A New Children’s Book Illustrates the Enduring Power of the Story of Noah
Offering an Indian twist on the Great Flood, The Enduring Ark finds universal themes in a biblical tale that resonates today
The children’s version of the story leaves out the drunken nudity, of course. It turns the tale into one that’s just scary enough, one that builds suspense but ultimately soothes. We have God as an implacable, cataclysmic force, and Noah as a kind, care-taking daddy. We have a cozy cradle rocking on the ocean, full of animals that miraculously all get along, a tiny oasis of togetherness in the big scary world. We have a rainbow, one of the first things any child learns to draw, and a promise that grief and loss won’t happen again. Isn’t it pretty to think so?
The Noah story seems particularly potent today, since we seem to be entering a new time of environmental destruction. It seems we’ve broken our part of the covenant with God to be caretakers of the earth. Kids hear about hurricanes, tornadoes, and tsunamis so often these days, events that seem to have far more crippling force than they did when we were kids. When I read The Enduring Ark, I couldn’t help thinking of Hurricane Sandy, which caused huge flood damage and suffering in our city and in our own neighborhood. The destruction was an opportunity for tikkun olam—we made sandwiches for homeless shelters, dragged a wagon full of blankets and food to a church, helped Maxie’s school fund-raise for the victims. The way to feel less powerless is to be a helper, and that’s a wonderful message for children.
In 2014, Noach will be the parsha for Josie’s 13th-birthday weekend. With thoughts of this environmental catastrophe and how excellent it would be for her speech (because I’m shallow that way) I called the shul to book the date. Stupid me. This is New York City and I should have booked the date when she was a fetus. (She got Lech Lecha, which is an emotionally rich portion, too. I’m not complaining.) I’m maybe just a tad bummed that we won’t get to immerse ourselves (ahem) in this powerful story leading up to her bat mitzvah.
Children and adults may view the Noah story differently: For kids, it’s all about the Peaceable Kingdom, and for adults, it’s all about the unnerving, uncertain echoes of responsibility and parenting failure and loss, the choice to be hopeful even when we know there’s no end to bad stuff happening. It’s no accident that we fill our kids’ rooms with toy arks and cartoon-y books retelling the story in a kid-friendly way. As my mom, a professor emeritus of education at the Jewish Theological Seminary, said in a drash, “We surround the children we love with these books and decorations as talismans because, as Robert Coles reminds us, children are a mirror of ourselves, on whom we project our hopes for the future. I would add that we project our fears for the future on them as well. By soothing and reassuring them that rain will be followed by rainbows, we soothe and reassure ourselves.”
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The first graduating class at Yeshivat Maharat may not have the title, but they do have jobs at Orthodox synagogues