Published 66 years ago, “All-of-a-Kind Family” by Sydney Taylor is my all-time favorite young-adult book. I read the entire series to my kids when they were younger. We’d sit on my daughter’s bed, the kids cozy in their pajamas as we entered the world of the Kind family — a poor, immigrant, Jewish family that lived on the Lower East Side at the turn of the 20th century.
There were five sisters — Ella, Henny, Sarah, Charlotte and Gertie — and later a brother, Charlie. They were a close-knit family that loved to spend time together. The sisters all shared a room and found endless ways to entertain themselves.
During their daily outings, they’d have all sorts of adventures as they’d visit Papa’s shop, the library and the market with Mama. They loved to prepare for and celebrate the Jewish holidays. Their faith guided and grounded them. The Kind family knew how to make do with very little and yet they always managed to have fun. My kids’ love for the Kind sisters rivaled that of any Disney prince or princess.
And just as my kids wanted to be one of the Kind sisters, I aspired to be like Mama. She never lost her cool (with six kids!). She was clever in a good way, especially when she needed to discipline her children or get them to do something she wanted. Mama made every Jewish holiday exciting and beautiful. She made it all seem so effortless.
What I most loved about the Kind family is that they weren’t just all of a kind. They were my kind. And they still are. My grandfather immigrated to New York in the early 1900s to escape the pogroms in the Ukraine after his grandfather was murdered for being Jewish.
Like the Kinds, he came to America for a better life, one that was free from oppression and anti-Semitism. And like the Kinds, he had little money. Life wasn’t always easy for him, but he worked hard as a tailor, eventually managing a plant; he married my grandmother, bought a house and raised two children.
I remember my grandfather reading the Jewish Daily Forward in Yiddish on the back porch. I remember his sewing machine and the beautiful silk pajamas he made for me and my brothers and sisters. And I remember his stories about what life was like for him in the Ukraine.
I love filling my kids up with stories about their grandparents. And I loved reading them books about other Jewish families when they were younger, especially “All-of-a-Kind Family,” with its vivid imagery of pushcarts and peddlers on the Lower East Side, hot from the oven hamantashen, five little girls reading under the candlelight on Shabbat and celebrating freedom on the Fourth of July.
I couldn’t have imagined back then sitting on my daughter’s bed that when both my kids became teenagers they’d bear witness to anti-Semitism that, when they were little, I assured them was a thing of the past and certainly didn’t happen much here in America. Our country was the safe place, I told them, the landing place, the starting over place for people like my grandfather and the Kinds and so many more.
It’s hard to believe it’s 2017, and even more difficult to fathom that the new year has brought a weekly column to the New York Times titled “This Week in Hate,” in which the newspaper tracks hate crimes and harassment around the country since the election.
This year I have promised myself that I will share more good stories around the dinner table — stories about our synagogue helping refugees settle in the Bay Area and our Jewish Women’s Fund supporting Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom, an organization that builds bridges between Muslim and Jewish women.
And, of course, lots more stories about my grandparents and their parents, and books like “All-of-a-Kind Family,” which are more important to read to your children today than ever.
I’ll be filling my kids with more of these kinds of stories than the ones filled with racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia. Filled with hate. My kids deserve better. Problems sorted themselves out at the end of each chapter of “All-of-a-Kind Family.” I’m hopeful real life can be like that, too.