Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Grinch and the Nice, Jewish Girl

When I was a kid, I was petrified of the cartoon, How The Grinch Stole Christmas. I never quite knew if my post-Thanksgiving upset stomach was due to overeating or if it was simply Grinch-angst. I dreaded the Christmas season because I knew that inevitably, along with all the advertisements for fun and exciting toys and games (of which I completely approved) came the commercials for the upcoming children’s cartoons. And of course, this included the Grinch. That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy the cute and non-threatening shows like the Charlie Brown Christmas Special. I did. (Frosty the Snowman and Rudolph, innocuous to most people, were borderline anxiety-causing thanks to the magician and the Abominable Snowman. Yeah, I was a mess. Don’t even get me started with the Wicked Witch of the West….)

And yet, despite my fears, year after year I watched the Grinch when it came on TV. Why did I do this to myself? Well, first of all, I thought Max the dog was pretty darned cute with his makeshift antlers. Second, I loved the happy ending when the Grinch’s “heart grew three sizes that day.” And really, how could you not adore sweet Little Cindy-Lou Who? So, in the end, I sat there with my hands over my face, watching through my fingers, suffering through that mean old guy, to get to the good stuff.

My relationship with the Grinch surfaced during a conversation I had recently with a friend who asked if I thought my books were going to be interesting and/or appropriate for non-Jewish readers. My answer? “You betcha.” Here’s why: When I sit down to write, the readers I am addressing are Jewish kids, in the same way that all those endearing (or terrifying) 1970s specials were made for children who celebrated Christmas. Undoubtedly, children who are not in that target audience can and do partake in these activities, just as I did.

YaYa and YoYo began as a project to enrich those kids who didn’t have their own holiday specials on TV or enough age-appropriate books about their unique heritage. However, I am certain that just as I enjoyed watching and learning life lessons from Charlie Brown, and yes, even to some degree, the Grinch, so too will non-Jewish kids enjoy what I’m writing about. The backdrop of each book is a Jewish holiday, life-cycle event or other theme with Jewish values intertwined into each book. For the non-Jewish reader, it is an opportunity to learn about a different culture through an engaging story. I believe that readers will feel a personal connection because the stories’ lessons, while uniquely Jewish, will resonate with people from all backgrounds and faiths.

The first book deals with the concept of T’shuvah, which translates in English to “repentance.” T’shuvah actually comes from the Hebrew word that means to turn around or to return. T’shuvah is all about being introspective. It’s about self-improvement and it is a very Jewish concept. However, it is also very much a topic for everyone. If each individual on earth took the time to consider his or her actions and try to improve their behavior, wouldn’t that make this a better world for all of us?

Now, here’s the clincher. As I sat down to write this article about my childhood Christmastime apprehension, I discovered something amazing: irony of all ironies--the Grinch is a perfect example of someone who undergoes T’shuvah!

Years ago, the thought of spending so much time pondering the Grinch, even uttering his name, would have sent me running to my room in tears. (And possibly even to therapy!) And now, look at the two of us. He turned himself around to be an all right sort of guy and I’m using him as an example of how we can all learn from one another. We’ve each come a long way. I’m proud of us both!

The Wicked Witch of the West, on the other hand….