Nicanor’s Gate

Eric A. Kim­mel, Ali­da Mas­sari (illus.)

  • Review
By – November 9, 2020

Not­ed sto­ry­teller Eric Kim­mel’s beau­ti­ful folk­tale, Nicanor’s Gate, is based on the ancient Jew­ish his­to­ry recount­ed in the Mish­nah and has been reis­sued in a beau­ti­ful edi­tion with all new art. It tells the sto­ry of King Herod who, wish­ing to ren­o­vate and beau­ti­fy the Tem­ple in Jerusalem, requests con­tri­bu­tions from arti­sans far and wide, but only those who will use the finest mate­ri­als and pay metic­u­lous atten­tion to detail. In response to this call, wealthy Nicanor of Alexan­dria decides that this is his oppor­tu­ni­ty to use his boun­ti­ful resources to par­tic­i­pate in a wor­thy project. He knows he can craft some­thing mag­nif­i­cent and there­by play a role in this impor­tant endeavor.

Nicanor fash­ions two gates, made of the finest Corinthi­an gold, to be used for the Tem­ple’s east­ern entrance. When the spec­tac­u­lar gates are final­ly com­plet­ed, he joy­ful­ly pre­pares to send them on to Jerusalem to enhance the new­ly ren­o­vat­ed Tem­ple and add to its glo­ry. But one prob­lem faces him as he attempts to achieve this goal; the gates are too heavy to trans­port such a long dis­tance. He fash­ions spe­cial wag­ons strong enough to bear the weight of the gates and con­veys them to the har­bor where they are loaded onto a ship set­ting sail for the Holy Land. Nicanor decides to accom­pa­ny his gates on the jour­ney, plan­ning to stay in Jerusalem and reside there per­ma­nent­ly. When a fierce storm aris­es, the fright­ened sailors, hop­ing to light­en the ship’s load and pre­vent it from cap­siz­ing, toss one of the mas­sive gates over­board. Nicanor, hop­ing to pre­vent the remain­ing gate from meet­ing the same fate, throws him­self across the gate to pro­tect it.

When the ship docks and the gate is unloaded, Herod admires its beau­ty but Nicanor can­not be con­soled for the loss of its mate. To his amaze­ment, the sub­merged gate ris­es from the sea and floats toward shore. Nicanor’s Gates, as they will be for­ev­er known, can now be installed at the Tem­ple reflect­ing its hon­or and glory.

A per­fect read-aloud, there is much mate­r­i­al to spark dis­cus­sion with­in this sim­ple tale includ­ing the val­ue of dili­gent work and its rewards, the role of cre­ativ­i­ty, and Nicanor’s faith in God. The lyri­cal text with its gen­tle rhythm is evoca­tive of allur­ing tales of long ago. Illus­tra­tor Ali­da Mas­sar­i’s lush, ele­gant art with its jew­el tones and gra­cious lines trans­ports the read­er back to ancient times and far away set­tings. Her atten­tion to detail echoes Nicanor’s artistry in the craft­ing of his leg­endary gates. This superb sto­ry is wor­thy of being read, shared, and reread often.

Michal Hoschan­der Malen is the edi­tor of Jew­ish Book Coun­cil’s young adult and children’s book reviews. A for­mer librar­i­an, she has lec­tured on top­ics relat­ing to lit­er­a­cy, run book clubs, and loves to read aloud to her grandchildren.

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