A Rabbi, an UWS Bookstore and a Kids’ Book on Palestine

(Photo via West Side Rag)

“P is for Palestine,” a book that teaches the alphabet to children using elements of Palestinian culture, has drawn the ire of Rabbi Ammiel Hirsch of the Stephen Wise Free Synagogue on the Upper West Side – specifically, reports Lisa Kava in West Side Rag, the page that says “I is for Intifada. Intifada is Arabic for rising up for what is right, if you are a kid or a grown up!”

“(…) But the immediate issue,” the rabbi told the publication, “is not about the author, it is between us and Book Culture.” The neighborhood bookstore partially funded the book and hosted a reading with local author Dr. Golbarg Bashi on Nov. 18. Hirsch recently emailed the bookstore co-owners asking them “to publicly rescind their support” of the book. If not, they will not be a part of the upcoming book fair at the synagogue’s preschool.

The Rabbi said: “The Intifada is about murder, killing of innocent Israelis not all Jewish, that makes it impossible to host Book Culture if they continue to sponsor this book. There are other more subtle issues with the book but the specific most egregious issue is the page about the intifada. This is a specific reference that promotes murder. We can’t take a book that is geared towards young children that has certain elements in it including the most offensive part of promoting the intifada, we simply can’t host either the author or the bookstore that has subsidized and supported the author in our synagogue during a Jewish book fair.”

West Side Rag reached out to Bashi.

She told us that her book is about empowering children of Palestinian background to feel good about who they are. She said that it is the first children’s alphabet book about Palestine written in English. She said it is not an anti Israel book and that she is not anti Israel. She also told us that she has had positive reactions to her book. “I have received letters from all over the world thanking me for writing (the book).”

When asked how she felt about Rabbi Hirsch’s letter to Book Culture she said, “I am dismayed that a religious institution would interfere with the freedom of expression of writers and publishers in this country.” (…)

The Book Culture co-owners plan to meet with the rabbi this week. One of them, Chris Doeblin, spoke to the publication:

Doeblin told West Side Rag that he believes it is essential to have books that portray the various ethnicities, genders and points of view in our community and that the store is open to promoting a broad range of opinions. He noted that difficult conversations are happening all over the country and said “there is a lot of shutting people out of conversation. The solution cannot be to shut down the other side left or right. Words matter. Words have the power to change people’s minds. We need to be able to listen to different viewpoints.”

He also described how he came to know Bashi and why he did not feel the need “to vet the book.” Read more from him, from Bashi on the page in question and whether both the author and Hirsch would willingly meet with each other, in the full story at West Side Rag.

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