The first time I visited Israel, I was not yet Jewish, although we had decided to raise our children as Jews. We went as an interfaith family with young children, and it was important to me that we visit not only the sites of Jewish significance but also those that were significant to me as a Roman Catholic.
I brought along a copy of the Tanach (the Hebrew Bible) and read from it whenever we were in a place of biblical interest. Imagine our fascination as we read the story of Lot’s wife turning into a pillar of salt (Genesis 19:26) while looking at the Mount Sodom “pillar of salt” said to be Lot’s wife!
I also carried a copy of the New Testament, and when we visited sites of interest to me as a Catholic, I would read the story from the Gospels. When we drove through Cana in the Galilee, I read my family the story of the Wedding at Cana (John 2: 1-10). Was this sacrilegious? I don’t believe so. Israel is the Holy Land for many faiths. It was important to me that my children understood that and knew the traditions of those faiths. If I had knowledge of the Koran at that time, I would have brought that book with me as well. Instead we relied on Muslim guides to share their faith and customs at the appropriate times. My children did not suffer any identity crisis from their experience; rather, they grew up as strong Jews, certain of who they are.
I have visited Israel twice and hope to go again and again. Each visit is a new and wonderful adventure, no matter your faith. On April 16, we celebrate the 65th anniversary of the founding of the State of Israel. Here are some excellent books to share with your family to get in the spirit:
“Let’s Visit Israel” by Judye Groner
In this board book, we follow a young boy’s journey as he arrives in Israel and travels through the country. Simple text and charming pictures make you want to visit the country along with this, or any, child. (Ages 1-3.)
“First Rain” by Charlotte Herman
Abby and her parents are making aliyah (moving to Israel). They are excited but sad to be leaving Grandma behind in America. Abby and her grandma exchange many letters and emails about all that Abby is doing in her new country—from visiting important sites to learning to speak Hebrew. (Ages 4-8.)
“The Cats on Ben Yehuda Street” by Ann Redisch Stampler
In this beautifully illustrated new book by an award-winning storyteller, we learn about Tel Aviv with Mr. Modiano, who runs the fish market, and Mrs. Spiegel, who lives in the apartment next door. She loves cats, but he dislikes them, and this lovely pairing makes for a funny, touching story of friendship. (Ages 4-8.)
“Chicken Man” by Michelle Edwards
Rody lives on a kibbutz in Israel. He tries many jobs, but clearly the chicken house is the place where he should work. This is the best book I have read about life on a kibbutz. (Ages 5-9.)
“Snow in Jerusalem” by Deborah da Costa
Avi lives in the Jewish Quarter in Jerusalem; Hamudi lives in the Muslim Quarter. Unbeknownst to them, they are both taking care of the same white cat. When they find out, a big surprise—and a big decision—is waiting for them. (Ages 5-9.)
“The Man Who Flies with Birds” by Carole G. Vogel and Yossi Leshem
Did you know that over 500 million birds migrate across Israel’s air space twice each year? An excellent choice for Earth Day, this remarkable book features an Israeli bird lover, scientist and aeronautics specialist who combines his passions to save lives, protect the environment and bring peace to Israel. (Ages 7-11.)
Find more recommendations for books about Israel here.