Heroes and heroines, in bedding and in books

Heroes and heroines, in bedding and in books

We can agree that kids need heroes, and that one of the jobs of the older generations is to help find them appropriate ones.

And perhaps having pictures of great people on their crib’s sheet is a good place to start.

But as we look over Babyletto’s “Women in History Bedding Collection,” which promises to “Empower your little ones to celebrate courageous heroines,” we have questions.

The fabric design features 20 “amazing women that have inspired us over the years,” whom Babyletto praises as “remarkable leaders” and “trailblazers in their fields.”

These women include Marie Curie, Harriet Tubman, Clara Barton, Cleopatra, Billie Holiday, Amelia Earhart, Cleopatra, and Kalpana Chawla, a NASA astronaut and aerospace engineer who was the first woman of Indian descent to go to space, and who died in the Space Shuttle Columbia alongside better-known-to-this-paper’s-readers Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon. Role models all.

And then there is Anne Frank.

Yes, she is, as Babyletto puts it, “A Jewish teenager known for her diary that documented hiding from Nazi persecution in World War II and became one of the most translated books in the world.”

But really, we don’t want our daughters (or our sons) to aspire to becoming famous as victims.

Which is why Rabbi Kerry Olitzky of New Brunswick and Rabbi Deborah Bodin Cohen of Rockville, Maryland, did not include Anne Frank in their just-published book “Heroes With Chutzpah: 101 True Tales of Jewish Trailblazers, Changemakers & Rebels.”

(Disclosure: the book was published by my Ben Yehuda Press.)

Like any work looking at Jewish lives from roughly the past century, the Holocaust is not absent from “Heroes With Chutzpah.”

It includes survivors like Elie Wiesel and Simon Wiesenthal, who fought to preserve Holocaust memory. And it includes children and grandchildren of survivors, like Gal Gadot and Natalie Portman.

But the only victim of the Holocaust held up as a hero is Regina Jonas, who was ordained in Berlin as the world’s first female rabbi on December 27, 1935. She was murdered in Auschwitz and mostly lost to history until her archives were rediscovered in the 1990s, after East Germany opened to the world.

“Heroes With Chutzpah” is organized by drawing connections between the featured heroes. So Regina Jonas is preceded by Sally Priesand, similarly a pioneering female rabbi, and followed by Deborah Lipstadt, who, like Regina Jonas, was portrayed in film by Rachel Weisz.

Like the Babyletto bedding, “Heroes With Chutzpah” includes a doomed astronaut — Judith Resnik, who died in the Challenger disaster. It also features Judith Love Cohen, who represents a happier NASA story — she led the team that brought the Apollo 13 astronauts safely home.

The 101 one-page profiles are written with middle school readers in mind. Some are figures you — or at least I — are already familiar with (including Avital Sharansky, Bob Dylan, and Bella Abzug); others were new to me (e.g. Yosef Yekutieli, founder of the Maccabiah Games, and Gertrude “Trudy” Elion, a Nobel-prize winning chemist). David Ben-Gurion, born in 1886, is the oldest; gun control activist Naomi Wadler, born in 2006, is the youngest.

I can’t promise that buying a copy for a child in your life will ensure their becoming a hero chronicled in a sequel to this volume a century hence. But it couldn’t hurt.

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