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My Father-in-law emailed me this article this morning. It appeared in the Boston Globe.
Making a leap of faith with a rabbi superhero
Mother and son write entertaining books about Judaism
By Mindy Pollack-Fusi
Globe Correspondent / July 8, 2008
Rabbi Susan Abramson doesn't change in telephone booths or fly through the air, but in her mind she transforms into a superhero known as Rabbi Rocketpower. Adorned in blue tights and carting Jewish religious symbols - a tallis for a cape, a yad in one hand, a shofar in the other - Rabbi Rocketpower is the lead character of two books in a children's series written by the Burlington-based spiritual leader.
"Oy vay, up, up and away," Rabbi Rocketpower says in her latest book, "Rabbi Rocketpower in Who Hogged the Hallah? A Shabbat Shabang," published last month.
Abramson was among the first 50 women ordained rabbis in the United States and now is the longest-serving female rabbi in Massachusetts, having served Burlington's Temple Shalom Emeth for 25 years. She began writing the stories when her son, Aaron Dvorkin, now 12, was in first grade. She sought an alternative to the Captain Underpants series, which captivated him, she recalls, yet nothing in Jewish literature grabbed her son's attention.
She wanted to nudge him toward books that would enhance his Jewish identity, but she couldn't find any she liked. Most featured stereotypical Jewish characters. Few were funny. None featured a female rabbi.
"There's nothing in Jewish children's literature that's a modern Jewish family," she said.
So she and Aaron modeled stories after their family. The books feature a rabbi mother who is a superhero, a father who is a computer guru, a clever boy, and a feline full of mishegas. Abramson and her son drafted nearly a dozen stories and shared them with her religious schoolchildren and Aaron's classmates at the Rashi School. They were a big hit.
The road to publication began in 2005, when Abramson's husband - Aaron's father - died of a heart attack.
"I realized life is too short," Abramson said. "After we die, there's no goal - it's the end. I don't mean to be morbid, but we should live every day. Why not pursue your dreams and make the world a better place? The books are my contribution to make Jewish children connect to their Jewish identity in a happy way."
Abramson began listening intently when congregants suggested the stories were worthy of being published. Abramson decided to give it a try, and members of the congregation offered to help. One teenage congregant, Ariel DiOrio, wanted to illustrate the stories. "She kept putting the illustrations in my face," Abramson said, "and they kept getting better and better." Susanna Natti, a children's book illustrator who has worked on the Cam Jansen series of children's books, mentored DiOrio. Fran Landry edited the manuscript. Carol Feltman, who ran a small publishing company, offered to publish the first book, "Rabbi Rocketpower and the Mystery of the Missing Menorahs: A Hanukkah Humdinger." It was a success, and Feltman just published book two, with the plan to roll out as many as Abramson can produce. She also maintains a website, rabbirocketpower.com.
Each story takes on a Jewish holiday, and the rabbi - the writer and the one with superpowers - uses lots of Jewish expressions, shares favorite Jewish recipes, and explains tricky words in a funny glossary.
"Hopefully the reader will not only have a lot of fun reading the books, but without even knowing it, learn many of the customs, traditions, and vocabulary of the holiday," Abramson said. "The philosophy of the Rabbi Rocketpower series is that there are no bad guys, just innocently misguided aliens, and no one gets hurt, just inconvenienced."
Abramson points out that writing is nothing new for her: She has been doing it for 27 years, in the form of sermons and eulogies, mainly aimed at adults. Writing for children, she says, is at least as important.
"If we don't capture Jewish children's imaginations when they're small and give them a wonderful, positive foundation to their Jewish life," she said, "there's a good chance they'll be lost to the community and the future of the Jewish people is really at stake."
Last Edited on: 7/9/08 10:51 AM ET - Total times edited: 2