Greek-Jewish Tensions: A Teenage Hanukkah Story

David is a teenager who prefers to be outside playing ball than to sit for long hours with his father at religious services. Even when the temple to which the family of David belongs is not just any synagogue, but THE TEMPLE, the majestic Holy Temple of Jerusalem, the Beit Hamikdash.

The date is the tenth of the Jewish month of Tishrei. It is Yom Kippur and David spends all day with his father in the temple. It is his first year as a Jewish adult, as he has just celebrated his 13th birthday on Rosh Hashanah, and this means that he is obliged to fast all day. David knows it won’t be easy, especially since he has to watch the priests perform the sacrifices that are part of the services and he has a history of vomiting when he sees innocent animals being sacrificed. David is a good boy and regularly accompanies his father to the temple, but he still doesn’t really understand why God would even want animal sacrifices. As David says in the first line of Chapter One, “I was born in the wrong century.”
David lives in the year 145 of the Kingdom of the Greeks. She lives in a one-room house with her parents, whom she calls Ima and Abba, and her sister Lea, a brave and intelligent girl two years older and a cubit taller. His Abba is a master carpenter and the greatest Torah scholar in Jerusalem. He teaches David and Leah and many other children in the city Torah. David and Lea also help their father in his carpentry workshop where he makes beautiful furniture, mainly for the king.

Five days after David’s first Yom Kippur as a man, on the morning of the Sukkot holiday, the Greeks seize the Holy Temple. They desecrate the altars by sacrificing pigs and violently attack countless Jews. Two years later, when David is 15 years old, the Greeks still control the city and the Holy Temple. The Jews of Jerusalem have no choice but to pray to God without the sacrifices that were a regular part of Jewish worship. They are forced to observe the festivals without the Temple. When thousands of Jewish pilgrims came to Jerusalem from all over the world in the past, they no longer come.

David and his family still celebrate the holidays the best they can, but it’s not the same. The fun and festivities are gone.

Meanwhile, David’s passion is “Skyros,” a ball game like no other. Skyros resembles soccer in some ways, but depending on who’s playing, it can be a particularly violent game. This is something David doesn’t know at the beginning of his Skyros career, but he learns very early. He plays Skyros with a group of Hellenized Jews, children whose families act like Greeks and do not follow Jewish laws and traditions. David is not Hellenized, his family keeps all Jewish laws and he likes to play Skyros. In fact, he is the best player on the team. Still, she knows her father doesn’t approve of her playing Skyros, so she tries to hide it from him.

In this creative and fast-paced book intended for a high school audience, author Emily Singer takes the reader back in time and tells an exciting story that will have her readers see the Hanukkah story in a different way. David, his friends and his sister are actually normal children, even though they live in times of animal sacrifices and terrible Greek kings. The story is packed with action and adventure and at the same time gives readers a lesson in Jewish history.

GILGUL I: REDEDICATION By Emily Singer (credit: Hakodesh Press)

When in a strange twist, David is invited to join the Greek team Skyros and play in the “Greek Games”, he meets some of his fellow Greeks and even makes a good friend. While the Greek team’s Skyros form is violent and the rules don’t exist, David doesn’t give up, and when injured, he uses a special kind of magic to heal himself and his teammates’ injuries as well.

For kids who love action, intrigue, and a bit of Harry Potter-style magic, this book is highly recommended. In Gilgul, Jewish history comes to life in a way that children can identify with. The historical background of the book was clearly well researched and the fictional characters come to life on the pages. In her endnotes, the author mentions that the royal characters of King Antiochus and Judah Maccabee, who appear in the story, are loosely based on historical references.

Gilgul I: The re-dedication is a turn of the page.

I give Singer a lot of credit for his fruitful imagination, as it is not easy to make this period of history entertaining for children. The book is intended as the first in a series. If you want to know why the book is called “Gilgul”, which refers to the concept of Gilgul neshamot, or reincarnation, you will have to read it to find out.

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