Categorized | Harrison_Donald_H, Jewish

He ain’t no country bumpkin; he’s my brother

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Itamar Makes Friends: A Children’s Story of Jewish Brotherhood by Josh Hasten, illustrated by S. Kim Glassman, Geffen Kidz, Jerusalem, 2011, ISBN 978-965-229-567-5.

By Donald H. Harrison

SAN DIEGO – This is a simple morality tale, but as is true with this genre, it raises some important questions, possibly even controversy.

In brief, the story is about 8-year-old farm boy Itamar visiting the big city – Tel Aviv, judging by the illustration showing the geometric shapes of the Azrieli Center. He plays soccer with cousins, and forgets his soccer ball. When he returns to the field to retrieve it, the three strangers who are playing with it won’t give it back. The boys tease him by kicking the ball to each other, always out of his reach. When he falls trying to intercept it and skins his knee, he begins to cry, and one of the boys, remembering when something similar happened to him, softens.

The three friends tend to Itamar, return his soccer ball, and in the process make friends. Eventually they visit him at his farm, concluding that city boys, or country boys, Jewish children are all pretty much the same.

So what’s wrong with this story of friendship? Nothing that was stated. The problem, at least in my opinion, is that it particularizes rather than universalizes the tale. Although Jews are in the overwhelming majority in Israel, why limit friendship to boys of the same faith? Why not have Itamar make friends with children who are Christian or Baha’i, or Muslim, Druze or Samaritan?

In fact, why not let all of them play on the same “Friendship Team”? Such an idea is not impossible. Mixed Jewish-Arab teams from Israel often give soccer exhibitions in other parts of the world. And the Peres Center for Peace sponsors leagues in which Jewish children and Arab children can compete and cooperate.

The boys in the book all wear head coverings of one sort or another, indicating that they come from observant families. One of the biggest divides in Israel is between secular Jews and observant Jews. Would that evidently Orthodox Itamar could help real children bridge this gap as well.

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Harrison is editor of San Diego Jewish World. He may be contacted at [email protected]

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