Goldberg's latest tells a special Sephardic story

The Jewish Review
Bonni Goldberg has written plenty over the years, on a variety of subjects, but it took a special story to make firsy traditionally published children’s book.
A special Jewish story. 
That special story was the genesis of “Dona Gracia Saved Worlds,” published late last year by Kar-Ben Publishing. The story of the woman known as Dona Gracia, a Portuguese Converso businesswoman who used her considerable influence and wealth to shield her fellow secret Jews from the Portuguese Inquisition, was new to Goldberg when she took a mother/daughter bat mitzvah class with her daughter. 
“The class was really an introduction to women leaders in Judaism,” Goldberg explained, “as a way of kind of bringing girls into a sense of their own style of leadership and what they were going to bring to the Jewish community. When we got to the class on Dona Gracia, nobody had ever heard of her. It wasn’t just me; it was everybody.”
Goldberg started digging into Dona Gracia, legally Gracia Mendes Nasi. Born in Portugal, she married a spice trader who willed her his half of the business he operated with his brother. She moved to Belgium as the Inquisition was beginning in Portugal; later, her brother-in-law died and left her the other half of the business. She used her wealth to fund an escape route for Portuguese Jews fleeing the Inquisition, as well as other philanthropic endeavors in Belgum, Italy and the Ottoman Empire, including the restoration of the city of Tiberias thanks to a long-term lease she negotiated with the Ottoman Sultan. 
“The thing that I really think is amazing about her is she really understood that a law can’t change what you believe,” Goldberg said.
The title of the book comes from Rabbi Hillel’s Talmudic maxim, “Whosoever saves a life, it is as though he had saved the entire world.”
“It’s titled the way it is to encourage people to think about what that means,” she explained. “That a person is like the whole world.”
The book has been 14 years in the making. The first half of that, Goldberg explained, was not only learning more about Dona Gracia, but for Goldberg to work through all of what she had learned and loved about Dona Gracia and fashion that into a narrative. 
“I was such a fangirl of this person that I didn’t really have the perspective,” she said. “What I realized is that what was most important was to introduce young people to this amazing Sephardic heroine and to provide that experience in a way that there wouldn’t be anybody who would feel uncomfortable reading this book to their children.”
For that reason, the work makes no mention of the Inquisition. There are two schools of thought on whether to present difficult subject matter like the Inquisition in children’s literature. Goldberg is of the mind that while it’s important to tell those stories, that wasn’t how she wanted to treat this subject. 
“I believe that it’s important to have those difficult books out there. Some of them are my favorite books,” she said. “I decided that was not the kind the way that I wanted to talk about Gracia because I didn’t want a story about the Inquisition. I wanted a biography that introduced this incredible leader to children because she’s missing. I wanted her to have her place.”
Goldberg has written self-published and traditionally published books on subjects ranging from writing itself to caring for aging parents, pregnancy and Shabbat, but this is her first traditionally published children’s book. 
“I think picture books are just amazing,” she said. “That collaboration between the between my words and somebody else who I don’t even know interpreting those words visually is an incredibly satisfying experience for me as a creative person.”
Though Goldberg has Sephardic ancestry, she does not identify as Sephardic. Nevertheless, she feels it is important to see Sephardic historical figures, particularly Sephardic women like Dona Gracia, depicted in literature of all sorts, especially children’s literature. 
“They can see Sephardim represented and Sephardim as heroic, incredible and powerful women, Sephardic women as powerful and important and game changers, history changers,” she said.
The book is just the beginning: Goldberg is a Jewish educator as well as a writer and has prepared all manner of materials to help tell Dona Gracia’s story. 
“I have an educator’s heart too, and so on my website, I have all of these free activity sheets that go along with [the book] to enrich and educate and entertain children and families in reading the book, including a whole teachers curriculum for secular teaching.”
“Dona Gracia Saved Worlds,” illustrated by Alida Massari, is available at Powell’s Books or online at 



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