Book Review: Two New Kids’ Books Educate and Entertain


Book Review: Two New Kids’ Books Educate and Entertain

Here I Am: The Story of Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

By Carol Ungar
Illustrated by Dena Ackerman
Menucha Publishers
38 pp.

Reviewed by Devorah Talia Gordon                   

Hineni, “Here I am,” was said by Avraham Avinu and Moshe Rabbeinu when called by G-d, indicating their readiness to serve Him in any way. Hineni was also the way Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis, a’h, lived her life from her very first years.

In her new book, Here I am: The Story of Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis, Carol Ungar tells the story of Mrs. Jungreis’ journey to become the woman who started a legendary organization and led thousands of people back to Torah observance. The biography, written for readers in third to fourth grade, is one of several in the Young Readers Biography Series by Menucha Classroom Solutions, a division of Menucha Publishers.

In sensitive prose, Ungar tells of the Jungreis’ being saved from the War and arriving in America, to be greeted by scores of Jews who were not keeping Shabbos or eating kosher food, who didn’t even know what it meant to be Jewish. Instead of judging them or turning the other way, Rabbi Avrohom encouraged his daughter, Esther, to bring the neighbor girls to their house, to teach them what it meant to be Jewish.

Even though Esther barely spoke English, and was scared, she did it anyway. She said, Hineni. First there was Annie, whose whole family eventually became Torah observant. And then there were more and more; enough girls coming that Rabbi Avrohom opened a school for them. Thus began Esther Jungreis’ lifelong career as a teacher and a friend to thousands.

Ungar describes how Esther married Rav Meshulam, became the “Rebbetzin” and together with her husband opened a shul, teaching scores of Jews about mitzvah observance.  Ungar’s writing carefully depicts the students, who simply didn’t have the opportunity yet to learn about yiddishkeit, as being treated with great respect and love by the Rav and Rebbetzin.  

Even the beautiful illustrations in the book convey the same sensitivity. The drawings of all of the Rebbetzin’s students are sweet images of curious faces; the drawings of Rebbetzin Jungreis are lovely, capturing her trademark short blond wig, effervescent smile, and long, elegant dresses. A favorite is the sketch of the Rebbetzin the night before her big event at Madison Square Garden, which was the founding of her Hineni Organization. Wearing her pearls and regal dress, she’s bent over her paper writing her speech, deep into the evening.

While most of us either saw or heard the Rebbetzin speak, this book provides a fantastic gateway for young readers to know whom she was and how tirelessly she worked for Klal Yisroel. Hopefully, it will encourage them to look further into her contributions, read her books, and ultimately follow her example of loving, and bring close, all fellow Jews.

The Way It Was: In the Old West

By Meish Goldish
Menucha Publishers
47 pp.

Have a history buff in the family? Is your child curious about how Jews got kosher meat before the advent of markets? Or how Jewish children learned Torah before our modern-day schools?

In The Way It Was: In the Old West, Meish Goldish chronicles the history of Jewish life in the West, starting from the forty-niners (yes, thousands were Jewish) who came out to California in search of gold in the mid-1800s. The book focuses on the western states and territories, providing ample information for children in fourth to fifth grades about Jewish life in states like Minnesota, Oregon, California, and Washington. It is one book in the Jewish Life in America Series published by Menucha Classroom Solutions, a division of Menucha Publishers.

Goldish uses clear language to explain what could be hard to grasp: how people lived back then, without cars, running water, office buildings, shuls, schools, and markets – everything we have in abundance today. Unfamiliar words are printed in bold, with a glossary in the back of the book. This is a great book for kids to read on their own or have read to by their parent or teacher.

Goldish’s detailed descriptions paint a colorful picture of what life was like – we learn what peddlers were and what they sold, how houses were built, the important contributions of women in many arenas, how Jews tried to keep kosher and build communities, and more.

What is also fantastic are the quotes from writings of those who lived at the time, like this one from Lazar Blochman, writing about what his mother did in San Francisco in the 1850s, “She closed her hat business on Saturdays and Jewish holidays. She lost business from people passing through. But keeping Shabbos was more important to her than making sales.”

The book is filled with wonderful photographs, including covered wagons, Jewish stores, old synagogues, and schools. There are tons of great pictures of men, women, and children, which bring the text to life and transport the reader back to the Old West.

Trivia question: Who was the first Rabbi of Los Angeles? (No checking Google.) Read the book to find out!

For these titles, others in both series, and more: