An illustration from “Shabbat Hands” by Ken Bresler.

Judge publishes children’s book based on Shabbat in a Newton shul

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Judge publishes children’s book based on Shabbat in a Newton shul

An illustration from “Shabbat Hands” by Ken Bresler.

What does a Massachusetts judge do in his free time? He writes children’s books about Shabbat!

It’s not a joke, but the true tale of Ken Bresler. He’s a Newton-based state administrative law judge by day, and a Jewish children’s book author by night. Bresler’s first print children’s book, “Shabbat Hands,” was published last year, and chronicled the different ways that Jews use hands in the celebration and practice of Shabbat.

The book was printed by Mazo Publishers and illustrated by Israel-based, Philadelphia-born artist Avi Katz.

The tale of “Shabbat Hands” started back in 2015, when Bresler, who has lived in Newton for much of his life, was davening at the Newton Centre Minyan. He began to notice the multitude of ways in which we use our hands to celebrate Shabbat.

“Shabbat Hands” (2022)
by Ken Bresler; illustrated by Avi Katz

“Starting with lighting the candles and covering our eyes all the way through havdalah and inspecting our fingernails and fingers … the idea just would not go away,” he said.

“Shabbat Hands” was not Bresler’s first foray into children’s book writing. In 2003, he published two online coloring books with Jewish Family & Life! Media: “The Master Blaster,” about a prideful shofar-blower who learns humility, and “Bubbe, Are We Rich?” an imagined conversation between Bresler’s daughter and mother based on things she told him while he was growing up.

From its inception almost a decade ago to its publication at the end of last year, “Shabbat Hands” was a long time in the making. Bresler went through nearly a year of revisions and discussions with both the publisher and Katz, who, Bresler says, “was asking me … more questions than I had stopped to think about.”

Katz worked with Bresler to truly enact his vision of the book, hammering out details like whether the Torah depicted would be a Sephardi or an Ashkenazi one, whether the men would all have beards, or whether the women would cover their hair. There’s a lot that goes into the images that make up a children’s book, most of which revolve around the intended audience. Ultimately, Bresler decided that the primary audience for the book would likely be Conservative and Modern Orthodox Jews; the abba in the book doesn’t have a beard, but the son wears a kippah in every scene.

This is Bresler’s own background – he was raised in the Conservative Temple Emanuel in Newton. He pays homage to his hometown shul (with which he is still affiliated) in the book through the image of the aron.

“One of the ways we use hands is we lift the Torah during hagbah,” Bresler said. “So it was going to have to be in front of an aron … why not pay tribute to Temple Emanuel?” He took a photo of the aron and parochet in Gann Chapel in Temple Emanuel (which is the aron that Bresler himself was bar mitzvahed in front of) and sent it to Katz. The illustration of the aron in “Shabbat Hands” is based on the one in Temple Emanuel. Θ

“Shabbat Hands” is available at Kolbo Fine Judaica Gallery, the Israel Book Shop in Brookline, Hummingbird Books in Chestnut Hill, and online at mazopublishers.com, and on Amazon.

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