Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Q&A with Sari Kopitnikoff




Sari Kopitnikoff is the author and illustrator of the new children's book Only Kidding!: My First Book of Jewish Jokes. Her other books include My Davening Diary. She is an experiential educator, digital artist, and creator of the website ThatJewishMoment.com.


Q: What inspired you to create Only Kidding!?


A: I've always been a fan of joke books. As a kid, I would collect and memorize them. What I never saw out there was a good Jewish joke book for kids, so I set out to write one. Word play is something that comes naturally to me, and in my teaching experience, it's something that kids always have appreciated. I also think laughter and humor are key in living a healthy, happy life.


Q: How did you come up with the jokes you included in the book?


A: That was actually the fastest part for me. I made a list of Jewish concepts, holidays, and items and then challenged myself to come up with a joke for each one. What took longer was the many rounds of editing. To test the jokes, I formed a group of fellow joke-lovers, who shared their very helpful and critical feedback. And then the fun part: I got to illustrating each joke.


Q: What age group do you think would especially enjoy the book?


A: I recommend it for ages 7 - 12, but I've already heard back that a number of younger kids are enjoying it (once the jokes are read and explained to them). One woman bought it for her adult relative who loves "corny dad jokes." I tell people it's a book for kids and for kids at heart.


Q: How did you create your website, That Jewish Moment?


A: That Jewish Moment started initially as an Instagram page. In January 2014, I created an account to share my own digital drawings of the special moments in Judaism. The page grew a lot, reaching thousands across the globe, but it was just something I did for fun, and I wondered what would ever become of it.


At the beginning of the pandemic, in March of 2020, I realized parents were struggling to keep their kids occupied in meaningful ways. I posted on social media asking what would be helpful. From the choices I gave, an overwhelming majority of parents requested educational Jewish activity packets. I got to work making them and quickly built an email list of people who were looking for just that.


Meanwhile, a few months earlier, I had created a Pesach card game, a set of 100 interactive cards for the Seder. I had started to get in touch with factories overseas to help me print them, but the factories were shutting down because of the pandemic. 


I decided I could create my own website and share a version of the game for families and educators to print on their own. 


They say Rome wasn't built in a day, but I'm pretty sure my website was up and running in a day. Of course, I'm constantly updating it and adding new games and activities. But once I got past my initial resistance (What do I know about creating a website? How do I do this? Who will visit it?) the rest followed naturally.


Thank God, I get thousands of visits each year and thousands of downloads of my digital and printable products. Sometimes it's worth taking a step that feels risky and premature. Who knows if we'll ever be fully prepared?


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I tend to have a number of projects going on. I'm working on a few new books, and this year, I've been creating printable escape-the-room activities for the various Jewish holidays. I just put out a printable Chanukah whodunnit mystery game (The ChanuConundrum) and am already starting to think of Purim and Pesach ideas. I'm also starting to do joke-writing workshops for kids, associated with my new release.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: If there's a dream you have that you've been sitting on, think about what you can do today to make it happen! Often, the obstacles that we think are holding us back are really just stemming from our fears of putting ourselves out there. At least, this is what I've found in my own journey.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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