Yankee at the Seder

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Overview

The war is over, and everyone is saying the South lost. Ten-year-old Jacob would give anything to show those Yankees that not all Confederates are ready to surrender.

He gets his chance when he sees a real, live Yankee soldier walking down his street, on leave for Passover. But before Jacob can think of a way to be brave, the Yankee asks him for a piece of his matzoh.

This true story about a Jewish Yankee soldier joining a Southern family’s ...

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Overview

The war is over, and everyone is saying the South lost. Ten-year-old Jacob would give anything to show those Yankees that not all Confederates are ready to surrender.

He gets his chance when he sees a real, live Yankee soldier walking down his street, on leave for Passover. But before Jacob can think of a way to be brave, the Yankee asks him for a piece of his matzoh.

This true story about a Jewish Yankee soldier joining a Southern family’s Passover meal shows how common values can overcome even the most divisive differences. Gathered around the seder table, the group discusses what it means to be free—a subject as relevant today as it was during the War between the States and during the Exodus.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Starred Review, Publishers Weekly:
"Sensitively written and beautifully illustrated."

Review, Kirkus Reviews:
"The handsome design features decoratively framed text boxes opposite Gustavson’ s expressive, realistic oil paintings. Should spark discussion around the seder table and in classrooms of history."

Review, Book Review Digest:
"The book offers any number of promising uses: it’s a fascinating Civil War story with a difference, it’s an American counterpart to the World War I Christmas in the trenches story, and it’s a rich tale of people finding connections through faith in a difficult time. Weber provides a glossary before the story and concludes with a compact, personal explanation of the festival of Passover, so even those unfamiliar with the holiday will have no difficulty in understanding its import in the story."

Review, Social Edication, June 1, 2010:
"...an engaging discussion about freedom as Jewish traditions are celebrated."

Publishers Weekly

When his mother invites a Union Army corporal-"a Yankee Jew" named Myer Levy-to join the family for Passover, Jacob is aghast: they're proud Virginia Confederates, and only 24 hours have passed since Lee's surrender. But Mother has tradition on her side: as she reminds Jacob, the Haggadah commands Jews to welcome "all who are hungry... all who are in need" to their seder tables. With a cinematic flair and rich, realist oils, Gustavson (A Very Improbable Story ) depicts how a détente between North and South is forged-albeit tenuously-by the timeless values of faith, civility and chicken soup. Basing her writing on a historical incident, Weber makes an impressive debut. The fiercely held loyalties and enthusiasms of her 10-year-old narrator feel authentic, and her gift for dialogue-especially the Southern-Jewish inflections of Jacob's family-makes the pages fly. Above all, she deserves great credit for not forcing her characters to hug and learn in the final pages. "Well, that was something, wasn't it?" the mother says as the Yankee departs. Sensitively written and beautifully illustrated. Ages 7-9. (Mar.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Children's Literature - Mary Quattlebaum
Elka Weber recounts an intriguing true tale about connecting despite differences. When the Civil War ends, 10-year-old Jacob is angry with the Yankees that now patrol the Virginia streets. In fact, one even stops at his porch and asks for a bit of matzoh. Jacob's mother quickly invites the young corporal, named Myer Levy, to their seder. Amidst the shared rituals and recounting of the story of Moses and the captive Israelites, Myer explains his view of Passover as a holiday based on "how no man wants to be a slave and about how wonderful it is to be free." The former Confederate family reflects on his words. A year later, they resonate even more powerfully with young Jacob when the soldier, returned home to Philadelphia, sends a special gift. Rich in period detail, the accompanying oil paintings by Adam Gustavson portray the characters trying to respect differences, celebrate similarities and honor their common humanity. Reviewer: Mary Quattlebaum
School Library Journal

