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‘Rabbi Rocketpower’ carries special lessons

Her comic children’s books carry lessons about Jewish traditions, life

By Erica Noonan
Globe Staff / December 10, 2009

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Faster than a speeding matzo ball. More powerful than chicken soup. It’s Rabbi Rocketpower, in a blue bodysuit and a tallis cape, saving missing menorahs with a single bound.

By day, the superhero is mild-mannered Rabbi Susan Abramson, a 55-year-old Bedford resident who is the state’s longest serving female rabbi.

Last month, she celebrated her 25th year at Temple Shalom Emeth in Burlington, and released the third in a six-volume series of her whimsical “Rabbi Rocketpower’’ adventures about Hanukkah humdingers, heavenly challah, and a very peculiar Passover.

The spirit of the books mirrors how Abramson and the 140-family synagogue approach the Jewish holidays and religious life in general, she said.

“We see ourselves as an extended family,’’ she said. For a small Shabbat gathering, she’ll encourage members to gather in a circle. The temple is covered with children’s art, including sketches of her alter ego, whose motto is “Oy Vay! Up, up and away!’’ Heavy on puns and juvenile humor, the Rabbi Rocketpower books are sold in local bookstores, online, and in synagogue bookshops.

Challenging stereotypes and promoting change in the Jewish community have been themes in Abramson’s life. A Newton native, she grew up attending Temple Israel in Boston, where she was influenced by the late Rabbi Roland Gittelsohn, a rights activist who led the synagogue for 40 years. He was a pioneer in establishing Reform Judaism locally.

Abramson graduated from Newton High and entered Brandeis in 1972, the year the American Jewish Reform movement ordained its first female rabbi. Gittelsohn encouraged her rabbinic dreams, she said, although her mentor had fears that she would not be able to find a synagogue willing to accept a female rabbi. She organized Brandeis’ first Reform Jewish student group with Larry Milder, now a Westborough rabbi. As a junior, Abramson was elected president of the campus Hillel chapter.

In 1984, she joined Temple Shalom Emeth, a small synagogue without a full-time rabbi. Under her leadership, the temple became active in helping Jews leave the former Soviet Union in the 1980s. One of three families from Latvia that the synagogue resettled in Burlington included a young computer programmer, Vladimir Dvorkin. He and Abramson married in 1991.

Rabbi Rocketpower was inspired in 2001 when their son Aaron, then a first-grader, was mad for “The Adventures of Captain Underpants,’’ goofy cartoon books for children by Dav Pilkey.

Over the years, she and Aaron wove more silly but faith-based adventures about a mom rabbi named Beatrice A. Mensch, a computer scientist dad, their son, and Purr the talking cat.

Female protagonists, and general light-heartedness, are rare in Jewish children’s books. Abramson and her son suffered a devastating blow in 2005 when Vladimir died of a heart attack.

“Horrible things happen in the world, but these books have no danger and no peril,’’ said Abramson. “Just misunderstandings with happy endings.’’

Erica Noonan can be reached at enoonan@globe.com

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