Judy Led the Way

Sandy Eisen­berg Sas­so, Margeaux Lucas (illus.)

  • Review
By – January 25, 2021

Bat mitz­vah – unlike bar mitz­vah – was not always a tra­di­tion­al rite. It began in the Unit­ed States in 1922 with a young girl ques­tion­ing God, belief, and gen­der inequal­i­ty. She chafed at cus­toms sep­a­rat­ing women from men, espe­cial­ly in the syn­a­gogue where her father was the rab­bi. Who was this very first bat mitzvah?

Meet Judith Kaplan. Judy is flu­ent in Hebrew and out­stand­ing­ly tal­ent­ed at music. She wants to read the Torah in front of her con­gre­ga­tion the way the boys do, and she must flout the rules in order to change them. Like any young girl, she fears scorn or laugh­ter for pub­licly doing what has nev­er been done before. But she wants to; her father wants her to: she dares. She ends the accept­ed pro­hi­bi­tion about women pub­licly read­ing the Torah, open­ing the way for count­less oth­er girls to fol­low in her footsteps.

This pic­ture biog­ra­phy, set two years after women won the right to vote, does not deliv­er a hot rev­o­lu­tion. It is a gen­tle vol­ume about love­ly peo­ple. Judy is a role mod­el who per­se­veres with the help of under­stand­ing par­ents, sup­port­ive younger sib­lings (three, also girls), and med­dling, amus­ing grand­moth­ers. Her achieve­ment of equal­i­ty in the syn­a­gogue leads to a life of cre­ativ­i­ty and lead­er­ship; she becomes a tal­ent­ed musi­cian and writer who pro­duces the first Jew­ish song­book for chil­dren. Charm­ing illus­tra­tions in cre­ative lay­outs enhance the text: the char­ac­ters’ faces are expres­sive; the com­po­si­tion of the fam­i­ly scenes is dynam­ic; and the rich, jew­el-toned palette reflects the warmth of the story.

Ellen G. Cole, a retired librar­i­an of the Levine Library of Tem­ple Isa­iah in Los Ange­les, is a past judge of the Syd­ney Tay­lor Book Awards and a past chair­per­son of that com­mit­tee. She is a co-author of the AJL guide, Excel­lence in Jew­ish Children’s Lit­er­a­ture. Ellen is the recip­i­ent of two major awards for con­tri­bu­tion to Juda­ic Librar­i­an­ship, the Fan­ny Gold­stein Mer­it Award from the Asso­ci­a­tion of Jew­ish Libraries and the Dorothy Schroed­er Award from the Asso­ci­a­tion of Jew­ish Libraries of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia. She is on the board of AJLSC.

Discussion Questions