A book recently created by two people who never met will help some Jewish families learn more of their heritage tonight, when sundown marks the beginning of the eight-day observance of Hanukkah.
"The Family Treasury of Jewish Holidays," a collection of illustrations and stories about Jewish traditions, incorporates the history of Jewish life into about 200 colorful pages.
The book, which was released in September, will be a centerpiece of celebration for many Jewish holidays, starting tonight, said Nancy Patz, a Baltimorean who usually writes and illustrates children's books and whose artistic talent was called on for this volume.
"I think it talks to people's hearts," Ms. Patz said. "It fills a need. It's a book people seemed to have been waiting for."
Ms. Patz and the book's writer, New Mexico resident Malka Drucker, have worked two years from opposite ends of the country to produce the volume, now in its second printing.
The book has 10 chapters of Jewish holidays, highlighted with traditional games, recipes, crafts, music, poems and plays. Each holiday is illustrated with a picture of a Jewish family of varying nationalities, each drawn with borders Ms. Patz based on Renaissance-era Hebrew manuscripts.
For example, the chapter on Hanukkah shows a five-member 19th-century Jewish family in Poland watching as a boy lights candles of a traditional menorah. The border was adapted from an Italian Renaissance print in an old Jewish prayer book.
Ms. Patz said the book drastically differed from the fare of her seven children's books, such as "Moses Supposes His Toeses Are Roses," a book of silly old rhymes.
Editors at Little, Brown and Co. in Boston contacted Ms. Patz in early 1992 to ask if she would illustrate a diverse book of Jewish holidays.
Faxing text and artwork in a geographic triangle of managers,
Ms. Patz worked for months sketching and researching old Hebrew manuscripts at the Walters Art Gallery, at the Library of Congress in Washington and at a museum in London.
The end product is a scholarly, nostalgic and vibrantly fun book that includes the history of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, the holiest holidays of the Jewish year, the Israeli Independence Day, or Yom Ha'atzmaut, and a look at Anne Frank.
Lilian M. C. Randall, a curator of manuscripts at the Walter's Art Gallery, applauded Ms. Patz's use of manuscripts to illustrate the book. "It's a very remarkable achievement," she said.
Rabbi Donald Berlin, of Temple Oheb Shalom in Park Heights, said Ms. Patz's experience in writing for children adds to the clarity of the historical information. "Children frequently get a feeling of the holidays by pictures more than words," he said.
Sales clerks say the book's thorough, but light tone may be the reason it's selling like latkes (potato pancakes).
"It's doing great," said Donna Basick, a clerk at The Children's Bookstore in Roland Park. "It fills a gap for that type of literature. The illustrations really make it appealing."
Some customers immediately inquire about the book when they enter Borders Books and Music in Towson, said clerk Jenn Baron. Many Jewish grandparents have been purchasing the book for their grandchildren for Hanukkah.
Tonight, at many of those Jewish households, family members will turn to page 42, where they will read about the origin of Hanukkah.
The observance celebrates the Jews' heroic victory over a cruel Syrian-Greek ruler, Antiochus IV, who had defiled the Temple of Jerusalem and ultimately tried to destroy the Jewish faith. The battle, over 2,000 years ago, was led by a prominent Jewish family, the Maccabees.
The holiday also commemorates the removal of pagan objects from the Temple once the persecutors were driven off.
It is often called the Festival of Lights in memory of the single jar of oil that kept the Temple's "eternal light" burning for eight days and nights.
To mark this miracle, Jews light an additional candle on the Hanukkah menorah -- a candelabrum -- during a sundown ritual that begins each of the holiday's eight days.
"It is a celebration of hope and of the faith that God will help adherents prevail," said Rabbi Andrew Bossov, associate rabbi of the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation.
This is the earliest Hanukkah has fallen in 19 years, and there's a reason: The Hebrew calendar is based on a lunar year of 354 days, which means that Jewish holidays tend to float on the solar calendar used by Western societies. The Jewish calendar inserts an extra month -- in effect, a "leap month" -- every few years to prevent holidays from drifting so far that they lose their seasonal meaning.
Rabbi Bossov said this year's early date shouldn't change thcharacter of family celebrations. Nor will it reduce -- or intensify -- the December dilemma faced by Jewish families struggling to preserve the holiday's integrity amid the celebration of Christmas.
SOME HANUKKAH EVENTS
* TODAY, 7:30 p.m. -- Israeli-style Hanukkah party at Baltimore Hebrew University, 5800 Park Heights Ave. Features Israeli folk dancing, songs, candle lighting, kosher foods, games, prizes and live performance by the Baltimore Klezmer Orchestra. Admission $3, free to children under 12.
* TODAY, 6 p.m. -- Outdoor lighting of large menorah at Reisterstown Shopping Center, Reisterstown Road. Sponsored by the Reisterstown-Owings Mills lodge of B'nai B'rith. Afterward, celebration at Beth Israel Congregation, 3706 Crondall Lane. Music, holiday activities and refreshments.
* TODAY, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. -- Hanukkah party for Russian immigrant families. Will include performances by children, dreidel contests, dancing. Jewish Community Center/Park Heights. 5700 Park Heights Avenue.
* TUESDAY, 1:30 p.m. -- Hanukkah party at Pikesville Senior Center, 1301 Reisterstown Road.
* WEDNESDAY, 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. -- Community Hanukkah party at the Greenspring Atrium, Greenspring shopping center off Smith Avenue. Organized by Dr. Binyamin Rothstein.