Abuelita’s Secret Matzahs

By Sandy Eisenberg Sasso with illustrations by Diana Bryer

Reviewed by Arthur Benveniste

The pages of HaLapid have presented reviews of many books dealing
with the history and culture of crypto Jews, some of them quite scholarly, others written in a more popular style, some fiction and some histories. But, until now, the books have been directed towards an adult readership. What a pleasure to find a book written for children.

In researching the culture of crypto Jews in New Mexico and elsewhere, certain themes come up over and over:

1. Children were not told of their Jewish heritage until reaching early teen years.

2. Sometimes only one child in a family is chosen to carry on the knowledge.

3. Hispanic families have certain practices that differ from that of their Hispanic neighbors.

4. Parents or grandparents are, at first, reluctant to explain their peculiar practices.

All of these themes are included in Abuelita’s Secret Matzahs by Sandy Eisenberg Sasso. A book written on a level that children can understand and which can be read by young readers all by themselves. It is the story of Jacabo who visits his abuelita (grandmother) in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The book includes a glossary of Spanish and Hebrew words used in the text and it ends with a recipe for Jacobo’s favorite Sopa.

Abuelita makes unleavened tortillas at Easter time, lights two candles on Friday night, lights a candelabrum near Christmas time and has other traditions which Jacobo’s Catholic friends don’t follow. Soon a Jewish family moves in next door. They have a son Jacobo’s age. The boys become friends and soon Jacobo recognizes many of his abuelita’s practices in the Jewish home. Questioning his grandmother eventually brings out the truth of their Jewish heritage.

As with any good children’s book, Abuelita’s Secret Matzahs is amply filled with fine illustrations. In this case the drawings are by SCJS member, Diana Bryer of New Mexico who has shown her artwork at several of our conferences. Her drawings are simple and face each page of text making it easier for very young readers to understand the story.

The acknowledgments following the title page include gratitude to our own Dr. Stanley Hordes, SCJS Board Member, for his reading of the manuscript and expert advice.

If you have children or young teen-agers in your family, think of Abuelita’s Secret Matzahs as an appropriate, as well as delightful and informative gift for birthdays or holidays.