Rosh Hashanah train takes kids for a fun ride

Sign up for Weekday J and get the latest on what's happening in the Jewish Bay Area.

It’s not every day you find a good Rosh Hashanah book for kids — one that’s fun to read, pleases the eye and conveys a simple moral.

But “Engineer Ari and the Rosh Hashanah Ride,” a book for children ages 3 to 7 released last month, does all three.

And there’s a bonus: It’s based on the historic 1892 inaugural run of the first train to steam from Jaffa to Jerusalem. The railway spanned 55 miles, rising nearly 2,500 feet as it wound through the Judean hills between the coastal port and ancient city. The train carried both passengers and cargo, making six stops along the way.

In fact, parts of the scenic railway still operate today.

Deborah Bodin Cohen’s story begins as Engineer Ari is about to embark on his very first run. A cheering crowd gathers round to see him off — but not everyone is happy. Ari’s engineer friends Jessie and Nathaniel stand on the sidelines and sulk: He’s a bit too boastful to their liking, and they’re feeling somewhat resentful.

Ari shrugs them off. “We can’t all be first,” he tells them, determined to not let his friends put a damper on his day.

Thus the great red train chugs off, leaving the city behind for the countryside. The locomotive gathers speed as the train traverses rolling hills, passing towering cypress trees and expansive orange groves.

At each station, Ari is met by enthusiastic greeters: Children hand him gifts to distribute in Jerusalem — shiny apples, jars of sweet honey, freshly baked loaves of round challah, even a basket of handmade shofars.

“Shanah Tovah, Happy New Year,” Ari yells before pulling out of each station.

But every gift brings a pang of guilt for the engineer, who by trip’s end is anxious to make amends to the two unhappy friends he left behind. By the time he heads back to Jaffa, Ari is more than ready for teshuvah, or turning, as is fitting for the High Holy Days.

The author, a New Jersey-based rabbi and educator, knows her audience well, and the book is appropriately geared for young children. The colorful, expressive pictures by Israeli artist Shahar Kober augment the story — and do justice to the ancient land of Israel and its people.

“Engineer Ari and the Rosh Hashanah Ride” by Deborah Bodin Cohen (32 pages, Kar-Ben Publishing, $17.95 hardcover, $7.95 soft)

Liz Harris

Liz Harris is a J. contributor. She was J.'s culture editor from 2012-2018.