Sunday, November 10, 2013
Lynn Taylor Gordon is staring at the photo of a gobbler named Martha and deciding that this fowl, rescued from a live market before Thanksgiving 2012, is the one she wants to sponsor this year through an online “Adopt a Turkey” program providing sanctuary to animals who might otherwise become holiday dinner.
“Something about her is calling to me,” the Mount Laurel animal activist said. It’s just one manifestation of Gordon’s passion for saving the world a step at a time. It’s a message she is spreading this season with the publication of her first book, “Gracie’s Night: A Hanukkah Story,” centered around the Jewish holiday of miracles that begins on Thanksgiving eve this year.
“Gracie’s Night” began as a tale for Gordon’s own three children more than a decade ago and is now a whimsically illustrated children’s book with messages for adults, too.
“The star of the story is not Hanukkah — it’s compassion. The book is about love, caring and being a miracle for somebody,” Gordon said.
Set in the 1950s, “Gracie’s Night” has as its heroine a New York City teen who works at Macy’s so she can buy her widowed father gifts for each night of Hanukkah, the holiday that celebrates an ancient victory over oppressors and the miraculous burning of oil for eight nights when there was really only enough to last for one. But Gracie gives all the fine gifts away to a homeless man living in a cardboard box, without leaving a clue to who she is.
It’s a parable for the Jewish tenets of tzedakah and tikkunolam — giving to charity and repairing the world through social action. “There is no dialogue with the man in the box. Giving anonymously is the highest form of giving,” Gordon said.
The pescatarian, who is also a certified yoga instructor and stages homes for sale, started the story of Gracie for her youngsters, now in their 20s, when they were attending Mount Laurel public schools.
“We’d have a Gracie’s night during Hanukkah when we didn’t get presents ourselves, but we’d find someone in need — maybe by going to a school counselor who knew of somebody — and bring in gifts for them,” Gordon said. She would purchase the gifts and the counselors would distribute them anonymously, just as Gracie did.
Said middle child Brooke Gordon, 22, a graduate student studying speech pathology at LaSalle University, “ ‘Gracie’s Night’ showed me at a young age that there are people to think about other than yourself. Now that I know how easy it is, I find myself giving back more often than just one night a year.”
Gordon, 53, began practicing yoga for its physical and spiritual aspects. “It aligns with how I want to live my life, helping get in touch with the inner self and knowing generally what is more important and less important.”
That same philosophy also drew her to prepare homes for market by filling empty spaces with vibrant furnishings. “Yoga is solitary, and I wanted another aspect of creativity that gets me in touch with people,” she said.
Gordon, whose family attends Adath Emanu-El in Mount Laurel, recalled growing up in Northeast Philadelphia as culturally Jewish but not as observant as her husband, David, her best friend in high school before the couple began dating at Temple University.
She based Gracie’s story in part on her own childhood, which included sharing a home with her Yiddish-speaking maternal grandmother and jumping up and down when her father, a Philadelphia bus driver, returned from work in his Eisenhower-style jacket, cap and shield. Gracie’s papa drives a New York bus and wears the same kind of uniform.
Nothing is coincidental in the tale. Gordon even priced the book at $18 because the number 18 stands for chai, or life, in the Hebrew lexicon.
An advertising major at Temple, Gordon worked as a copywriter and freelanced while raising her children. She also began writing at her kitchen table, with “Gracie’s Night” one of several children’s stories she has penned. Unable to find a publisher and especially determined to spread Gracie’s message, she created her own publishing company, Cookie & Nudge Books, and sought out professional editors to mentor her.
She found an illustrator in Texas and a Macy’s historian to supply details about the famed department store where Gracie works. Illustrator Laura Brown isn’t Jewish but was receptive to Gordon’s descriptions. For example, the Hanukkah potato pancakes known as latkes needed to look fluffier, Gordon explained, and Brown obliged. From Rachelle Stern, Macy’s in-house historian, Gordon and Brown gleaned details such as how Macy’s shopping bags looked during the 1950s.
Macy’s has agreed to mount a display featuring her book at its flagship store at Manhattan’s Herald Square, Gordon said. She hopes Gracie becomes a mass-market ragdoll, based on one she had made to order by an Etsy crafter. Her publishing website is full of Gracie-centered children’s activities. And, she said, it’s possible there will be more Gracie books.
But on this Hanukkah, as Gordon helps save a turkey, she’ll be thankful to share Gracie with others and inspire them, in turn, to show compassion and make miracles happen during this most giving season.