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Lesley Simpson

 

Author, Lesley Simpson sheds some light on her inspiration for writing Yuvi’s Candy Tree.

 

Yuvi’s Candy Tree is a fictional story based on the true story of Yuvi Tashome. In Ethiopia, Yuvi Tashome’s name was Yeuvmert which, in Amharic, means “a good or beautiful product.” Yuvi was given a Hebrew name when she moved to Israel. To recover her history, she reclaimed her name, but shortened it to Yuvi.

Tashome escaped from Ethiopia to a Sudanese refugee camp. She was later airlifted to Israel as part of Operation Moses, one of several secret rescue operations in the 1980s and 1990s.

Israel’s Law of Return says Jews have the right to return to Israel. The Ethiopian Jews viewed Israel as their home. But they risked their lives to return. Thousands died on the way. Their journey was dangerous because of murder, disease, poor health and prejudice.

I first met Tashome during Passover when Jews tell the story of the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt. Tashome had come to Toronto as a guest of the New Israel Fund. The New Israel Fund was trying to raise awareness about the challenges faced by the Ethiopian Jews in Israel. She had just completed the American part of her speaking tour when the American economy collapsed. But she remained hopeful.

Tashome had created a program in Israel in the neighborhood where she lived to try to keep high-risk Ethiopian youth in school. The kids were facing prejudice as well as a difficulty adjusting from a rural economy into high tech culture. During that evening, she told how she escaped from Ethiopia on a donkey with her grandmother. I wanted to learn more. I later set up a private interview with her in Toronto. I had just hosted my first Seder. When Tashome told her story I felt as if the Haggadah was literally coming alive before my eyes. Here was a real woman, now a mother, pregnant with her next child, eating matzah for breakfast, who had survived against impossible odds, and was now working to make the world a better place for her community.

I wanted to honor her story, and celebrate her life.

Lesley Simpson is a Canadian journalist and picture book writer. Her previous books include The Shabbat Box and A Song For My Sister, winner of the Sydney Taylor Notable Book Award. Lesley has taught journalism and creative writing at Canadian universities and is currently pursuing graduate work in Jewish studies. She lives in Toronto, Canada.

To contact her, please visit http://www.lesleysimpson.ca/



About Lesley:

When I was a kid, I suffered from math nightmares. I turned my insomnia into my first published article: "What to do when you’re in bed, can’t get to sleep and you don’t have any flashlight batteries. My suggestions? Do gymnastics if you have a large bed, apply pimple cream, or mess up your room.

I was 11 years old. The article was published in a collection called Another Wordsandwich (Books By Kids). I remember the glee when my author’s copy landed through the mail slot onto our hallway floor. Books By Kids morphed into Annick Press in Toronto, Canada. When I wrote and illustrated my first book, The Hug, I knocked on Annick’s door.

My mother worked as a teacher and going to the library was as necessary for us as going to the grocery store. I think libraries should be open 24 hours a day! I used to pretend to be Harriet The Spy. Harriet was the central character in a book called Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh. I remember hiding behind my parents’ stereo in the living room, crouching behind the couch, conducting surveillance. I had a secret notebook I kept in a pocket where I would record observations.

When I was in Grade 4, I was certain teachers were from another planet. I was convinced they were aliens. And so as a spy I used to write a list of items that belonged to my teacher, Mrs. Dodd, because I was trying to figure out just what kind of alien she might be. The case turned puzzling when I realized she had ordinary things humans had, such as "blue nylons," "a ball of macramé string" and a "frying pan." When it was Hallowe’en, I dressed up as a clown and knocked on her door with my best friend in the quest to gather more intelligence. "Potted plants, umbrellas, husband" got added to the list. The case remained forever unresolved after Mrs. Dodd moved from Hamilton, Ontario to Melbourne, Australia.

Because I was curious, I became a journalist. I felt embarrassed there was so much I did not know. Being a journalist seemed like a cool way to get paid to be curious. I worked for almost 20 years as a newspaper reporter, feature writer, video producer and columnist for Canadian daily newspapers. When I visited classrooms I told kids the truth: I couldn’t believe they were paying me!

I still feel there is so much I don’t know. Socrates felt the same way so I figure I’m in good company. I felt that way the first time I saw a library, with books stacked from floor to the ceiling, shelves taller than I was, categories ranging from history to geography to biography to fiction to art to cookbooks to comics! I remember thinking How can I read everything?! I still feel that way. Isn’t it funny how some things change and some things don’t?

I work now in Toronto as a freelance journalist, university teacher and writer.