Ronit Treatman, a local writer and the former president of the Philadelphia Jewish Voice, published a book intended to explain Jewish festivals to people who may be connecting to their Jewish ancestry for the first time.
“Hands-On Jewish Holidays” is available in English, and translations of the nearly 300-page self-published book will be available in Russian, Spanish, Portuguese and Hebrew in the near future. All versions will be accessible in both paperback and as an e-book, via Amazon.
To Treatman, the multilingual daughter of Israeli diplomats, “Hands-On Jewish Holidays” is the culmination of two years of writing, an expression of her long-held values and a practical solution for newly conscious Jews.
“This is kind of a mash-up of a parenting book and a Jewish traditions book, built on the holidays,” she said. “We are our children’s first teachers, all of us.”
Treatman, 53, grew up in Israel, Ethiopia and Venezuela, and lives in Center City with her family. She served in the Israel Defense Forces, working in the Liaison Unit to Foreign Forces and studied at Hebrew University and Temple University, earning a degree in international business.
She’s has long been interested in transmitting Jewish ideas and practices through holidays and recipes, whether through her blog or the Philadelphia Jewish Voice; “Hands-On Jewish Holidays,” named after her long-running blog, marries that interest to her passion for the Bnei Anousim — the millions of people around the world who trace their Jewish ancestry back to forcibly converted Spanish and Portuguese Jews.
For the last eight years, Treatman has been involved with Reconectar, an Israeli group that seeks to serve those Bnei Anousim as they try to make sense of their connection to Judaism. Founded in 2015 by Ashley Perry, director general of the Knesset Caucus for the Reconnection with the Descendants of Spanish and Portuguese Communities, the organization is inundated with questions about Jewish customs, practices and festivals.
About two years ago, Treatman, who was faced with the same flood of queries, started researching and writing ideas, and didn’t stop until recently. Writing in simple language intended for those encountering Jewish customs and festivals for the first time, “Hands-On Jewish Holidays” covers everything from the basics of Shabbat to instructions for crafting a model of the Beit HaMikdash on Tisha B’Av, and even features a lengthy bibliography, courtesy of Treatman’s son, David.
“This book wrote itself with children in mind, specifically my children,” Treatman writes in the introduction. “When I was a new mother I needed to step up to the challenge of transmitting Judaism to my kids. Much of what I found around me was not very inspiring. I needed to come up with creative ways to engage them. Here is a compilation of how we immersed ourselves in the Jewish holidays. We are all children at heart. I hope this book inspires you to engage with the Jewish holidays in a creative and meaningful way.”
Since its March 14 publication, Reconectar has touted “Hands-On Jewish Holidays” as a resource to its Portuguese- and Spanish-speaking constituencies. Treatman’s book, according Perry, is a perfect encapsulation of its mission.
“There is such a thirst for Judaism and to understand Jewish traditions amongst the Bnei Anousim and other emerging communities, so it is so important that there is easy to understand and accessible content for those who were not raised in a formal Jewish community,” Perry said in a press release. “It is so important for us in the formative Jewish community and in Israel to help these people reconnect, because their story is one of centuries-long survival against the odds and it is the greatest challenge and opportunity for our generation.”
Though the impetus for the book was her work with Reconectar, Treatman saw the obvious fungibility of the idea for other emerging Jewish communities. Treatman translated the book into Spanish on her own, and hired translators for the forthcoming Russian, Portuguese and Hebrew versions.
All of Treatman’s efforts were volunteered.
“I get a lot of satisfaction from this work,” she said.