The Boston Choco­late Party

  • Review
By – December 6, 2022

Any­one look­ing for a new Hanukkah-themed children’s book might take inter­est in a lit­tle-known fact in Amer­i­can his­to­ry: the famous Boston Tea Par­ty of 1773 took place on the last night of the Jew­ish free­dom fes­ti­val. Fic­tion­al­iz­ing the coin­ci­dence, Tami Lehman-Wilzig, Rab­bi Deb­o­rah R. Prinz, and Fede Com­bi invite read­ers to imag­ine a con­nec­tion between the Mac­cabees’ rebel­lion and the hero­ic upris­ing of Amer­i­can colonists against Great Britain. Indeed, The Boston Choco­late Par­ty fol­lows Sephardic Jews as they seek free­dom and pros­per­i­ty in their new home. When unfair British tax­a­tion poli­cies gal­va­nize patri­ots to protest, the lives of Jews and their neigh­bors inter­sect in a sur­pris­ing way.

At the begin­ning of the book, Joshua Mendes and his father are wait­ing for a ship to dock in New­port har­bor. This impres­sive ves­sel is bring­ing a car­go of choco­late beans for ship­ment to Boston, where res­i­dents will use them to make a sub­sti­tute bev­er­age for polit­i­cal­ly con­tro­ver­sial tea. But here at home in New­port, the Sephardic com­mu­ni­ty is already pre­pared to con­vert the beans into a deli­cious drink, and to serve it on the fes­ti­val of Janucá (Hanukkah). A cozy scene of cel­e­bra­tion fea­tures the fam­i­ly enjoy­ing hot choco­late, the fried dough pas­try buñue­los, and the glow of the chanukiyah placed in the win­dow. A por­trait of the Ram­bam (Mai­monides) hangs in a place of hon­or over the fire­place. The pic­ture offers pas­sage into dis­cus­sion about dif­fer­ent cul­tures with­in the Jew­ish world.

When Joshua final­ly con­vinces his par­ents to allow a vis­it to his friend Isaac in Boston, the two sto­ries of coura­geous upris­ing, Jew­ish and Amer­i­can, cross paths. Isaac’s fam­i­ly, like that of many oth­ers in the colonies, is strug­gling. His wid­owed moth­er can bare­ly put food on the table, let alone pro­vide the extra del­i­ca­cies expect­ed for the hol­i­day. Per­son­al ini­tia­tive and com­mu­nal aid mat­ter equal­ly when Isaac’s moth­er, with the help of her friends, opens a small busi­ness ready to serve choco­late to eager Bosto­ni­ans. The food becomes both a means to eco­nom­ic bet­ter­ment and an act of patriotism.

As Joshua and Isaac look through the win­dow, they sud­den­ly become wit­ness­es to a dra­mat­ic turn­ing point in the colonies, with Isaac not­ing that the demon­stra­tors out­side look angry.” He com­ments that the tea par­ty” tak­ing place does not look like a par­ty at all — although the authors point out in their after­word that the title of Boston Tea Par­ty” was not used at the time the protest took place. Giv­en that this is a book for young chil­dren, the authors choose to make the con­nec­tion explicit.

Just like any cel­e­bra­tion of Hanukkah/​Janucá, there are many ingre­di­ents con­tribut­ing to this appeal­ing new book. Jew­ish mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism, com­mu­ni­ty sup­port in the face of adver­si­ty, and a thirst for free­dom all add up to an engag­ing sto­ry about a Jew­ish Amer­i­can past.

Emi­ly Schnei­der writes about lit­er­a­ture, fem­i­nism, and cul­ture for TabletThe For­wardThe Horn Book, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions, and writes about chil­dren’s books on her blog. She has a Ph.D. in Romance Lan­guages and Literatures.

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