Judah Touro Didn't Want to Be Famous

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Product Details

Kar-Ben Publishing (R)
Publish Date
9.2 X 11.1 X 0.4 inches | 0.95 pounds

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About the Author

Audrey Ades grew up in New England and holds degrees in theater and psychology. She is the author of Judah Touro Didn't Want to Be Famous and The Reverend and the Rabbi. She lives in South Florida with her husband, son, and persnickety Pomeranian, Cookie.
After graduating from Art Center College of Design, Vivien Mildenberger packed up her pencils and moved to a lovely farm just outside of Nashville, Tennessee. There she works on her illustrations, pottery, and other general magic-making.


Most children have never heard of Judah Touro and likely neither have their parents - unless they are well-versed in American Jewish history. This picture-book biography of the noted Jewish philanthropist is particularly welcome because it illuminates the motivations often felt by wealthy individuals who feel gratitude and humility in relation to their riches and thus choose to help others less fortunate. In 1801, Judah Touro, of Sephardic descent, sailed from Boston to New Orleans to open up a dry-goods store. He established a successful business, but 11 years later, became gravely wounded in the War of 1812. Upon recovery, he reconsidered his purpose in life and concluded he was not saved by God just to be a businessman making more and more money. His eyes opened to the poverty and disease of his adopted city, and he spent the remainder of his life building hospitals, orphanages, housing, schools, libraries, churches and synagogues. He was particularly moved by the slave auctions he witnessed, and he began to pay off their masters in order to free enslaved people -- often giving them money to start businesses. The book's title refers to his desire to donate anonymously. The author states, 'Over the course of his lifetime, Judah gave away more money than any other American of his time. But he was not famous. And that's just the way he wanted it.' His is a true role model for young readers. -- Lisa Silverman, Jewish Journal

-- "Magazine" (6/12/2020 12:00:00 AM)

In 1801, Judah Touro dreamed of finding success in New Orleans as he set sail from Boston Harbor. His story is vividly recounted in Judah Touro Didn't Want to be Famous, written by debut author Audrey Ades and illustrated by Vivien Mildenberger.

After spending five miserable months at sea, Judah arrives in New Orleans. 'His father and grandfather had also sailed the seas. They left their homes to practice Judaism in peace and freedom. God had taken care of them. Judah knew God had a plan for him, too.'

Mildenberger's illustrations, using soft brown and blue colors, depict the busy harbor in Touro's new hometown. 'A busy harbor meant trade. And trade was a business Judah knew well.' Ades takes us through Judah's transforming life as he welcomes new friends into his shop at Number 27 Chartres Street. Mildenberger draws crowds of people waiting in line as the industrious shop owner's business booms. He becomes the most successful merchant in town unlike his father and grandfather who had been great Rabbis. 'Had God planned for him to be a businessman?'

The United States entered the War of 1812 eleven years after Judah had relocated to New Orleans. When General Andrew Jackson urgently requested volunteers, Judah joined up, doing one of 'the most dangerous jobs on the battlefield, bringing ammunition to soldiers.' During the war Judah was injured and his dearest friend, Rezin Shepherd, found him and nurtured him back to health. 'While he lay in bed, he had plenty of time to think about why God had spared his life.'

Eagerly turning the page, we see Mildenberger's moving full color illustrations of sad faces and homeless people as Judah walks through town. 'His gut ached for the children who begged for food when they should have been in school. And he sobbed for families torn apart by diseases like yellow fever and cholera.' The poverty and suffering profoundly impacts Judah, supported by his cane, walking past the hospital. He knows he can afford to help these people and so he does. Judah begins making huge donations, but he 'requested only one thing in return. He asked that his donations be kept secret. Judah Touro didn't want to be famous.'

This engaging, educational story takes us through Judah's purchase of the city's first Jewish synagogue. We then see how 'everyday, African men, women and children were legally sold as slaves so quietly, Judah began to pay off masters.' Ades explains to readers how, when Judah died in 1854, he left money for myriad charities and causes, both Jewish and non-Jewish. 'He made sure that fire departments, public parks, libraries and schools could remain open and running.' In his lifetime, 'Judah gave away more money than any other American of his time. But he was not famous. And that's the way he wanted it.'

