New Year at the Pier: A Rosh Hashanah Story – April Halprin Wayland and Stéphane Jorisch, Dial Books for Young Readers, 2009
Izzy’s description of the fall weather when the Jewish New Year falls might also be a statement about the holiday itself. New Year at the Pier follows Izzy’s thoughts and actions as he prepares to celebrate the New Year with his family and friends, culminating in an enthusiastic community’s participation in Tashlich. This ceremony, generally performed on the first day of the two-day festival, involves casting off bad deeds and resolving to do better; a common custom is to symbolically toss pieces of bread into a body of running water. Izzy has plenty to feel sorry about, including revealing a friend’s embarrassing secret and drawing on his sister’s forehead. The book emphasizes the universal experience of regret, as well as an intergenerational approach to acknowledging it.
The book’s setting is less than universal. It is a picturesque pier in what may be April Halprin Wayland‘s home of Los Angeles. The bread throwers include smiling Rabbi Neil, dressed in striped pants, a bright red and white scarf and what looks like an L.L Bean barn coat as he blows the shofar (ram’s horn) to call attention to the ceremony. (Blowing the shofar is not commonly incorporated into this event, but there are certainly congregations that include it.) Cantor Livia plays this guitar, while small boats and a buoy bob in the water. One of Izzy’s sins was apparently having broken his older neighbor’s Mrs. Bickerson’s drum, apparently the contemporary California version of a kid breaking a window with his baseball. If you are not Jewish, this book is a lovely and heartfelt introduction to the Jewish approach to repentance and forgiveness, albeit in a decidedly accessible and nontraditional version. If you are of a more traditional Jewish background, it may not resonate with you.
The sincerity of Izzy’s words matches the kindness and respect of the adults in his life. Izzy is surprised when his mother expresses remorse for that typical adult sin, being on the phone when he wants to play with her.
Stéphane Jorisch’s pictures definitely downplay solemnity and play up joy. In one two-page spread we see a virtual parade of adults and kids walking across the pier; many are turning and waving to the reader. If the images seem familiar, it is because the illustrator’s style is easily recognized. People have broad faces, wide-set eyes, and full lips, as if they were all related. In a sense, they are, in the same human family that includes Suki’s Kimono, about a Japanese-American girl and her insistence on bringing her grandmother’s customs to school with her.
The last page of the book is sweet and familiar. We see mom, Izzy, and his sister Miriam from the back, as they embrace, leaving the ceremony of Tashlich with “clean, wide-open hearts.” Shana Tova/Happy New Year.