It’s hard to be different. In Jason’s Miracle: A Hanukkah Story, Beryl Lieff Benderly, (2000, 114 pages), twelve-year-old Jason wishes that instead of the upcoming Hanukkah holiday he could celebrate Christmas like his friends do. He thinks the menorah and potato pancakes are a big bore. Then, on the first night of Hanukkah when Jason gets up to get a glass of water, he sees a light downstairs. He follows it and is shocked to find a boy his age in the living room. The boy, clad in a tunic and sandals, says his name is Aaron and that he is with the Maccabees, fighting against the occupying Syrians:
“The Syrian pigs are trying to destroy our people and our way of life. They want us to worship their filthy Greek idols. They make us keep their holidays and don’t let us celebrate our own…You’re a Jew, aren’t you?” Aaron asked simply.
“Sure I’m a Jew. But what can I do?”
“Plenty. We need supplies: Food, bandages. We need people to join us. If we don’t get help soon our army will fall and we’ll all die and our religion will die with us.”
Jason boldly agrees to join their fight and goes back thousands of years in time to join the ragtag Maccabee army in the Middle East.
Jason and Aaron are great characters that make things happen. They don’t actually fight with weapons but they are very helpful to the Jewish cause in other ways. They pretend they are farm boys with firewood to sell in order to spy on Syrian soldiers in town. Jason uses his binoculars to spy on the Syrian camp and alerts the Maccabees that the Syrians army is approaching.
There were a lot of funny parts in this book. The Maccabean people are astounded by the items Jason brought in his backpack. Here is what one of them says about the banana:
Simon bent down and gingerly grasped a banana. Frowning, he felt it with both hands. “And this?” he said. “It has the shape of a clever projectile, with points at the ends. I think it would spin if I threw it. But I don’t think it can be a weapon because it is too soft.”
“I don’t know how we’re going to find our way back to camp,” Aaron whispered glumly. “We certainly can’t use a torch without being seen, and there aren’t any stars or moon for us to see by tonight.”
“I told you not to worry,” Jason said, and slipped the flashlight from his pack. Aaron gasped as a yellow beam fell on the rutted ground in front of them.
“It’s a…it’s a miracle,” he said, his voice hushed.
“No, it’s a flashlight.”
A pencil and paper:
“You can write,” he asked, his voice hushed with awe, “without ink? You carry parchment around with you?”
I can think of a lot of things that would be helpful to bring to an army of the past: medicine, weapons, granola bars, Red Bull. And my ability to do multiplication? This was my favorite tidbit I learned from this book. The Hebrew numeral system that Aaron and his people were using were like the Roman numeral system in that there was no consistency about how many symbols were used to show a number. For example, in Roman numerals 126= CXXVI, while 125 =CXXV. You couldn’t line up numbers by ones, tens, and hundreds for computing. Jason’s ability to multiply on paper turns out to be very important, helping propel the Maccabees to victory.
The Maccabees win the war, and Jason gets to be there for the celebration when they rededicate the temple in Jerusalem. But there’s one final problem–not enough sacred oil for the eternal lamp. How will this dilemma be solved, and how will all of Jason’s adventures change his feelings about Hanukkah when he returns to his own time?
In The Hanukkah Ghosts, Malka Penn (1995, 76 pages), Susan visits her great-aunt Elizabeth in the gloomy countryside of England. Elizabeth describes to her how during World War II she took in two children to keep them safe from the fighting that was happening in other parts of Europe. After dusk, Susan begins to see the boy, Alex, and the girl, Hanni. Hanni is Jewish, and as she lights the menorah she talks to Susan about what Hanukkah and being Jewish means to her. She helps Susan get in touch with her Jewish roots.
Susan is a spunky character who bravely stands up for Hanni. This was a decent story as far as it went, however it was really brief, almost like a short story. There wasn’t time enough for many exciting things to happen. The Hanukkah Ghosts had a serious tone, with no laugh-out-loud moments. In my opinion, the only reason to choose this time travel story to read versus another would be if you really wanted to read a story with a Hanukkah theme.
Next post: Elevator Time Travel Stories:
A Year Without Autumn, by Liz Kessler, and
Time at the Top, by Edward Ormondroyd