About the Holiday
Everyone can get discouraged, frustrated, and lonely at times, that’s why today’s holiday was conceived as a day to encourage, cheer, and inspire those who are missing out on the joy life can bring. The idea was first celebrated in Arkansas, when Governor Mike Beebe proclaimed September 12, 2007 to be a “State Day of Encouragement.” The holiday later spread across the country when President George W. Bush established September 12 as a National Day of Encouragement. It doesn’t always take a lot to make a difference for someone who’s struggling. Giving a kind word, taking time to listen, sharing a special treat, or just being there for a colleague, friend, or family member are all ways to help them feel happier and more encouraged to complete a goal, deal with a problem, or just have a good day.
Alte Zachen / Old Things
Written by Ziggy Hanaor | Illustrated by Benjamin Phillips
It’s grocery shopping day and Benji’s bubbe, scowling, peers into the refrigerator then sits down to make her list. She looks uncertainly at herself in the wall mirror as she puts on her headscarf. Benji, meanwhile, gets the cart and bags ready and then sits down to wait. He looks at his phone and then waits some more. When Bubbe Rosa finally appears, she says “Now come on, Benji. I don’t have all day.” He stands up and tells her he’s ready, but is met with an inexplicable “You young people are so lazy, everything comes for free. Tsk Tsk.” He pushes back a bit, showing her that he has brought a cart and bags. Bubbe can’t understand why he’s bringing bags when they give them out at the store, and he tells her that they are better for the environment. As they walk down the sidewalk, Bubbe considers this.
She cheers up at the thought of what she will make for dinner tonight: “…gefilte fish and brisket and kugel.” They will get challah from Carmelli’s and babka from Gershon’s. Bubbe remembers how as a young man, Gershon “was always so forward. He’s a very rude man,” she says. She can’t seem to separate young Gershon from Benji when he mentions that they’ve missed their turn off and tells him that young people these days are also rude and “don’t know anything.”
She tells Benji how what kids learn in high school now, they learned in first grade. But then she reveals the day that all Jewish kids were banished from school. She had cried because she was going to be in the school play the next week. Her friend thought they’d be allowed back in, but they weren’t. Bubbe becomes sad at the memory and wipes away a tear. Then her scowl returns, and she trudges angrily on.
When they get to the place where Rosa believes Ray’s Market is, they discover another store in its place. Bubbe can’t believe it, and begins to tell Benji the story of how Ray came over from Germany on the same boat as Benji’s Zayda Joe. Ray wasn’t as ambitious as Joe, and she wonders what happened to him. Today, when they approach the check-out counter, Bubbe is scandalized to find a tattooed young woman in a crop top behind the cash register, and gives her a piece of her mind.
Outside the store, Benji erupts, telling Bubbe that “girls don’t need boys to validate them” and that they can wear what they want. What Bubbe doesn’t tell Benji, but what readers see in a full-page illustration, is that she was the girl that Gershon chatted up many years ago and that once as she and Joe passed by Gershon’s bakery, their eyes met through the window.
The rest of the shopping trip brings much of the same, and when she spots someone smoking outside a tattoo parlor, she yells at him about all of his tattoos. A turn of the page, however, reveals the roots of her rage in another full-page image filled with arms tattooed with numbers from concentration camps.
On the subway, Bubbe tells Benji more about her life: her trip from Berlin to Switzerland with her mother and sister—but not her father—and how she used to love to dance the polka. When she and Benji get off the train, Bubbe is disoriented. Benji leads her outside to the park to sit down. There, they lie on the grass, and while Bubbe dozes, Benji watches the people around them. When she awakens, Bubbe Rosa admits that she sometimes forgets, but then it all comes back to her. Readers see dated snapshots from her life—as a baby, with her sister, alone, standing next to Gershon, with Joe’s arm wrapped around her shoulders, with her two children as youngsters and then older, as empty nesters with Joe, and finally older and alone.
