

My parents and my little brother, Jason, were coming out of our apartment. "Do you know your lines?" Jason asked, looking up at Mr. Pearlstein.

My father began to shake his head and laugh. "I remember my Bar Mitzvah. It was in this old mansion off the boardwalk in Far Rockaway - a small hotel and catering hall with a synagogue in the basement. There was a sheet hanging up in the center to separate the men from the women. Orthodox Jews sit separately." He turned to Jason before Jason asked his typical "Why?" "I said two words and the men in the congregation moaned, 'Oy, start over.' This happened about four, five times until my father's best friend yelled out, 'Give the kid a break.' That was my Bar Mitzvah."

Mom hugged Dad as she always did when he told this story.

"Well, with any luck, mine will go a little smoother." Mr. Pearlstein winked at me.

"I promise I won't make you do it over," Dad said, laughing.

"Good." Mr. Pearlstein began to laugh, too.

"Do what over?" Grandma Rose asked, coming out of her apartment and locking the door.

"You know," Mom said, "Hank's famous Bar Mitzvah story."

"Please" - Grandma threw her arms in the air - "don't put a kineahora on today."

"Evil eye," Mom muttered to us under her breath.

We all laughed. Mr. Peartstein slipped a rose corsage on Grandma's wrist. Grandma looked down at the blue-velvet pouch Mr. Pearlstein was holding, and she touched it gently. "The best of everything," she said to him. "You deserve it."

Grandma Rose and Mr. Pearlstein walked to temple arm in arm. Jason and I were on either side of my mother and father. Grandma gave us each new yarmulkes before we went inside the synagogue. They were pale gray silk, and the name, Lou Pearlstein, and the date were embossed in silver on the cotton lining.

Gradually, the congregation filtered in. Mr. Pearlstein's crossword puzzle friends from the library came. So did his old vaudeville partner, Hymie Lindenbaum - all the way from Florida. Cantor Gold called Mr. Pearlstein up to the bimah and services began. I tried to imagine a young Mr. Pearlstein as an actor and comedian on the stage, but I couldn't.

There was an enormous wicker basket of flowers in front of the stand the Torah was on. The sun was shining through a stained-glass window above the ark. Tiny orange lights flickered on a side wall with the names of people on brass plaques, reminding us of those who had died. Grandpa's name was somewhere. And I let out a sigh. He would never see me standing up there on the bimah singing my haftorah. I think that would have given him a lot of joy. Then I looked at the opposite wall. A cloth woven with silver and gold threads was hanging, nearly covering half the wall. Grandma told me that it was called a chuppa, and she had helped sew it. During a wedding ceremony, the bride and groom stood under the chuppa canopy. "Someday, alevai." She poked me, motioning in its direction.

I rolled my eyes and said, "Oh, Grandma."

There was a lot of rising and sitting during the service. Grandma muttered to my mother as she put her hand to heart, "I haven't gotten this much exercise in a year. Who needs that aerobics class at the Y?"

At the end of the service, before the president of the congregation made the announcements for when candlelighting and services were next week, Rabbi Bloom called me up to the bimah. I was very surprised and broke into a hot sweat. My knees wobbled a little as I walked up to the pulpit where the rabbi and Mr. Pearlstein were waiting. I stood between them. Mr. Pearlstein gave me a nudge. The rabbi handed me a kiddush cup with my name engraved inside. "Andrew, you have been an excellent teacher, and a very patient one. Some of my Bar Mitzvah boys have not been as rambunctious as Mr. Pearlstein." Everyone in the congregation laughed. "It is of common practice in this synagogue to give the Bar Mitzvah boy his own kiddush cup, but Mr. Pearlstein insisted that we have it engraved for you. He told me, 'In this way, I'll always have to celebrate Shabbos with Andrew.'" Mr. Pearlstein patted my shoulder as I looked up at him. The rabbi continued, "May you have many simchas and may your parents have a lot of nachas over the years with blessings from this cup. Shabbat shalom." He shook my hand. And then Mr. Pearlstein's.

Mr. Pearlstein hugged me. "Good Shabbos," he said, beaming.

We went into a large ballroom next door, where a long table was set up with wine, challah, sponge and honey cake, and fruit for the kiddush. Rabbi Bloom said a prayer as the adults held up tiny cups of wine, and the children, grape juice, and then he cut the challah. Mr. Pearlstein cleared his throat and said, in his loud stage voice, a toast. "First, I want to thank you all for sharing this special day with me. I'd also like to say" - and as he stared straight at me my heart began to pound - "if it weren't for you, Andrew, we all wouldn't be here today celebrating. Thank you."

"Mazel tov!" everyone shouted.

As they were about to make a beeline for the food, Mr. Pearlstein added, "Not so fast. And second" - he held his glass high in the air, and looked at my grandmother - "Rose, darling, would you share the rest of my life? Marry me?"

Grandma looked as if she had choked on the hot horseradish she had on her piece of gefilte fish. She turned white and began to cough. "Lou, in front of the children?"

