January 20, 2007 / 8:15 AM / 12 years ago

As Hanukkah nears, writer becomes Jewish "Santa"

TORONTO, Nov 22 (Reuters Life!) - As a child, Daniel Bloom remembers feeling left out as other children wrote to Santa Claus with their wish lists each year.

The cover of Dan Bloom's children's book "Bubbie and Zadie Come to My House" (Square One Publishers, 2006). REUTERS/Handout

So when he grew up he decided to give Jewish children their own version of Santa by creating a story about a mythical set of grandparents called Bubbie and Zadie, and encouraged Jewish children to write to them through a letter-writing campaign.

Bloom, who backed up his letter-writing campaign with a book about Bubbie and Zadie, says he has received over 10,000 letters since the campaign started in 1981 — and he expects to receive more letters than ever this year.

His 1985 book entitled “Bubbie and Zadie Come to My House” about the grandparents flying from house to house on the first night of the Jewish holiday Hanukkah singing songs and telling stories has just been republished after 13 years out of print.

“I love the book. The book is cute, but it’s the letters I like,” said Bloom, 56, a freelance reporter who grew up in Springfield, Massachusetts but has lived in Asia since 1991.

For 25 years, Bloom has turned into Bubbie and Zadie — Yiddish derivatives for grandmother and grandfather — during the run up to Hanukkah, spending his spare time answering letters from children from around the world.

The project has not been without its controversy. Some orthodox rabbis complained that Bloom was imitating Santa, and one went so far as to tell children not to write to Bubbie and Zadie, he said.

“I understand the orthodox rabbis, they are defending their own traditional beliefs, they are afraid of something new, and I understand their criticism,” he explained by phone from Chiayi, Taiwan, where he has lived since 1996.

Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights, is an eight-day Jewish festival held in December or late November.

It is observed in Jewish homes by the lighting of candles or oil lamps each night and the exchange of small gifts.

Unlike letters sent to Santa, the letters received by Bloom aren’t lists of wanted gifts, but express children’s excitement about Hanukkah and their hopeful anticipation of a visit from the imaginary elderly couple, Bubbie and Zadie.

Bloom said he hopes to create a tradition that will live forever.

“I don’t care about money, and I don’t care about fame,” said Bloom.

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