The other day, mulling over a possible short story idea, I needed to know how Jewish-American families celebrated a certain Jewish holiday a couple of generations ago. Had the celebrations changed over time, and if so, how? Along with the websites and scholarly books I consulted, I turned to one very special resource: a battered copy of Althea O. Silverman’s Habibi and Yow: A Little Boy and His Dog.
My copy of Habibi and Yow isn’t really mine. First published in 1946 by Bloch Publishing Company (“The Jewish Book Concern”), the book went into a second printing in 1948. That’s the printing that produced the copy that belonged to my father when he was a little boy. It remained in my grandparents’ home once my father was grown.
Since my grandparents didn’t own many books, I spent innumerable childhood hours first listening to my grandmother read me the stories about this little American Jewish boy and his dog, and then reading them to myself. Habibi and Yow provided some of my earliest introductions to the ideas, history, and customs surrounding Shabbat (“Shabbos,” in Habibi and Yow), Purim, and Shavuot (“Shavuos”), among other holidays.
As an adult, I’ve been interested to learn that Althea O. Silverman wrote other books, including one about Habibi’s Adventures in the Land of Israel, which was published in 1951. Her husband, Rabbi Morris Silverman, served a Conservative Hartford, Conn., congregation for nearly 40 years. According to Shuly Rubin Schwartz’s The Rabbi’s Wife: The Rebbetzin in American Jewish Life, Althea Silverman was “deeply concerned about the dearth of appealing Jewish educational materials for children.” Habibi and Yow helped address that need. I, for one, remain grateful.