Trying to use what Mr. Pearlstein had taught me, I figured now's my time to do my stuff to save him from this awkward moment. "Boy, Mr. Pearlstein, the other day when I said, 'Take my grandmother, please,' I didn't know you were going to take me so seriously - "

Everyone laughed. Then Mr. Pearlstein came over to me and placed both hands firmly on my shoulders. "Call me Lou."

"Call him Grandpa," Grandma said. "Only if you want to."

They both kissed me, one on one cheek, one on the other. I felt like a stuffed derma as they squooshed me between them. Mr. Pearlstein's eyes twinkled like blue sapphires. Like my grandfather's.

"Grandpa," I repeated, "take my grandmother, please."

And he did. Right to the center of the floor where the entire family and group of friends linked together, forming a circle around them as we danced the hora.


Where did you get the idea for "Take My Grandmother, Please"?

The idea comes directly from the death of my father. After his funeral, when we sat shivah, my older son, Alexander, who was nine at the time, started telling Henny Youngman jokes from a book he had got, ten from his other grandfather, who had passed away six months prior. During that same year, a neighbor invited us to her father-in-law's second Bar Mitzvah. He was eighty-three years old. There was something tender, endearing, and funny about this to me. I had never heard about a second Bar Mitzvah for an older person. The writer in me combined these two events and a story emerged about a young boy who wants to be a comedian when he grows up and an elderly man who was a comedian and had never been a Bar Mitzvah. They help each other attain what each of them needs: Andrew - jokes, Mr. Pearlstein - Hebrew lessons.

My husband went to an Orthodox yeshiva growing up, and that, too, has filtered into my writing. Andrew's father's Bar Mitzvah is actually his experience.

Is the household in the story similar to the one you grew up in?

I placed the setting in my brother's brownstone in Manhattan so that Andrew, his family, his grandma, and Lou Pearlstein could all live in the same building under one roof - the way my mother grew up.

My household growing up wasn't a religious one. My mother was born in Bialystok, Poland, and my father in the United States. I think it was very important for my mother to assimilate, even though she came from a family of very famous rabbis. Some of her aunts had died in the Holocaust and she was probably scared and at the same time embarrassed by being an immigrant (she spoke only Yiddish till age five). My father was more into hard work and relaxing with gardening or playing handball than singing tropes from the Torah on Saturday mornings. So I don't ever remember being in a synagogue with my parents until the day I was married.

But my best friend's father was a cantor in a Conservative synagogue. My memories of going to shul are with them. Of course, we did celebrate all the holidays and I'd stay home from school. The house smelled of delicious odors wafting in the air for each and every one. So religion to me became stories around the Seder table, jokes told during Rosh Hashanah, smelling apples in a sukkah, and the excitement of preparing for those special events.

I have always loved being Jewish. Judaism is part of who I am. I read Jewish books, magazines, and newspapers, see Jewish movies, go to Jewish art shows and plays. Probably the culture to me is the religious experience. Klezmer music gives me tingles. Yiddish words make me smile deep down to my bones. I also feel that this intensity is felt by many ethnic groups of many religions and what it boils down to is the warmth and closeness that families experience during holidays and during times of spiritual moments. Those moments are personal for each family. And within each family, each member determines what religion is to him or her. To me it can be a violin concerto, a flower with petals so blue or purple that you wonder how something so beautiful can exist on this earth, or just staring at the rhythm of ocean waves. It sounds corny, but often, that is a religious experience for me. And it would be unfair to limit it to just one religion.

In spite of Andrew's love for his grandfather, he's able to open his heart to Mr. Pearlstein without reservation. Can you talk about how that relates to growing up Jewish?

Part of the Jewish tradition of shivah is mourning, honoring the dead, and then moving on with life. Andrew doesn't forget his grandpa. He takes all the good feelings he has for him and finds another caring human being in Mr. Pearlstein so that he can relive joy, share an important life cycle, and learn things in a period of change. Through being loved, he can give love. Andrew is a mensch and performs a mitzvah in giving Mr. Pearlstein Hebrew lessons. If this isn't the tradition of Judaism, I don't know what is.


Excerpted from With All My Heart, With All My Mind by Chagall, Marc Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author

Sandy Asher is writer in-residence at Drury College in Springfield, Missouri, where she directs workshops and contests for writers of all ages. She is the author of novels, nonfiction, plays, and short stories. Her books include Summer Begins, Daughters of the Law, and Things Are Seldom What They Seem for young adults; the anthology But That's Another Story: Favorite Authors Introduce Popular Genres; and Where Do You Get Your Ideas?: Favorite Authors Reveal Their Writing Secrets.

Sandy Asher has been honored with an NEA grant in playwriting, the American Alliance for Theater and Education's Distinguished Play Award, an "Outstanding Play for Young Audiences" citation from the International Association of Theaters for Children and Young People, the IUPUI/Bonderman Award, a Kennedy Center New Visions/New Voices selection, and the Joseph Campbell Memorial Award.

She is a graduate of Indiana University, and lives in Springfield, Missouri, with her husband, Harvey, a history professor. They are the parents of two grown children, Emily and Ben, and are members of Temple Israel.

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