Recently on LinkedIn, I spotted an update from Tami Lehman-Wilzig about a new digital and lesson plan project entitled, “Shabbat around the World.” I was intrigued, so I requested an interview. Here are the results.
The Whole Megillah (TWM): What motivated you to come up with this project?
Tami Lehman-Wilzig (TLW): Several factors were involved. First of all, over the past eight years I’ve developed an expertise in Jewish holiday customs. It all began when my publisher—Kar-Ben—and former editor Judye Groner approached me about doing a book on Passover customs from countries across the globe. Living in Israel, I realized that I was residing in the best possible research lab. I contacted people I knew from different Edot—that’s Hebrew for “tribes,” which is on the mark because we are a very tribal people. It was one of the most unbelievable “journeys” I’ve ever taken. The end result was my book Passover Around the World, which went over so well that Kar-Ben asked me to do Hanukkah Around the World. Joni Sussman also suggested that I do a blog on Passover customs. At first I laughed at the idea. Then I realized she was on to something and took the idea several steps forward by creating a blog on all Jewish holiday customs from around the world, which I have been writing for the past seven years. Along the way I’ve come across unusual Shabbat customs and have a separate Shabbat dedicated file.
So that’s one. Second—after my husband, children, grandchildren and Israel—Shabbat is next in line in terms of what I love most. I am crazy about this day. My late father proved its beauty to me when I was in 7th grade and came home one Friday with a failed math test. He convinced me to put it away for 25 hours, enjoy the togetherness of the Shabbat family meal, get together with friends the next day, read a good book and just relax. When Shabbat was over I was able to look at the test with fresh eyes and understand where I went wrong. Ever since then, Shabbat has been and continues to be an unbelievable WOW for me.
Which brings me to point three. I have been flying to the States for the past ten years, doing author appearances at Jewish Day Schools and synagogue Hebrew/Religious Schools across the U.S. I’ve come to the conclusion that while some kids get it, many do not value how precious Shabbat is and through it, the unbelievable gift the Jewish people has given to the world at large by creating the concept of a Day of Rest. To a very great degree, Shabbat is our natural resource and I wanted to find a way to present this 25-hour window of disconnect in a fun and interesting manner.
TWM: How are you conducting your research for it?
TLW: This has actually been a six-year research project spanning an investigation of texts, going through books dealing with Jewish customs—such as A Mosaic of Israel’s Traditions by Esther Shkalim, books by Daniel Sperber—a professor of Talmud at Bar Ilan University and an expert on Jewish customs, The Jewish People’s Almanac, and more—as well as extensive interviews, many of which were spontaneous, man-on-the-street types, and others that were planned ahead of time. Finally, like all good Israelis, my husband and I travel abroad extensively and wherever we go, we make it our business to find the Jewish community, the main synagogue and talk to the people. I have copious notes.
TWM: Is it available now? How?
TLW: Yes, but only to schools (institutional subscription) and only through my website. At a future date, I might sell only the stories to the public at large. At this point, it’s a digital project that is much more than plain stories. I have hired a wonderful illustrator whose research absolutely floors me. She makes sure that every fully colored, illustrated story has an authentic look and atmosphere so that students can immediately absorb the specific country’s culture. Even more important, I have hired a professional American Jewish educator, who is a teacher, teacher’s coach and lesson plan developer, to create 4 unique, interdisciplinary lesson plans for each story. Together, we discuss ideas and she turns them into out-of-the box lessons on Shabbat, providing all necessary tools.
TWM: Do you plan to look at other holidays?
TLW: Good question. This is a new project that has never been done before by anyone. Like all new products, it will need time to get a firm footing. Once I feel the pieces are in place, then yes, I will definitely look into doing a similar project for other holidays—perhaps as a cluster instead of focusing specifically on one.
TWM: How can people find the project and more information about it?
TLW: I hope everyone clicks to it, starting with this page: http://www.tlwkidsbooks.com/lessons-plans
and ending with the order form for a monthly subscription. Thanks so much Barbara for letting me visit your readers.