Deb Bowen and Cassie Brown, A Walk With Esther – Contact the Jewish Federation of Quad Cities to order:
Publisher: Never Forget Publishing 2015
Many years ago, while I was serving a congregation in Rock Island, IL, I was privileged to work with a number of Jewish and Christian professionals in designing one of the country’s best attended Yom HaShoah programs in the nation. Every year, we would bring a Holocaust survivor to share his or her story. We used to attract anywhere between 500 to 800 people depending upon the year.
This program inspired a woman named Deb Bowen of Aledo, IL., who one day had the most remarkable idea: having children write short children’s stories about the Holocaust. This vision originated in 2002 from a meeting she had with three local Jewish survivors from her area, each one bore the name Esther. To keep their stories alive, she collaborated with the Jewish Federation of the Quad Cities and area teachers. Survivors shared their story in local schools and students were asked to write and illustrate their stories in a simple children’s storybook form.
Along with Jewish stories, books have been written about Christians who risked their lives (Righteous Gentiles) and prison camp liberators. Over 60 books have been written to make the series called “A BOOK by ME”; six of those books were printed and distributed to local schools. The larger version of all these stories are recorded in her recent self-published 2015 book, A Walk with Esther, which contained several stories about Holocaust stories of survivors of the Rock Island Jewish community, whose names happened to be Esther. While I was there, I knew each of the three women and their stories about survival demonstrated the power of the human spirit to triumph over all obstacles.
While I was in the Quad-Cities, in one interview, I sat with Debra and told her all about my father’s story, which she ultimately produced called, Leo Samuel: The Tailor’s Life.” What makes Bowen’s project so powerful is that she has young teens write the stories and illustrate them as well. I wish we had more educators as talented as Deb Bowen. What is so remarkable about Deb Bowen is the fact that she is not Jewish. Yet, her passion is evident in every little booklet she has produced.
Throughout the years, I maintained contact with the authoress. When Deb Bowen came to San Diego, I immediately introduced her to Ruth Sax, one of the finest Jewish women you will ever meet, who came from a village in Czechoslovakia that was very close to where my father grew up.
Ruth is a Holocaust survivor.
I introduced her one of our members Luke Chabner and his two daughters, Shlomit and Aliana, who is doing her Mitzva Project for her upcoming Bat Mitzvah. Together, Ruth told Deb her story and with the Shlomit and Aiyana’s help, they will be writing the story book about Ruth Sax—one of the truly great narratives of this series. In all my years as a pulpit rabbi, this best mitzvah projects is one of the best I have ever seen.
There is no better way to teach children about the Holocaust than sharing stories of survivors who live or lived in their midst.
Deb Bowen is married, a mother of six, a grandmother of five and a ‘host mom’ to twelve exchange students. She represents high school age exchange programs helping young leaders from many countries spend an academic year in the USA. Bowen is an ordained minister, a motivational speaker, freelance writer and serves as a member of The Holocaust Education Committee of the Greater Quad City Area.
In short, let me conclude by saying that one of the hardest subjects to teach young people is the subject of the Holocaust. As someone who has visited numerous Jewish and public schools over the last thirty five years, the challenge of making the Holocaust is daunting and oftentimes frustrating because there is so much information to teach. Purchasing this book for your children may be one of the best gifts you ever give them.