Review: Workitu's Passover

Workitu's Passover

by Zahava Workitu Goshen & Maayan Ben Hagai, illustrated by Eden Spivak, translated by Jessica Bonn

Green Bean Books, 2024

Category: Picture Books
Reviewer: Arlene Schenker

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In this charming and lovingly illustrated tale of a Jewish Ethiopian family, a young girl, Workitu, learns about her family’s Passover custom of breaking their dishes to be certain every trace of chametz is destroyed. Workitu cherishes certain pieces of the family pottery and can’t understand why the beautiful, graceful vessels should be shattered each year and then ground into powder.

Nevertheless, Workitu follows her mother’s instructions, and along with her little sister Almaz, carries the pottery to her nearby Auntie Balainesh’s where the shattering and grinding is to be done. Auntie Balainesh patiently explains that the old must make room for the new, and Workitu allows Auntie to teach her to mix the powder from the broken vessels with clay, to knead it and create new vessels. When Workitu realizes that the family’s dishes were made over at each Passover through the generations, she comes to appreciate the tradition and learns that sometimes you have to say goodbye to treasured things. She is proud of the new oil jug she fashioned out of her favorite cup and pot, and is ready to enjoy all the new pottery the next day at Passover.

I love the lyrical text by Zahava Workitu Goshen and Maayan Ben Hagai and the neutral tones (except for some small splashes of color) in the artwork by Eden Spivak. The Jewish content is strong and the book gives American children a wonderful opportunity to learn about an ancient Jewish Ethiopian tradition still carried on today. But you certainly need not be Jewish to enjoy this story and empathize with Workitu. There is a full recounting of the Passover story in the front of the book.

The story is based on the childhood memories of the author growing up in a small Jewish Ethiopian village before making Aliya to Israel with her family. The book cover lists a translator as well as the author and illustrator. The book was first written in Hebrew and published by Asia Publishers in Israel in 2022.

Editor's Note: This book was included on the Association of Jewish Libraries' Spring 2024 Holiday Highlights list.

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Reviewer Arlene Schenker has a degree in Child Development from Cornell University and a Juris Doctor from New York University Law School. She has worked as a New York City primary grade teacher, a lawyer, divorce mediator, and a community activist and volunteer. Her debut picture book, CALL ME GEBYANESH, will be published by Apples & Honey Press in Spring 2025.