In the Author's Note, Ades explains how Touro did not leave a diary. However his secretive, selfless and generous actions make clear that during his formative years he had learned a great Jewish value, helping those in need. This fascinating historical fictionalized story is a great lesson on kindness and humility for lower grade students. They'll learn that success is more than having money; it is about what you do with that money, and that philanthropic deeds, large and small can be done without requiring recognition. In our world of social media and instant gratification, it was inspirational to read about a real life hero who did great deeds, but chose to avoid fame. -- Ronda Einbinder, Good Reads with Ronna

-- "Blog" (5/12/2020 12:00:00 AM)

Sephardic Jew Judah Touro was born in Newport, Rhode Island, but ended up as a prosperous businessman and philanthropist in New Orleans in the early nineteenth century. We learn about some of his hardships and challenges: seasickness and getting robbed on the ship; establishing a business; getting seriously wounded during the Battle of New Orleans during the War of 1812. As is sometimes the case, a long illness or serious injury can change one's perspective about life. So it was with Judah Touro. After his year-long recovery, he began to donate large sums of money to Jewish, Christian, and non-denominational organizations, such as schools, hospitals, and orphanages. He also purchased the land and building for New Orleans' first synagogue. Moreover, he 'bought' slaves in order to free them, and even taught them the rudiments of trade so that they could start their own businesses. (By giving charity in secret and by giving the recipient the wherewithal to become self-supporting, Touro demonstrated the first and third highest levels of charity as expounded by Maimonides in the Mishneh Torah.) Missing are personal stories: Was he married? Did he have children? If so, did they carry on his legacy?

Illustrator Vivien Mildenberger has used a palette of mostly greys, browns, and blues to convey the 'pioneer'flavor of Touro's life. The digitally created illustrations look like colored pencils and watercolors and give the sense of the busyness (and danger) of life in early New Orleans. The end matter includes an 'Author's Note' and 'Interesting Facts About Judah Touro.' For a completely different perspective about a Jew in that time and place, see Susan Goldman Rubin's Jean Laffite: The Pirate Who Saved America (Abrams, 2012). -- Anne Dublin, retired librarian and author, Toronto, AJL Newsletter

-- "Magazine" (5/1/2020 12:00:00 AM)

Biography picture books are typically found in public and school libraries, but during these stay-at-home days, they are also a great option for a home library. My friend Audrey Ades just released her book Judah Touro Didn't Want To Be Famous, and I was able to get a copy by ordering it online. The story begins in 1801 as Judah Touro leaves the Boston Harbor and sets sail for New Orleans. The son of a rabbi, Judah was a wise and successful business man who had a love for God and great compassion for others. After his volunteer service in the War of 1812 and a year-long recovery from a battle injury, he focused his time and attention on providing a better life for the people of New Orleans. Judah imagined a city with modern hospitals and orphanages. He wanted safe housing, new schools, and a library. He had enough money to provide these things. His only request was to remain anonymous--because he didn't want to be famous. Judah also bought a church where people could go to pray. He paid masters to let slaves go free and taught the slaves about trade to make a living. When he passed away, he left money to hospitals and orphanages, fire departments, schools, libraries, churches, and synagogues. What I love about this biography picture book is that it's both educational and inspiring. The warm, full-page illustrations enhance the story with emotion and detail. Children will love reading this story over and over, and they will enjoy getting to know Judah Touring, a man who loved God, gave generously to help other, and didn't want to be famous. I give this book 5 smiles! -- Crystal Bowman, Christian Children's Authors

-- "Blog" (4/16/2020 12:00:00 AM)