It’s time to go home, and Benji calls an Uber he’s used before. In the car, the driver talks about coming from Ghana to New York to work until he can buy a house in Hamburg. While he means Hamburg, Pennsylvania, Rosa thinks only of Hamburg, Germany. Watching people out the window, she seems even more lonely than ever and asks Benji to request they go to Gershon’s bakery.
Benji can’t believe it will still be there, but they go. Rosa alights from the car and heads for the door. She opens it despite the closed blinds in the window and Benji’s entreaties to stop. Inside she does find Gershon, his shelves filled with baked goods and a with scowl on his face. He is surprised to see her and questions when she got so old. They banter with old jokes and then smile at each other.
They reminisce about dancing together when they were young, and a turn of the page brings this memory to life with a colorful spread of people dancing, which also spans generations and includes other characters and time periods from the story. Back to present day, Benji sits on the grocery cart now watching Rosa and Gershon dance together under the bakery shop’s lights. “‘You’re just the same as always, Gershon,’ Rosa says.” And Gershon answers, “‘Some things never change, Rosa.’” And here, at least, that seems true as the babkas cost only $2.50. These scenes leave readers with hope that Rosa and Gershon will find the happiness that has eluded them for so many years. Feeling more like herself, Rosa suggests they walk home. She thanks Benji for all of his help that day and calls him a “good boy.” Benji replies that she is a “good bubbe,” too.
Back matter includes a glossary of Yiddish terms sprinkled throughout the story.
Powerful and emotional, Ziggy Hanaor’s Alte Zachen tells the story of one woman who grew up during the 1930s and lived through the holocaust, moving from Berlin to Switzerland to Palestine and finally to New York, through her memories and their day-to-day repercussions. Hanaor’s gripping debut graphic novel tackles the complex histories and personal loss that affect the way people look at and interact with others in their communities as well as with their own families.
Bubbe Rosa’s displaced anger, distrust, confusion, triggers, and perhaps even envy for contemporary mores that allow more freedom are just some of the emotions that Hanaor explores. The impact of growing old and trying to adjust to a changing world is poignantly depicted through Rosa’s flashbacks and her angry outbursts. Benji is a compassionate ambassador for today’s generation and his counter arguments to Bubbe Rosa’s actions, are courageous—stated forcefully and clearly, but with respect. His tender love for his grandmother is evident in his patience and the way he treats her when she grows weary. Several elements of Rosa’s life are left ambiguous—for example the fate of her father and her prior relationship with Gershon—allowing readers to ponder and discuss the character’s full backstory and its effects.
Benjamin Phillips immediately draws readers into Bubbe Rosa’s consciousness with his nuanced and immersive imagery. Bubba Rosa’s face, its features deftly sketched and angled, reveals her querulous and dour demeanor, only softening when she imagines the dinner she will make and later meets up with Gershon again. Glimpses of Rosa’s profound sadness add depth to this complex character. Masterfully moving between the present and the past, Phillips allows readers to see that for Rosa, her past—one that is both comforting and tortuous—is ever-present, even though its vestiges have mostly disappeared from her neighborhood.
Phillips depicts the present day in soft washes of blue, brown, and gray while Bubbe Rosa’s memories are as vivid as her recollections. By often portraying Rosa in the same flowered dress and Gershon with a mustache, Phillips orients readers to their history, a substory that threads its way throughout the narrative, enriching readers’ knowledge of these two connected characters.
Compelling and evocative, Alte Zachen is an eloquent intergenerational story that will resonate with and enlighten readers of all ages. The book is a perfect choice for families to share while discussing how particular events from the past, in general, as well as within the family affect the present day. It would also make a poignant selection for mixed-age book discussion groups and library programs. Alte Zachen is an absolute must for home, middle school, high school, university, and public libraries.
Ages 12 and up
Cicada Books, 2022 | ISBN 978-1800660229
You can connect with Benjamin Phillips on Instagram.
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