Funk on Faith

Charlotte teacher writes children’s book about Jewish New Year

Author Rochel Groner Vorst teaches Judaica to 5- and 6-year-olds at Charlotte Jewish Day School.
Author Rochel Groner Vorst teaches Judaica to 5- and 6-year-olds at Charlotte Jewish Day School. Courtesy of Rochel Groner Vorst

As a teacher at the Charlotte Jewish Day School, Rochel Groner Vorst couldn’t find a book for her kindergarten students that portrayed Rosh Hashana – the Jewish New Year – as exciting and fun.

So she wrote one herself.

“Time to Start a Brand New Year” is a brightly illustrated kids’ book about a Jewish family preparing for and enjoying this religious holiday that calls for dipping apples in honey, blowing a ram’s horn, and wishing family and friends “L’Shanah Tovah!”

In 28 pages, Vorst tells her happy story in rhyme: “I have honey, gold and sweet/For a sticky New Year’s treat/Pour my honey in a dish/Dip your apple; make a wish.”

The new book, which is Vorst’s second, was published last month – just in time for Rosh Hashana 2015, which starts at sundown this Sunday. Also called the birthday of the world, the holiday will mark Year 5776 on the Jewish calendar. And the blowing of the shofar, or ram’s horn, in synagogues in Charlotte and around the world will usher in a 10-day period of High Holy Days that ends with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

Vorst, who attends Ohr HaTorah, an Orthodox Jewish synagogue where her father, Yossi Groner, is chief rabbi, acknowledged that Jews are invited to consider deep issues on Rosh Hashana.

“It’s the start of the year,” she said, “when God is looking down on us and judging us, deciding what our year will be, how much money everyone will make, who will be born and who will pass away.”

Still, she found other kids’ books about Rosh Hashana to be too serious – and boring.

Vorst, 35, said she wanted to give preschool Jewish children a book that would help them celebrate the Jewish New Year with the same glee she did growing up and still does with her own six children, ages 2 to 12.

“Being Jewish is all about joy,” she said. “So even though there’s judgment, there is still a lot of happiness. And a fresh start. ... We’re crowning God as our king, which is an exciting event.”

Like her first book, “The Sukkah That I Built,” about the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, Vorst’s new one was published by Hachai, a Brooklyn, N.Y.-based company that produces children’s literature with Jewish themes.

JTA, an international Jewish news service, recently named “Time to Start a Brand New Year” one of the five best kids’ books to buy for the High Holy Days. And with Rosh Hashana almost here, the book is popping up in displays at stores that specialize in Judaica – all things pertaining to Jewish life and customs.

Vorst said she writes for the same reason she always dreamed of being a Jewish educator. In her teens, she would visit the Charlotte Jewish Day School – directed by her mother, Mariashi – and get inspired watching teachers in action.

“I’m really proud of whom I am,” she said. “I love being Jewish. And you want to share – especially when you see children who, let’s say, aren’t comfortable with who they are.”

She dedicated “Time to Start a Brand New Year” this way: “This book was written for the students of the Charlotte Jewish Day School. Love, Morah Rochel.”

Morah in Hebrew means teacher.