Thursday, December 17, 2009

Ezra Jack Keats

As children, we were practically reared on Ezra Jack Keats' classic picture books The Snowy Day and Whistle for Willie.  Through these stories we were introduced to the sweet African American boy named Peter, and got a glimpse of urban life that was different than that of ours in the suburbs.  We always thought that these tales were written by an African American man, but as it turns out, this is not the case.

Did you know that Ezra Jack Keats was born Jewish, in Brooklyn, to parents who immigrated around the turn of the century and his given name was Jacob (Jack) Ezra Katz?

We owe so much to Keats for presenting the "black kid as hero" to thousands of American children.  So many children welcomed Peter into their own homes, and in doing so, the African American child has become part of many other "phamilies" different than his own.

As we know, the name Katz is often a derivative of the name Cohen, and a very common Jewish name at that.  The Kohen Gadol or, as a surname, Cohen, was the high priest who lived during the Temple Era and was a descendent of biblical Aaron, Moses' brother.  In terms of tribal legacy, today's descendents of the Kohen Gadol have an elevated status among their fellow Jews, and are bestowed with the priestly blessing during communal prayers.  As Keats most likely was passed down this tradition from his father, we feel an ever deeper sense of honor for the author.

Check out the Ezra Jack Keats foundation to learn more about this celebrated, award-winning American author and artist.

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