“Why do we have to go to Hebrew School?”
Casey Breton, the mother of three Hebrew School-age kids, has been asked this question innumerable times. But unlike the rest of us, who just try out various answers on various days, she has taken the question a whole lot farther, and has written a Middle Grade book called “Going Rogue (at Hebrew School.)” The book was published by Green Bean Books. It will be a PJ Library selection in October.
Breton has a background as an elementary school teacher. But she has worked long and hard to become a writer. This is her first published work. She submitted an early draft of the book to the Author Incentive Award program at PJ Library, and the rest has been a happy story.
“They were so supportive,” she says, “easy to work with, and flexible. My kids have been getting PJ Library books since they were babies, so to get a sense of the administrative side of things has been nice. It’s run by really good people, really forward thinking, ready to try new things. Every voice is welcome.”
Breton’s voice in this book is certainly particular. The main character, Avery, a 10-year-old boy who’s into Star Wars, science and football, does not start out as the most enthusiastic Hebrew School student. But through a densely plotted tale that includes a rabbi who looks like Santa Claus and talks like a Jedi Master, an elderly Jewish ex-pirate, and a football season involving injuries and life lessons, Avery emerges as “never one to shy away from questions.” That’s what Rabbi Bob says before “he switches back to Yoda’s voice and adds, ‘An excellent Jew that makes.’”
Breton says, “One of the things I hope for the book is that it opens discussions. There’s certainly not one answer to the question, ‘Why do we go to Hebrew School.’ I never wanted it to be an answer; I just wanted to validate the question. Some questions take a long time to answer, and that’s okay; you can hold on to the question. In the modern world, it’s a very good question: Why do we stay connected to the Jewish community?”
For Breton’s family, being part of the Jewish community was a part of the reason they ended up in Gloucester seven years ago. They had been living in a third-floor walk-up in Somerville with three children; the oldest of whom was four. “Mostly I just wanted them to have a place where they could play outside,” she says. They looked at some North Shore towns, but nothing grabbed them. Gloucester was different: “It’s so beautiful, it’s so accessible. It feels like it has its own identity. And I love that the synagogue is right downtown.”
When they were considering Gloucester, her father-in-law, who is Israeli, told them to go to the synagogue and ask them for a Realtor. And so they stopped in at Temple Ahavat Achim. They immediately connected with Phoebe Potts, the Sylvia Cohen Religious School Director of Family Learning; and Carole Sharoff, of Atlantic Vacation Homes. They were set.
“The synagogue here very much reflects the atmosphere of Gloucester. It’s relaxed, it’s welcoming,” says Breton. “And Phoebe runs such an excellent program.”
So Breton feels that she has landed well. Recently, when her family was taking a walk through the woods, they were surprised to come upon a clearing – a cemetery with stones that had Hebrew writing, and small stones left on the graves. They had found the century-old Mt. Jacob Cemetery. “I didn’t even know there was a Jewish cemetery here,” she says. “There’s so much history.”
Breton has several virtual events lined up for her book launch, and she stresses that she is happy to sign and personalize books.
On Oct. 1 at 6:30 p.m., Temple Ahavat Achim and the Lappin Foundation will host a live, interactive online book party to celebrate the publication. Breton will be interviewed by two kids. Click this link to register.