New kids book examines Shabbats everlasting light

Car rides were no pleasure for Karen Schilling-Gould, with three children born within a 16-month period screaming in the back seat.

In order to make those journeys bearable, if not enjoyable, Schilling-Gould began "telling stories out of [her] head" about characters ranging from talking bananas to snails.

Kids Shoshana and Nathan, now 9, and Josh, now 8, enjoyed the stories. And Schilling-Gould, who lives in Palo Alto, enjoyed telling them. But despite the urgings of family and friends to put her many creative stories into writing, she said she was "too busy being a mother to write."

And so, for five years she told stories to her children, and saved them in her own memory. It wasn't until Josh joined his siblings for the first time at summer camp at the Albert L. Schultz Jewish Community Center in Palo Alto that Schilling-Gould began the task of saving the stories in the memory of a hard drive.

Now she's about to share her stories with the wider world. Her first book, "Shabbat: Forever and Always," will be released in January, and other works are in the hopper.

Since the winter of 1998, when Palo Alto experienced a series of floods, Schilling-Gould was determined to put a story about the beauty of Jewish heritage into writing. At the time, her basement was flooded and she began to search through its waterlogged contents.

Among the items were letters and other memorabilia from her paternal grandparents, Nathan and Ada Schilling, and her maternal grandparents, Lily and Harry Goldstein. Playing on the pun, Schilling-Gould said she was "flooded with memories" and began to think a great deal of her childhood.

She began writing those memories into a fictional story on a Monday, the first day of her children's camp in 1998, and completed it that Friday. The story became "Shabbat: Forever and Always," about a young girl named Sophie and her appreciation for the everlasting tradition of Shabbat, despite the significant changes that occur in technology and lifestyles over the course of generations. Sophie awaits the arrival of her grandparents and great-grandmother as she and her mother prepare the traditional food of chicken, challah and matzah ball soup.

Sophie, patterned in part after Schilling-Gould's own daughter, asks her mother, "What was life like when you were my age?" This sparks a conversation on days without cell phones and personal computers, days when things were slower, and yet, Shabbat was always the same.

Upon the arrival of her grandparents, Sophie begins to understand fully the importance of tradition. Her great-grandmother, Nana Pearl, tells how the very Shabbat candlesticks, kiddush cup and tablecloth that Sophie and her mother use, and Sophie's grandmother and Nana herself used before them, were brought by her own mother in her one suitcase as she immigrated to America from Russia.

This story, though surely not identical to that of Schilling-Gould's own family, underscores her close relationship with her grandparents and her lifelong love of Shabbat. Though Schilling-Gould did not always live near her grandparents, they were a "very integral part" of her life and she made the time to talk to them frequently.

Like the grandparents in the story, Schilling-Gould's grandparents resided in the heavily Jewish area of Brooklyn, N.Y., and were very much aware of their Jewish identities. Although they did not follow all the traditions of Shabbat, they taught her a lot about Jewish culture.

Schilling-Gould's grandmother, Ada Schilling, recalled that as a child she hated many of the strictures of Shabbat because as an Orthodox Jew who did not use electricity, she always found it "dark and dreary." Nonetheless, she passed on a positive picture of Judaism and of Shabbat.

Schilling-Gould got many of her stories about her family through Schilling and through her great-grandmother, who is the model for Nana Pearl.

Today the writer continues to pen children's books with Jewish themes and participates in the Shlepperellas, a three-woman comedy troupe. But she takes time out to mark Shabbat.

She calls Shabbat a "meaningful and necessary holiday…God's way of saying, 'Slow down and smell the roses.'" And though her own mother and grandmother didn't light Shabbat candles, in almost 14 years of marriage to husband Harry Gould, Schilling-Gould has lit candles every week.

Like the characters in her book, she says the candles are a way to "connect to…Jewish history." The book, which is geared for children from ages 4 to 10, contains colorful drawings by Rex Schneider. It was written to give children an opportunity to look at traditions, which are often undervalued in the modern world.

Schilling-Gould hopes the book, will stimulate discussion about immigration, Jewish and otherwise.