Before you read on, I have a confession to make: this book was illustrated by Gadi Pollack, and I am completely and utterly addicted to his work. Gadi Pollack could illustrate a tyre-changing manual, and I would still spend top-dollar to buy and repeatedly drool over his artwork.
So with that confession out the way, let’s get on to the review of the his latest book in collaboration with Rabbi Baruch Chait, called: Don’t let small problems ruin great simchas.
This book, like the ‘Bad Middot Pirates’ series the pair put out a decade ago, is technically a children’s book, and children of all ages will definitely enjoy Gadi Pollack’s stunning pictures. But really? It’s for us grown-ups, who find it so much easier to digest the mussar and ideas presented by Rabbi Chait when paired with the artist’s stunning pictures.
I got so much out of their middot series that to this day, I still think of ‘Jealous Jake’ when I’m moaning about why my life appears to be so much harder than the next guy’s, or ‘Worried Willy’ when I’m having another fit about letting my kids out of the house to go visit their friends. (In my defense, most of their friends live in the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City, and they usually need to order a couple of armed guards to escort them…)
But the point is, that every time I came back to the books to pore over the pictures, some more of the religious content and ethical outlook got stuck to my psyche, too. And I think the same is true of this latest offering, which takes the reader through a number of major Jewish life milestones, and dispenses wise advice on how the baal simcha should best deal with a number of potential challenges, ranging from boisterous children, to impatient guests and speeches that seem to drag on forever.
Sweet presentation, strong messages
The presentation is so ‘sweet’ that it’s easy to forget how strong some of the messages actually are. For example, the pages about the Upsherin, the traditional celebration when a three year old Jewish boy gets his first haircut, are beautifully illustrated by a sad-faced beautiful Jewish boy.
The adults around him are dangling food, toys and cameras in his face in an effort to distract him and ‘cheer him up’ while he’s having the haircut, but the real message comes across loud and clear from the picture, even though it’s touched on with a very light hand in the actual text: Put your kids first, and don’t forget that the centre of attention is actually a scared, confused little boy that would probably prefer the whole thing to be over and done with and quickly and quietly as possible!
In theory, I bought the book for my kids (now 12 and 14…). In practice, while they both spent a few minutes happily eyeballing the pictures, it was me that ended up reading it on Shabbat, and enjoying it immensely.
Like other Gadi Pollack books, this tome is an investment – but it’s well-worth the money. I got a lot of food-for-thought from my first reading, and I know that when my next simcha comes around the corner, be it an anniversary, wedding (or who knows, maybe even a brit or baby naming), I’ll have another excuse to dig it out, ogle the artwork, and get another dose of Rabbi Chait’s beautiful clarity on what we Jews are actually really meant to be celebrating.