Vol. 4, Issue 8, December 12, 2006
White House Surprised That "Hannah Kah" Book Not Earning Points with Jewish Community
The White House has come under fire for listing a Hanukkah book on its website which apparently does not provide an accurate description of the Jewish holiday.
The book, "The Story of Hannah Kah's Birthday Cake: A Jewy Holiday Tale" was written by Pauline Harmon, a member of the Southwest Christian Church in Oklahoma, and a friend of First Lady Laura Bush. It is listed in the "Holiday Reading Selections" page maintained by the First Lady, a former librarian.
"While we are in no way opposed to the principles of free speech or the promulgation of information about Jewish religion and culture, we cannot condone the White House's apparent endorsement of this view of Hanukkah," said Rabbi Marcus Kramer, who presented a petition to the White House demanding removal of the book. "We've got enough problems, for crying out loud."
According to the book, Hanukkah is a holiday celebrating a "very special girl named Hannah, and what happened when she turned eight and the bad Dreidel Troll took her birthday candles, which little Jews call menorah." Hannah has a series of misadventures involving a magical horse and an Israeli leprechaun; when all hope appears lost, she performs a redemptive act - hanging up a fallen ornament on the town Christmas tree - and her menorah is returned by a mysterious, plump red-suited figure who drops it down the chimney.
"It's a wonderful story about lighting candles and presents, it's a birthday story that everyone can relate to," said Harmon. "It is sad how some groups resist the good intentions of others; I mean, I didn't even mention Hannah's horns. If it wasn't for good Christians like myself reaching out to these people, no one would know about these little holidays of theirs." Harmon acknowledges that she does not actually know any Jewish people, but says she is a "big fan" of Steven Spielberg and his work. Her research apparently consisted of a trip to the "big city" Hallmark store in Oklahoma City.
The Hannah Kah book is one of a series produced by Harmon, published by the Southwest Christian Church Press, intended to foster interfaith understanding and tolerance. Her other titles, "Herb the Happy Hindu and the Diwali Salami" and "Rudy's Ramadan at the Ramada Inn" are bestselling books in Christian bookstores nationwide, and are part of the middle school curriculum in much of Kansas. To date, none of the other books has been directly endorsed by the White House, although "Ramadan at the Ramada Inn" was circulated to the National Guard as preparation for being mobilized to Iraq in 2004 and 2005.
"This administration favors the open discussion of ideas," said a memo posted on the White House website in response to the petition. "To remove a book from our reading list just because of complaints from a vocal minority would be contrary to the spirit of the First Amendment which we embrace so thoroughly."
The Southwest Christian Church Press, however, has taken steps to bridge the apparent gulf with the Jewish community, offering certificates for free Christmas hams to everyone who signed the petition.
"I hope this gift will be accepted in the spirit in which it is given," said Harmon. "After all, that's the kosher way, isn't it?"