“A good heart is like a pretty candle burning in the menorah. It can light up the world.”
Daniel Halevi Bloom believes that, and so does Zadie in Bloom’s recently published children’s book, Bubbie and Zadie Come to My House: A Story for Hanukkah.
The story tells of Bubbie and Zadie – Yiddish for Grandmother and Grandfather – a diminutive couple who, bundled up against the December cold, magically and mysteriously fly through the sky on the first night of Hanukkah. They visit children everywhere, bringing with them the spirit of the holiday through songs and stories. With laughter and warmth, they enjoy the children they visit, sharing the explanation of Hanukkah and partaking in the ages-old tradition of playing dreidel.
Like the weekly visit from the Sabbath Queen, and the annual Passover visit from the prophet Elijah, Bubbie and Zadie are happily welcomed into each Jewish home.
And it is only children who can see them. “You can see them if you use the eye inside your mind -- your imagination,” the little boy narrator tells us.
Before Bubbie and Zadie take their leave, the children in the story are invited to write letters and stay in touch with them.
Bubbie and Zadie Come to My House is the first children’s book to be published by Square One Publishers in New York. It is a newly revised and illustrated edition of the story, first published in 1985 by Donald I. Fine, Inc. Although the book’s been out of print for over ten years, and the accompanying audiotape hard to find, its publicity has continued to keep the story’s message very popular, and author Dan Bloom very busy. From his home in Taiwan, where he works as a journalist, Dan has been personally responding to the thousands of letters he’s received from all over the world – letters addressed to “Bubbie and Zadie.”
He started the letter-writing campaign in 1981; the book followed. Dan has received letters and e-mails from both children and adults, letters that talk about the excitement of the holiday, memories of family traditions, stories of the letter writer’s own grandparents. Adults have told Dan how meaningful the book is for them, how they’ve pulled it out each year to read aloud with family members. And Dan has answered each and every one of these letters.
It is the joy he gets from reading the letters, as well as “memories of my own wonderful Hanukkahs as a kid, and my sweet and dear grandparents” that has fed his enthusiasm all these years. And his determination to get the book republished came from the realization that he was getting older and that “if I didn’t do something soon, I would die one day and the book would disappear.”
Enter Rudy Shur, publisher and president of Square One Publishers. Last December, he recalls from his New York office, he read a New York Times article about this very special children’s book that had been long out of print, yet continued to generate hundreds and hundreds of letters from around the world written to “Bubbie and Zadie.”
The article, as well as the gentle persistence of Dan Bloom, drew Rudy’s attention to the book and the possibility of its reissue. Rudy explains, “For me, it was also the fact that I had never known my own grandparents, who had been killed in a concentration camp in Poland during World War II…. Around the time that I first spoke with Dan Bloom…I found myself a zadie for the third time… I felt it was time for me to open myself up to this story – as a publisher and as a person.”
Dan Bloom and Rudy Shur had found each other from across the miles. Then Rudy Shur found the very talented Israel-based artist Alex Meilichson, whose painting style he felt was perfect for the story. “There was no question that I had found the right artist for our version of the book. The question was: Could Alex produce twenty-eight paintings in eight weeks? The answer was: Absolutely.”
Meilichson, whose artistic style is influenced by, and reminiscent of, Marc Chagall and Manne Katz, uses brilliant, bright colours throughout this book. Bubbie and Zadie not only fly through the sky, they fly off the pages.
Bloom, who never met nor corresponded with the artist throughout the publishing process, is delighted with the artistry, layout and design of the new book.
In spite of the geographical distance between the author in Taiwan, the artist in Israel and the publisher in New York, “everything seemed to come together fairly well,” recalls Shur. “Communication began with e-mails from the author in Taiwan and continued that way throughout the process.” The result: an international labour of love. He explains, “I produced this book together with Dan and Alex out of love, above anything else…for grandparents to read to their grandchildren or for parents to read to their children, who may never have had their own special opportunity to know their own grandparents.”
Designed as a gift to be given by grandparents to grandchildren the first night of Hanukkah, this edition of the book invites both children and adult readers to write letters to the “Bubbie and Zadie” characters from the story. Each letter will be answered by return mail, free of charge, by the author, and also by some real-life bubbies and zadies from Bubbie and Zadies L’Chaim House, a senior citizen’s home nestled in the hills of San Rafael, California. Manny Kopstein, director of the home, is encouraged by the idea of authentic bubbies and zadies signing the letters as “Bubbie and Zadie.”
In many ways, the letter-writing aspect is what excited Bloom the most about having the book made available again. “The magic and loving feelings of the Hanukkah holidays, as passed down to me and those of my generation by our own bubbies and zadies when we were children, is one of the greatest gifts that can ever be given. And it’s wonderful that these elderly people now want to share the tradition of the holidays with the children by helping to write letters to them.”
Bloom hopes to be able to respond to “Bubbie and Zadie” letters for many years to come. He’d also like to see the book translated into Hebrew for the Israeli market. After that, the sky’s the limit. “And a movie for Hollywood... A live-action movie or a cartoon. It might take ten years, but that’s my dream.”
This writer has no doubt that with his exuberance, and with the magical help of “Bubbie and Zadie,” Daniel Halevi Bloom might just make that dream come true!
Children and adults can send their letters to:
Bubbie and Zadie’s Mailbox
c/o Square One Publishers
115 Herricks Road
Garden City Park, NY, 11040
Bubbie and Zadie also welcome e-mail letters at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Just to let you know, this is the piece that I submitted to the paper. The editor left it almost intact, and thankfully did not take away those personal details that I felt important to the story and to my style of writing.
Daniel Bloom was very pleased with the piece and the way it captured what he has been trying to do for all these years...on behalf of Bubbie & Zadie.
So why don't you sit down, perhaps as a family, as a single, or just as somone's child, and write to them, letting them know how you spend your Chanukah these days and how you recall spending them when you were young. Both children and adults are invited to write to Bubbie & Zadie, and will receive a response.