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A Jewish Holiday Inspires Imaginary Friends

Sophia, who is 4, becomes a friend of Bessie, whom she doesn’t know. Bessie lives in a nursing home. The kids I teach at PREBREW (Hebrew school for preschoolers) have been enlisted to make birthday cards for Bessie. Bessie’s Hebrew birthday falls on what is known in preschool Judaism as the “birthday of the trees,” Tu B'Shevat, and so we cut a tree trunk and some leaves out of construction paper to glue on the card. I tell the kids that Bessie used to send the children of the congregation birthday cards, but now she lives alone and needs some cheering up.

When we get home, Sophia wants to draw a picture of herself with Bessie. She asks, “What does Bessie look like?”

“I don’t know,” I tell her.

“Show me what she looks like. Do you have a picture of her?”

“No, I don’t,” I say, but phrases with the words “no,” and “I don’t” in them just register in her preschooler brain as “ask again,” which she does for the next 45 minutes.

I draw Bessie for Sophia. I don’t have a gift for drawing, and my picture of a woman comes out looking like a little girl (drawn by a 6-year-old). “Okay,” I say. “Bessie is old now, but this is the way she looked when she was little.”

This works for Sophia. “Cut her out, so I can play with her,” she says.

This works for me, because Sophia loves her “Bessie” paper doll and plays with it all afternoon. They spin and dance together and sing “Happy Birthday,” and then they pretend it’s Christmas, even though this isn’t what we celebrate, because they want to decorate the trees with pretty lights.

At bedtime, Bessie sleeps next to Sophia, who is not scared of the dark.

Amanda Geffner is a writer and psychotherapist who lives in Weston. Do you have any fun stories to tell? Send them to David DesRoches at .

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