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Learning about the different cultural aspects of the different Cinderella stories has been quite rewarding.  There is so much to learn about those that are different from us, and being able to do it while reading a great picture book is awesome.  I know the first time I read Raisel’s Riddle by Erica Silverman.  I had no idea that a holiday remembering the courage of Esther even existed in the Jewish tradition.  Granted, I am a Christian, but I do take note of the different religious holidays from other religions on the calendar and often will look them up because I am curious.  Knowing a bit about religion, culture, beliefs, etc. often helps me prepare a curriculum that builds on diversity.  When I have been in the classroom it helped me incorporate literature that not only taught, but also gave some of my students something that they could personally identify with.  The smiles on their faces was always worth it when they read something that they knew about.

So, what did I learn about Jewish culture as I read Raisel’s Riddle?

The Talmud

The villagers would come to Raisel’s “Zaydeh” for guidance because he was the village wise man.  He was a Talmudic Scholar – which meant he studied the Talmud – a collection of ancient Jewish discussions that previously had been part of their oral tradition.  These ancient writings contain Jewish law, customs, history, ethics, and philosophy.  It is said that “Among religious Jews, talmudic scholars are regarded with the same awe and respect with which secular society regards Nobel laureates” (Telushkin, 2012, para. 16).  Raisel’s grandfather was well learned, and passed this respect for learning to his granddaughter.

Learning

In the book, Raisel liked to study and learn with her Grandfather because “learning is more precious than rubies, more lasting than gold.  Rubies may be lost and gold stolen, but that which you learn is yours forever.”  I really liked this quote as I read it, and it sounded vaguely familiar to me.  It took about thirty minutes of research on google to finally figure it out.  It is from Proverbs 8:10-11 found in the Old Testament.

Shiva

When Raisel’s Zaydeh passes away the villagers bring her food.  This follows the custom of Shiva.  I read a great article by Donna Pilato called Funderals and Mourning Rituals for Christians and Jews.  In it she explains beautifully and simplistically how when someone passe they go through a period know as Shiva.
Jewish tradition believes in burying the body as soon after the death as possible, as a mark of respect. After the funeral, a seven-day period of mourning, known as sitting Shiva, is held at the home of the mourners. Friends and community members bring prayers, condolences and support. All normal activities are suspended in order for the mourners to fully concentrate on their grief, so that they will be better prepared to re-enter life at the end of this period.
The first meal upon returning from the cemetery is called the seudat havrach, which is prepared by friends and neighbors for the mourners. Traditionally, the foods include eggs and other round objects, symbolic of life, hope and the full circle of life to death.
Throughout the period of Shiva, friends and relatives bring food to the mourners to eliminate the need for them to think about preparing meals. Those closest to the family will organize dinner preparations for the mourners. Friends and acquaintances will often bring cookies, cakes, fruit and other food.

Is Queen Esther the Jewish Cinderella?

 The Book of Esther in the New Testement tells of how  King Ahasuerus had a beautiful wife named Vashti, and during a celebration in his kingdom he ordered her to come forward and show off her beauty.  In those times it was immodest to show ones self off and Vashti refused to be put on center stage.  The King got mad and wanted to know what his wise men thought of this action.  They told him that not only did she disobey her husband, but wronged all the other princes in the kingdom.  They then suggested that he get rid of her as his wife and replace her.
Esther was an orphan (just like Cinderella) being raised by her uncle Mordicai.  When the king began looking for a new wife Mordicai entered her into the contest (Kind of like trying on the shoe, or coming up with the best riddle to gain the attention of the prince).

And the king loved Esther above all the women, and she obtained grace and favour in sight more than all the virgins, so that he set the royal crown upon her head, and made her queen instead of Vashti. Esther 2: 17

Well, Esther kept it quiet from the king that she was a Jew, upon the urging of her Uncle Mordicai.  Mordicai gained ill favor among Haman, one of the chief advisors of the king.  Haman devised a plan to execute all Jews to punish Moridicai for not bowing down to him, and the king was going to go ahead and let him  Mordicai went to Esther and asked her to speak to her husband on behalf of the Jews.  She fasted and prepared herslef and then with great courage approached the king (which could have been the death of her if he didn’t summon her).  Well, she was beautiful, and she did “obtain favour in his sight” Esther 5:2.  She then asked the king if she could serve him and Haman a banquet.  During the banquet the king asked her what she would petition of him.  She then asked for her life and that of her people.  Haman was revealed to be evil, and instead of any Jew perishing – he was the one that was executed.
I love that it was a woman who saved her people.  Is shows when we stand up for what we believe in we eventually gain the respect of those around us.So, back to the question “Is Queen Esther the Jewish Cinderella?” Maybe, the story does have a few Cinderella-esque aspects!  What do you think????

Purim

Purim is a celebration that commemorates the salvation of the Jewish people by one of their own, Queen Esther.  During this celebration Jews are commanded (there are 613 commandments) to read The Megillah, or the book of Esther.  They then party it up with feasts, drinking, music, plays, and beauty contests.

Klezmer Bands

Klezmer bands are traditional bands that play fast paced music from Western Europe from about the 15th century (or the 19th) there is some disagreement about when it began.  The bands play at wedding and other celebrations. 
 A pure klezmer band has no vocalist–it just turns up the volume and swings the music faster. Unlike rock, or African-influenced music, klez is made for dancing while holding hands, or dancing with a partner. It doesn’t bounce, it flows. It swings, it cries. Ari Davidow

Food

Raisel prepares beet soup, roast duck, potato pancakes, and noodle pudding for the feast.  I’m gonna have to try some noodle pudding, it sounds yummy.

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