The new book of Torah tales that aims to give a voice to children

Emma Parlons and Rabbi Jeremy Gordon hope their illustrated new book will enable children to engage with the Torah before bar or batmitzvah


Sophie Parlons, then 10, was scandalised that her parents did not belong to a shul. She was determined that for her batmitzvah she was going to read from the Torah.
It was her aspiration that has indirectly led to a new book of Torah stories for children — co-written by her mother Emma and the rabbi of the synagogue the family joined, Jeremy Gordon.

An Angel Called Truth contains some 60-odd short stories, one each for the weekly sidrah and for the festivals. Every story is written in the first person “in the voice of someone who is 10 to 13,” says Rabbi Gordon, “The point is to allow people to find themselves inside the Torah.

“There is a well-attested rabbinic idea that the Torah speaks in human language. But if you are a 10-to-13 year old kid living in 2019, you are unlikely to think that is the case.”
Searching for a suitable synagogue for Sophie, the Parlons family were recommended the (Masorti) New London in St John’s Wood. “I found myself coming every week,” Mrs Parlons recalls. “I saw Rabbi Jeremy stand up, make a sermon, talk about what we were reading in the Torah and I saw everyone come alive. 

“I saw him walk around the shul and sit with the children and explain to them. I kept thinking, ‘This has to be written down. What he’s telling them is something they can’t get from anywhere else.’ So I pestered him.”

Each story is based on an episode in the weekly Torah reading or a midrashic commentary on it. So for last week’s parashah, Chayei Sarah, they took the mission of Abraham’s servant Eliezer to find a wife for Isaac, which they tell from Rebecca’s point of view.

“Suddenly, she realises what she has let herself in for — camels drink a lot of water,” Rabbi Gordon says. And there are other aspects to the biblical narrative they draw on. “Rebecca doesn’t like her dad very much or her brother.”

While the stories in Genesis may offer plenty of  scope, Leviticus with its sacrifices and laws of purification is altogether more challenging. In their story for Tazria, which deals with leprosy, “a girl wakes up and finds this rash on her arm,” he says. “She doesn’t want to tell her parents because if she tells her parents, her parents are going to take her to the priest and the last time the priest saw a rash on one of her friend’s arm, the priest put the girl in a box for a week.”

The girl’s dilemma leads into more general questions such as “who do I trust” or “how do I feel about my body”.

For Korach’s rebellion against Moses, they focused on the minor character of On, who the Bible lists among the rebels. “The story in the Talmud is he was saved [from taking part] by his wife,” says Rabbi Gordon. “In Bemidbar Rabbah (the Midrash), he was saved by his daughter. We’ve told the story from the daughter’s perspective.”

In Midrash, his favourite rabbinic genre, rabbis embark on “sometimes extraordinary journeys of creativity. What Midrash is always trying to do is to play with the stories to make them more full of possibility”.

That inspired the playful approach they take in their own stories, eliciting themes that might chime with their intended audience. “After every story we’ve put some guided questions, trying to connect it with the lived reality of a young person in 2019.”

Mrs Parlons, who works in marketing, says, “We used the cheder here as our focus group and we have been bowled over by how much they want, not just from these stories, but from cheder. They want to talk about things. They want to be heard, so you have to ask them the questions. They couldn’t wait to talk about how they felt if they had been in a story.”

To enhance the text, they brought on board a top illustrator Pete Williamson after they saw samples of his work in Matt Haig’s bestseller, How To Be A Cat.
Now the book is ready to roll. To publish it, they have launched a crowdfunding campaign for advance orders and are well on the way to securing the number needed to print it.

The book is available in paperback or hardback and they hope to receive bulk copies for synagogues or schools. 

The challenge of reaching out to children has always been there, Rabbi Gordon believes, even if it was not always  recognised.

“Kids used to be shlepped to shul and they used to be bored,” he says. “ They used to shlep their own kids to shul a generation later and their kids were bored, too.  The thing that changed is that stickiness.

“One generation of kids who were shlepped along and were bored aren’t shlepping their kids along to shul any more — they have just stopped.”

If rabbis, teachers or parents want children to become engaged with Torah, they have to come up with creative ways rather than rely on old habits.

For more about the book, go to

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