Judith Karen, left, holds one of the illustrations from her book 'Tanchum,' based on childhood memories of friend Ilana Rubenfeld, right, about the death of Rubenfeld's grandfather. [Mail Tribune / Denise Baratta]

Local women collaborate on children's book

Eighty-two-year-old Ilana Rubenfeld developed a health modality in the 1970s known as the Rubenfeld Synergy Method, which integrates talk and touch, and she earned distinction as a Juilliard-trained symphonic conductor.

But her most profound memories center around the short time she spent as a toddler living in the Middle East, and especially the time she shared with her grandfather.

Those memories have been given life in a new children's book called "Tanchum," (pronounced 'tahn-hoom'), a collaboration between Rubenfeld, who lives in Ashland, and Phoenix illustrator Judith Karen, whom she met two years ago.

"I was just telling Judy some of my stories and my memories, and she said to me, 'That would make a great children's book.' "

Rubenfeld, born in 1934 in Tel Aviv, lost her grandfather when she was 3, but she says she has distinct memories of her time with him.

The book version of Rubenfeld's childhood begins with 3-year-old Ilana discovering the difference between the loss of a material object — in her case a favorite doll — and the graying, bearded man who made her world feel safe and happy.

The story talks about her immediate loss, and the familial customs involved with grieving, then segues into her memories of going to the park and visiting the synagogue where even a short-term separation from her grandfather caused her concern.

Karen said the story, while simply written, tells much about humanity and the perseverance of human spirit during hard times.

"It was such a special story, I knew as soon as she told me that it would make an excellent children's book," Karen said. "It deals with a lot of different issues like loss, but also a lot of humanity."

Rubenfeld, who discovered in later years that her first name, which means "sapling" in Hebrew, was in honor of her grandfather's work in forestry, smiles as she remembers what felt like a happy childhood.

"I played with Arab children in Tel Aviv. The Arabs and Jews lived very near each other, and we lived in peace. Kids were kids, and we were neighbors who made wonderful memories," she said.

"This book is important because it treats death in a very normal way but reminds me of being able to be happy during a difficult time."

When Rubenfeld and her mother left to meet her father in the United States, Rubenfeld became aware of bigger world issues.

"My father had gone to the United States before us. The rest of my family had to come to America on a Polish visa. FDR, his cabinet, wouldn't take Jews in no matter where they came from. They took Polish people, but they wouldn't take us."

In addition to Rubenfeld's memories, "Tanchum" includes a dictionary of cultural terms and a 1946 map of Palestine's one-time borders.

To see illustrations used in "Tanchum," visit Weisinger Family Winery in Ashland, where Karen is the featured artist for January-February.

— Reach freelance writer Buffy Pollock at

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