By Matt Robinson/JNS.org
Superman was created by two Jews (writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster), and the latest buzz about the upcoming “Batman vs. Superman” movie concerns the selection of Israeli actress Gal Gadot to play Wonder Woman. But today’s Jewish children have a more religiously relevant caped crusader to look up to.
Rabbi Susan Abramson, one of the first 50 women to ever be ordained as a rabbi and currently the longest-serving female rabbi in the state of Massachusetts, is the creator of a line of children’s books featuring the heroine named “Rabbi Rocketpower.” Sporting a motto that points out how “one good deed leads to another”—a phrase that comes from “Pirkei Avot” (Ethics of the Fathers)—and shouting “Oy vay! Up, up and away!” whenever she takes off, Rabbi Rocketpower promotes patience, perseverance, and dedication to one’s cause and one’s fellow men and women.
Faster than a speeding matzoh ball and more powerful than your bubbe’s chicken soup, Rabbi Rocketpower brings peace wherever she goes and educates, especially when it comes to the Jewish holidays.
“There are no bad guys in Rabbi Rocketpower,” Abramson tells JNS.org. “Just misguided aliens who innocently disrupt the Jewish holiday without understanding what it’s about.”
The children’s book series includes “Rabbi Rocketpower and the Half-Baked Matzah Mystery – A Particularly Peculiar Passover”; “Rabbi Rocketpower in the Mystery of the Missing Menorahs – A Hanukkah Humdinger”; “Rabbi Rocketpower in a Tooty Fruity Tale for Tu Bishvat – A Juicy Mystery”; and “Rabbi Rocketpower in Who Hogged the Hallah? A Shabbat Shabang.” The next book, coming out in the spring of 2014, will be “Torah With A Twist - A Challachic Guide,” which is based on “Who Hogged the Hallah” and will provide a synopsis and analysis of each weekly Torah portion. A portion of proceeds from “Rabbi Rocketpower” book sales goes to supporting the fulfilling of mitzvot around the world.
Abramson—the pulpit rabbi at Temple Shalom Emeth of Burlington, Mass., since 1984—was inspired to create Rabbi Rocketpower when she surveyed the contemporary comic and kid literature world.
“It would always bother me that there is so much death and sadness in children’s literature in general,” Abramson says. “Nothing sad happens in my books.”
“We all have the power to try to figure out why people act the way they do, to have compassion and patience, and try to teach them so they will be better informed in the future,” she adds.
Growing up in the Boston suburb of Newton, Mass., Abramson recalls coming to these life lessons with the help of her own childhood rabbis, and she was inspired to become a rabbi herself. Other than Judaism and the rabbinate, her passion was writing. As an undergraduate student at Brandeis University, Abramson was president of the campus’s Hillel branch, and she went on to earn her rabbinical ordination from the Reform movement’s Hebrew Union College.
When her son, Aaron, was in the first grade in 2001, Abramson began looking for age-appropriate Jewish stories to share.
“I was looking for interesting and funny books to teach him about the holidays. But I couldn’t find any,” she recalls. Her solution was to create her own books.
“I wanted to write stories that kids would find humorous and slightly irreverent …[that would] be reflective of a modern Jewish family,” says Abramson, who based the “Rabbi Rocketpower” characters on her own family members (including their cat), and also relied on her synagogue community to help put out the series. Her publisher, art director, and editor are all members of her congregation.
In addition to being amusing and engaging, Abramson wanted her books to be religiously enriching.
“It was most important that the stories revolve around the Jewish holidays, since those are a natural expression of the American Jewish identity. I wanted them to be a teaching tool, so that kids and families could learn about the holiday by reading the story,” she says.
By including educational glossaries in each book as well as recipes related to Jewish holidays being “saved,” Abramson hoped that her series would appeal to parents and kids alike, bringing families together like many comic books have over time. She says she has been able to entice many of her congregants and friends to explore their own Judaism through the literary lens of “Rabbi Rocketpower.”
“It is a fun and engaging way to teach about the Jewish holidays,” Abramson says, “and to find a way to connect both children and adults with Jewish tradition, a modern Jewish lifestyle, and [to] do my small part to perpetuate the Jewish people.”
Download this story in Microsoft Word format here.
Click here for more JNS.org coverage on Jewish arts.