‘Izzy the Jerusalem Donkey’: Helen Lakatos releases new kids book for Orthodox Easter

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Helen Lakatos is a first generation Australian-born Cypriot, proud mum of two grown boys, and a loving yiayia of three grandchildren. Despite this long list of descriptors and roles, Helen doesn’t plan on slowing down any time soon.

In fact, she’s only recently become an author as well, having released her debut children’s book Izzy the Jerusalem Donkey just in time for Orthodox Easter.

We sat down with the author to find out more about her and her latest achievement.

Helen Lakatos

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your connection to Jerusalem.

I have loved history and religion ever since I was a young girl. Both subjects fascinate me and I find great interest in the intricate connection of the two.

I was 10 years old when I first visited Jerusalem and I was totally mesmerised with the reality of actually being there. The memory of that first visit suddenly came back when I revisited 40 years later. My five senses kicked in and I remembered the sounds and in particular the distinct smell, vibe and energy of Old City Jerusalem. It’s something I can’t explain.

Since my first grown up visit back to Jerusalem, I have been involved in co-ordinating Orthodox pilgrimage groups to the Holy Land and other Orthodox-rich locations. I saw the need for English translations on the tour and before I knew it, I was hooked. I have met many wonderful people on these trips and it’s beautiful to see their reaction when they first set foot on holy ground in Jerusalem.

Helen Lakatos

You’ve just released your new children’s book for Easter. What is the book about?

My book Izzy the Jerusalem Donkey is about a young donkey named Izzy who lives in a small town near Bethany. It’s almost Passover and everyone is preparing for this very important and exciting event. This is all very new to Izzy as he also has his donkey cousins visiting with their owners.

The chain of events that unfold have Izzy bearing witness to the holiest time of the Christian calendar. Izzy is the chosen donkey for the Palm Sunday scene and we follow his character through the rollercoaster ride of emotions and experiences leading to the Crucifixion and ultimately to the joy of the Resurrection.

Izzy the Jerusalem Donkey

Why did you decide to write this children’s book?

I decided to write this story because I was inspired by the legend of the Jerusalem donkey, which is actually the Nubian donkey. This breed of donkey has a cross on its back and according to legend, the original ‘Izzy’ that stood at the foot of the Holy Cross attained the shadow of the Cross permanently and passed it on to its descendants.

The old streets of Jerusalem and the Holy Land still echo of the original ‘Izzy’ donkey as he was unknowingly being written into the New Testament to fulfill his prophesied history with Jesus. Having met many of these donkeys on my travels, I thought that they should somehow tell their side of the Easter story.

Children relate to the innocence of animals and love to hear them ‘talk’.  So, I thought that this would be a wonderful opportunity for children to learn about the most important and beautiful story of victory in the New Testament.

Do you have a favourite part of the book?

My favourite part of the book is when Izzy witnesses Jesus carrying the Holy Cross through the street to Golgotha. Izzy’s emotions plummet and his protective instinct rushes to the forefront of his thoughts, totally disregarding the reality of his inability to actually save Jesus.

I like this scene, as it has a strong message of heroic altruism and this is seen often in many situations where bystanders will rush in to help without considering their own safety. I think it’s a natural human response that we probably all possess.

Izzy the Jerusalem Donkey

Why do you encourage people to buy this book for their children for Easter?

The book is in the process of being translated to Greek.

Children will read about Izzy’s experiences with various life emotions, his resilience, loyalty and faith. They will be following Izzy through the holiest time of the Christian calendar as he is called by Jesus to fulfil his duty. Palm Sunday will have a special meaning. They will see an ‘Izzy’ in every icon and remember the story of how he got there.

The book is currently available for purchase at St Stylianos Parish and the Orthodox Café Bookshop, Gymea, Sydney.

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