Green Bean Books

Q&A with Yael Zoldan

1. Why was this book a project you were excited to take on? 

Everything about this project excited me! I was so inspired by Gracia’s life story. I truly couldn’t imagine a more heroic Jewish character. And the fact that she was such a powerful woman was the icing on the cake for me!

2. Where did the inspiration for the book come from? Did any personal experiences inspire this story? 

I guess it’s true what they say, inspiration strikes from the most unexpected places. I first heard of Gracia when I was attending a pre-bat mitzvah class with one of my daughters. The girls were learning about powerful Jewish women through the ages and after we’d studied some of the more well-known ones (Sara, Rachel, Miriam) the class moved on to learning about lesser-known Jewish heroines. One of them was Gracia! From the first moment, I was spellbound. It was unbelievable to me that a woman in the Middle Ages could possibly wield such power and exhibit such tremendous bravery. I knew someone had to tell her story. It took a couple of years before I realized that someone would be me!

3. What would you say is the greatest lesson children should take away from this story? 

I think this is the ideal time for children to learn that one person can make a difference in the world. We may not all have Gracia’s access to money and people in power, but we all have a voice, values, and a moral code. When we choose to use our sphere of influence to help others, our world is changed for the better. And maybe the world at large is as well! 

4. Do you see a Jewish value behind the tale, and if so, what is it?

This is a book that’s entirely about Jewish values. Specifically, how much value Gracia placed on her Judaism, enough to put her fortune and even her life at risk. At its core, it’s about loyalty, identity, and responsibility – which is probably the triumvirate of Jewish values!

5. Where do you stand on the ‘Own Voices’ debate? For a Jewish story, do you think it’s important to have a Jewish author? Could your story have been written just as well by a non-Jewish author? 

I struggle with this question a lot. Taken to its natural conclusion it would mean no woman could ever write about a male character and I really hope that’s not true. On the other hand, an insider certainly has a deeper understanding of nuance. Maybe it’s about a willingness to do research and the humility to be open to corrections? I’m not sure!

6. Do you still grapple with what it means to be Jewish? What does it mean to you? 

To me, Judaism is about being a link in the chain that extends all the way back to Sinai. It means being part of a family, far-flung and widespread, but always connected. It means a code of conduct and a higher expectation of self.  In the words of Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, it means to “have faith in Gd who has faith in man.” Maybe you can tell…being Jewish means a lot to me!

7. What does Israel mean to you? What place does it hold in your heart? 

As the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, I can say with certainty that Israel is the fulfilment of the dreams of our ancestors. It is a country characterized by great hope, bravery, and morality. Our national destiny is inextricably tied to this land. Never before has it been clearer how badly we need Israel. And how badly Israel needs us!

8. Which Jewish stories, or secular children’s books, did you love as a child? 

For Jewish stories, I loved The Carp in the Bathtub, the Marcus Lehmann books and All Of A Kind Family. I also loved Where the Wild Things Are and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. And should I be embarrassed to admit that I still love The Monster at the End of This Book?

9. What words of wisdom can you offer for aspiring writers?

The only advice I’m equipped to offer is the advice I give myself. Don’t be afraid! Don’t be afraid to start, to try, to create, to be misunderstood, to believe in yourself anyway, to share something close to your heart, to fail. Just…don’t be afraid! Creativity requires courage!!