Jews in ear-ly Amer-i-can his-to-ry made up only a small per-cent of the pop-u-la-tion, and even some of the most promi-nent among them may seem like shad-owy fig-ures in children's books. Judah Touro Didn't Want to be Famous res-cues one such fig-ure from the shad-ows, empha-siz-ing Judah Touro's broad-ly gen-er-ous phil-an-thropy as a specif-i-cal-ly Jew-ish val-ue. Dra-mat-ic descrip-tions of Touro's ear-ly strug-gles and lat-er suc-cess cre-ate a sym-pa-thet-ic pic-ture of this Jew-ish and Amer-i-can hero. Touro did not for-get either his own peo-ple or his neigh-bors as he per-son-i-fied the Amer-i-can ide-al of self-real-iza-tion. As the book's title implies, humil-i-ty remained a core val-ue for this shop-keep-er-turned-bene-fac-tor, whose Jew-ish tra-di-tion taught him that wealth con-ferred obligation. Touro (1775-1854) was born into a Sephardic fam-i-ly in New-port, Rhode Island where his father was the can-tor of one of the ear-li-est syn-a-gogues in the Amer-i-can colonies. Audrey Ades inter-prets the young man's voy-age to the south-ern city of New Orleans as a coura-geous act. While his father had been a reli-gious leader, Judah needs to find his own path, believ-ing that 'God had a plan for him, too.' In the new Unit-ed States of Amer-i-ca, men were not lim-it-ed to their fathers' trades; Judah's sto-ry becomes an exam-ple of the per-son-al ini-tia-tive prized in an expand-ing econ-o-my and the impor-tance of rec-og-niz-ing each individual's spe-cif-ic tal-ents. As Judah's ship enters the har-bor of New Orleans, he rea-sons that 'A busy har-bor meant trade /And trade was a busi-ness Judah knew well.' The book is con-sis-tent in empha-siz-ing the dig-ni-ty of Judah's choice. Although he con-tin-ues to ques-tion if his career will be as wor-thy as those of his ances-tors, cir-cum-stances will affirm the valid-i-ty of his cho-sen path. Injured in com-bat in the War of 1812, Judah's recov-ery allows him the time to con-sid-er how he can use his accom-plish-ments to bet-ter the life of his city. As Ades explains in her 'Author's Notes, ' Touro left nei-ther a diary nor let-ters; the thoughts and motives she ascribes to him are imag-ined. She uses high-ly-charged emo-tion-al lan-guage when spec-u-lat-ing about Touro's rea-sons for pro-vid-ing help to so many: 'His gut ached for the chil-dren who begged for food...he sobbed for fam-i-lies torn apart by dis-eases....' It is cer-tain-ly rea-son-able to assume that strong feel-ings were the basis of his actions, although it is equal-ly like-ly that knowl-edge of Jew-ish law played a part. In her notes, Ades attrib-ut-es the secre-cy of Touro's endow-ments to char-i-ta-ble orga-ni-za-tions and Mai-monides' praise of anony-mous giving. The pages devot-ed to Touro's oppo-si-tion to slav-ery are the most dif-fi-cult to doc-u-ment and Ades does not include a list of sources for her book. The econ-o-my of New Orleans was deeply root-ed in enslaved labor. Some bio-graph-i-cal arti-cles about Touro sug-gest that he may have owned a slave and eman-ci-pat-ed him, and oth-ers imply that he bought enslaved peo-ple in order to free them. Cer-tain-ly, the pic-ture of Touro as a con-firmed abo-li-tion-ist is an appeal-ing one, but the truth may be more com-plex. His char-i-ta-ble lega-cy is undoubt-ed-ly ecu-meni-cal, as he fund-ed both Jew-ish and Chris-t-ian orga-ni-za-tions, as well as many pub-lic resources includ-ing schools, parks, and hospitals. Vivien Mildenberger's vivid illus-tra-tions, with the sim-plic-i-ty of crayons and col-ored pen-cils, will be appeal-ing to chil-dren. Young Touro's wild, black curls, the deep red coats on British sol-diers, and iden-ti-fi-able emo-tions on character's faces work with the text in a seam-less dia-logue. Her art-work ren-ders Touro's life any-thing but abstract, mak-ing the man who 'gave away more mon-ey than any Amer-i-can of his time' a real per-son to under-stand and admire. Judah Touro Didn't Want to Be Famous is high-ly rec-om-mend-ed. It includes 'Author's Notes' and addi-tion-al facts about Touro's life. -- Emily Schneider, Jewish Book Council

-- "Website" (4/8/2020 12:00:00 AM)

This is the story of Judah Touro told in a way that will help educate children about who he was and some great things he did in the world when he was alive. He was a quiet and private man that became a businessman but found a greater calling for his life. He believed in helping people in need. Even though he wanted his great deeds to be private, some of them became known because of how large his gifts were. He didn't want to become famous but he did. I love that he reached out to help both Jewish people and the nations and that he bought a church and gave it to a congregation so that they would have a place to pray. To me, he sounds like a great example of a bridge between Judaism and Christianity, the way he showed love to both kinds of people. One day I hope to visit the Touro Synagogue his brother donated money for that is a national historic site and the church Judah bought that he donated as well if it's still out there. This is not only a Jewish History story that would be interesting to help educate children about but an American History story, also. -- Jill Harris