Gr 2-5

Just after the Civil War, a Jewish Yankee needing a place to observe Passover finds a Confederate family who offers him hospitality, mindful of the words in the Passover Haggadah, "All who are hungry, let them come and eat." Young Jacob, bitter about the South's defeat, is resentful at first, and the whole family finds the situation awkward. However, the Jewish tradition of debate and interpretation allows each side a voice, as the Josephsons interpret the story of the Exodus as rebellion against an unjust government, while Corporal Levy points out the misery of slavery and the joy of freedom. A blossoming friendship between Myer Levy and the Southern family begins the postwar healing process. Respect for others' opinions and openness to learning are the key themes of this beautifully told story. Masterful oil paintings pace the action and reflect characters' emotions. The historical basis for the tale is revealed in the endnote, which includes photos of Levy's family and his actual saber, and supporting material about Passover is included as front and back matter. This lovely tale infuses history with feeling and illuminates the spirit of a major Jewish holiday in a way that can be appreciated by readers of all backgrounds.-Heidi Estrin, Feldman Children's Library at Congregation B'nai Israel, Boca Raton, FL

Kirkus Reviews
On the first night of Passover, days after the Civil War has ended, Jacob sits on his porch snacking on a piece of matzoh. When Yankee soldier Myer Levy wanders by and notices him, he wishes Jacob a good holiday and asks if he might share. Surprised and a bit fearful, Jacob runs inside to inform his mother "there's a...a Yankee Jew outside!" Putting politics and war aside and following Jewish tradition, Jacob's mother invites Levy to join the family's seder. Weber's story is based on true events and explores the paradox and controversy of owning slaves for wealthy Southern Jews. Using the framework of the traditional Four Questions, the narrative ignites a dialogue between Myer and his host, Mr. Josephson, drawing a connection between the holiday's celebration of freedom from slavery and the underlying cause of the Civil War. The handsome design features decoratively framed text boxes opposite Gustavson's expressive, realistic oil paintings. Should spark discussion around the seder table and in classrooms of history. (glossary, historical notes) (Picture book/religion. 7-10)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781582462561
  • Publisher: Random House Children's Books
  • Publication date: 3/10/2009
  • Pages: 40
  • Age range: 3 - 7 Years
  • Lexile: 850L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 9.70 (w) x 10.60 (h) x 0.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Elka Weber loves making history come alive. She has taught history to both high school and college students and authored nonfiction works for adults. Elka lives in New Jersey with her husband, five children, and a pile of Haggadahs for Passover. This is her first book for children.

Adam Gustavson’s floor is currently covered with Civil War books and photos of antique seder platters. A graduate of Rowan University and The School of Visual Arts, he paints and teaches in New Jersey, where he lives with his patient and lovely family. This is his fourteenth book for children.

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Read an Excerpt

It was all over.

On the day before Passover, with Mother busy supervising the cook, with potatoes boiling and apples stewing and beef bubbling in carrot-studded gravy, General Robert E. Lee surrendered. There were still some troops fighting outside Virginia, but my father said it didn’t matter. The war was really over.

The War of Northern Aggression had started when I was seven. Now I was already ten and the Rebel Confederates had lost to the Union. I was never going to be a Rebel general. I’d never capture a whole unit of Yankees single-handed.

But war or no war, Passover is still Passover. My mother had been getting ready for months. The whole house had been scrubbed clean from the attic to the cellar, just to make sure we didn’t own a single bit of bread. If a stray crumb did somehow find its way into our house, it would just die of loneliness.

Grandpapa took down the leather-bound Haggadahs from the highest shelf in the parlor. The Haggadahs, which explain the whole order of the seder, the festive Passover meal, were in large Hebrew letters, splotched with wine stains from years past. Every year at this time, we remember how the Jewish people were slaves in the land of Egypt long ago, and how we were led out of slavery and into freedom. We sing songs and eat special foods to remind us how bad it was to be slaves, and how good it is to be free. Of course, with the war these last four years, we’ve been talking about slavery for as long as I can remember.

Yesterday morning, when Father and I went to pick up our matzoh, I heard talk of rioting in Richmond and whispered worries of worthless Confederate money. No one knew whether the Union would treat us well, now that they’d beaten us. But word had spread that at least our soldiers would be allowed to take home their own horses to work their farms.

Yankee soldiers patrolled the streets, walking around as though they owned Virginia. To be fair, I guess they did own Virginia now.

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