Archive for Saturday, December 24, 2005

A magical visitor for Jewish children

December 24, 2005


— The letters pour in from children around the world, telling a magical far-off figure their holiday wishes.

Santa Claus? Uh-uh. These missives come from Jewish boys and girls who, for so long, had no one to write each December. They're for an ageless Kansas City couple known simply by Yiddish derivatives for grandmother and grandfather, Bubbie and Zadie.

The story starts in 1981 when Danny Bloom, thirtysomething and working in public relations at a community college in Alaska, decided he wanted to pen a holiday story he thought Jewish children could relate to.

"I remember as a Jewish kid myself growing up in Massachusetts every winter reading the newspaper and seeing the TV shows about Santa Claus. Jewish kids couldn't participate," he said. "I wanted to give someone that Jewish kids could communicate with in their own way."

The story was born, telling of a diminutive grandma and grandpa, bundled up for the cold, who are able to fly through the skies on the first night of Hanukkah. Bubbie and Zadie once lived in Alaska but now run a tailor shop in Kansas City. They visit children everywhere, bringing them stories and songs instead of a sack full of gifts.

The response was more than Bloom ever imagined. Letters streamed in by the thousands, and he found himself committed to a project whose prospects he was uncertain about at the start.

In 1985, Bloom's story was published as "Bubbie and Zadie Come to My House." It wasn't a huge sell but, combined with publicity surrounding its release, it kept children's letters coming. Bloom answered them all with handwritten notes.

The popularity of Bubbie and Zadie has risen and fallen through the years, as Bloom moved to Japan and now, to Chiayi City, Taiwan, where he is a freelance writer. He is 56, single, and rents a fifth-floor studio apartment, rides a bicycle and motor scooter because he has no car and sends e-mails from an Internet cafe because he doesn't have a computer.

With his book out of print, many of Bloom's young writers have found the book at a library, come across it on the Internet, or have parents who as children read the Bubbie and Zadie story themselves. Most children put a stamp on an envelope and send their letter the traditional way, though Bubbie and Zadie have gotten some by e-mail.

While some of the letters amount to Jewish children's wish lists much like their Gentile counterparts, most are exactly what Bloom hoped for - messages of innocence and simplicity.

"Your Hanukkah story in the book is so beautiful and I enjoyed having Grammy read it to me," wrote a 7-year-old Kansas City girl. "I was so happy to get your letter in the mail because here in Idaho there are not many Jewish people," said an 11-year-old girl from Boise. An 8-year-old boy from Teaneck, N.J, wrote: "My older sister says you might be fake! Are you?"

Bubbie and Zadie hear from adults, too. Many tell of their own grandparents who, like Bloom's, are seemingly magical people whose time has passed.

When responding, Bloom says he tries to put himself in his own grandmother's frame of mind, not preaching about religion, just being a friendly older presence who treats children as his equals. He signs all his notes "Bubbie and Zadie."

Bloom calls the Bubbie and Zadie project his hobby. But with no synagogue to be found and Judaism virtually nonexistent in Taiwan, it may serve a larger purpose, too.

"This program connects me back to my own culture," he said. "These letters fill up my life with something I don't have."

Bloom's program is now in its 25th year and its creator has hopes that it might someday inspire a cartoon or film or that it might become a tradition supported by groups around the world.

"It's my big dream that writing to Bubbie and Zadie would become a part of American Jewish culture."

Bloom will spend the first night of Hanukkah with some Taiwanese friends, gathering around a menorah he made out of driftwood from a local beach and introducing them to the driedel game. And if some letters have arrived late, Bloom probably will spend some time with them, too.


gaiapapaya 12 years, 3 months ago

One of the best holiday books I have ever read is The Tree of the Dancing Goats by Patricia Polacco. It's about a Jewish family helping their very ill christmas-celebrating nieghbors during the holiday season. My kids love it and I cry when I read it.

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