-- "Blog" (3/6/2020 12:00:00 AM)

The thoughts and feelings of Judah Touro (1775-1854), whose philanthropy was documented only by recipients, are here imagined by the author, showing how Touro followed the Judaic principle that giving charity anonymously and in order to create independence are the highest forms of Tzedakah. The residents of New Orleans in the early 1800s are shown with a variety of skintones; one image depicts Touro with a group of black men--the text explains that he had purchased their freedom, lent them money to start a business, and helped them learn a trade. Notably, while aboard the ship from Boston to New Orleans, where Touro is described as trusting God and practicing Judaism, the thieves who steal all his money are depicted similarly to his own religious friends, as stereotypically Jewish; long noses and side curls, reinforcing that good and evil people exist in all cultures. Parents and teachers will be pleased to read a true story about a person who devoted his life and fortune to addressing observable problems (poverty, slavery, inequality, access to health care, for example), while children may be more focused on his near-death experience in the War of 1812. The brief text omits details about Touro's life that could be fascinating and interesting to readers, such as the fact that recipients of his generosity included mainly segregated religious institutions. Mildenberger's warm illustrations seem to be created with watercolor and colored charcoal pencil, accurately representing the fashions, architecture, and social life at the turn of the century in appealing blues, browns, and grays. While clearly aimed for character education in Jewish schools, this short book also provides a benevolent view of Jewish individuals in the South before the Civil War. -- Erica Siskind, Oakland PL, BayViews

-- "Journal" (3/1/2020 12:00:00 AM)

Though fictionalized, Judah Touro's life as an early nineteenth-century American Jewish merchant, war hero, and philanthropist is accessibly relayed here. Although related to the founders of the famous Touro synagogue in New England, Judah spent his adult life in New Orleans, building his business, serving in the War of 1812, and giving to charitable causes both local and throughout the new United States. The book fills a unique niche in American Jewish history for young people. It highlights a real example of personal generosity but also illuminates Jewish life outside of New York and other major cities in an era before large-scale immigration from Eastern Europe. The muted illustrations evoke the period and Judah's humble demeanor well. As the book suggests, Judah was never himself famous; much of his giving was done anonymously, and his motives remain mysterious. In the story, he is often described as thinking about God's plans for him, so this book would be best for a setting where religious ideas are appropriate. -- Miriam Aronin

-- "Website" (2/27/2020 12:00:00 AM)

The successful business life and subsequent philanthropy of one of early America's wealthiest and most pious Jews are recounted in a picture-book biography. Raised by his uncle, Isaac Hays, a founder of Boston's first bank, Judah learned much about shipping, real estate, and trade before setting off on his own at the dawn of the 19th century. A quiet, private man, Judah made his fortune in New Orleans trading New England products. After being wounded during the War of 1812, Judah began to concentrate on putting his wealth toward charitable causes. Simply drawn illustrations in muted brown, gray, and blue hues have both a childlike feel and the look of crayons or colored pencil in combination with watercolor; this results in a humble view not often seen in representations of New Orleans and appropriately reflects the story's themes. The easy-flowing narrative tells how this son of a rabbi in a Sephardic immigrant family adhered to the Jewish tradition of giving inconspicuously, to causes both local and all over the world, hoping to avoid recognition for his good deeds. Some of these were paying for the freedom of enslaved African Americans, a few of whom are included in one illustration alongside the pale-skinned Judah. The author's notes provide some added information about the benefactor's family and his legacy. A candid introduction to a little-known figure in Jewish American history. -- Kirkus Reviews

-- "Journal" (12/13/2019 12:00:00 AM)

Judah Touro Didn't Want to be Famous, written by Audrey Ades and illustrated by Vivien Mildenberger, is a story about Judah Touro, a real-life, Jewish businessman who lived during the 18th and 19th centuries. Over the course of his life, Touro, who became successful after moving to New Orleans, made many anonymous donations to help others. His story is one of unfettered generosity, and Ades' text and Mildenberger's illustrations capture his persona and desire to help his fellow man. -- Adam Samuel, Journalist, Jewish Link NJ, Teaneck, NJ

-- "Blog" (3/19/2020 12:00:00 AM)