Children’s Book Review: Rebecca’s Journey Home by Brynn Olenburg Sugarman
September 6, 2006
September 03, 2006
“She’ll be Vietnamese and American and Jewish.”
So declares the gleefully excited older brother of baby sister, Rebecca in English, Rivka in Hebrew, formerly Le Tai Hong in Vietnamese, the newest member of the Stein Family via adoption from Vietnam.
Rebecca’s Journey Home is a sweet and heartwarming adoption story that reflects the growing racial and cultural diversity of the American-Jewish community. In fact, adoption is fast becoming a favored choice among Jewish singles and married couples looking to grow their families.
In 1990, the National Jewish Population Survey of the Council of Jewish Federations identified 60,000 adopted Jewish children under age 18 in the US, representing more than 3% of all Jewish children in this country. One quarter of these were born abroad. Today, the numbers and percentages have only increased.
Rebecca’s Journey Home follows a well-trod, familiar storyline popular in children’s literature about adoption. Mrs. Stein, although a proud, happy mother to two boys born to her, decides she wants to parent another baby, this time with a child already born.
There were so many babies and children in the world whose parents had loved them but could not take care of them. Mrs. Stein wanted to be the mother of one of those children.
There are documents to prepare, meetings to attend, and finally the time comes when she will travel to Vietnam to collect her new baby daughter. Mrs. Stein tours a little, shops a little, and emails her family back home while waiting to meet her baby. After a time, Mrs. Stein and Rebecca arrive home to the US to an excited and happy family. (It would have been a nice touch if the story had included the Giving and Receiving Ceremony which finalizes the adoption in the Vietnamese provincial court, but that’s a quibble.)
What sets this picture book apart is the focus on traditional Jewish family practice. The Steins observe Shabbat (Sabbath) every Friday evening. Rebecca is formally converted to Judaism with a visit to the mikvah, the ritual bath, where after she is immersed three times, she then receives her Hebrew name, Rivka Shoshanah.
This is a simple story, lovingly told and illustrated. The author has been a preschool, Hebrew and Judaics teacher. Like Mrs. Stein, she has a daughter adopted from Vietnam. Michelle Shapiro’s illustrations move the story along with her cheerful yet evocative drawings. Her renderings of people will remind you a little of Amedeo Modigliani’s work with their longish faces and noses — and it all works.
Rebecca’s Journey Home concludes with a restatement of who Rebecca is. “She is Vietnamese, American, and Jewish.” And Mrs. Stein wisely adds, “And she’ll be many more things someday.”
Very nicely done.
A perfect storybook for Jewish families with adopted children ages 4 to 8. Traditional Jewish families will especially like its focus on normative Jewish family practices and the centrality of Jewish observance.
For more on the Jewish Community’s “global big tent”, you’ll want to visit Tapestry: Weaving the Multicultural Threads of Jewish Identity. We’re a whole lot more than bagels and blintzes, baby!