Izzy Hag­bah

JJ Gross. Ari Binus, illus.
  • Review
By – July 9, 2012

In a small Hasidic shul in Brook­lyn, a strange man known only as Izzy comes every Shab­bos and Yom Tov to per­form the spe­cial hon­or of unrolling and lift­ing the Torah. After many years, and despite his old age and weak­ened phys­i­cal state, he demands to con­tin­ue to per­form hag­bah until one Yom Kip­pur morn­ing he col­laps­es and dies with the Torah crash­ing down onto the floor on top of him. But, a mag­i­cal, mys­te­ri­ous event occurs: Izzy’s spir­it floats above the con­gre­ga­tion along with all of the let­ters and words from the Torah, leav­ing the scroll com­plete­ly blank. 

An unnec­es­sary nar­ra­tor weighs down and inter­rupts the sto­ry. And while the nar­ra­tor admits that no one in the con­gre­ga­tion ever asked Izzy his last name, where he lived, or what he did for a liv­ing, and no one ever invit­ed him for a Shab­bos or hol­i­day meal because he was dif­fer­ent from them — he dressed differently…he spoke English…he wore a strange yarmulke and a fun­ny tallis…he just wasn’t one of us” — the insen­si­tive, prej­u­diced, and unwel­com­ing behav­ior of the con­gre­gants is left unex­plored, leav­ing the sto­ry with no real moral or mes­sage. The illus­tra­tions by Ari Binus (Hayyim’s Ghost) suc­cess­ful­ly cap­ture the set­ting, mood, and char­ac­ters of the sto­ry. How­ev­er, Jew­ish terms and rit­u­als are nev­er explained, fur­ther lim­it­ing the audi­ence of this inter­est­ing sto­ry that fails to reach its full poten­tial. Ages 4 – 6.

Rachel Kamin has been a syn­a­gogue librar­i­an and Jew­ish edu­ca­tor for over twen­ty-five years and has worked at North Sub­ur­ban Syn­a­gogue Beth El in High­land Park, IL since 2008, cur­rent­ly serv­ing as the Direc­tor of Life­long Learn­ing. A past chair of the Syd­ney Tay­lor Book Award Com­mit­tee and past edi­tor of Book Reviews for Chil­dren & Teens for the Asso­ci­a­tion of Jew­ish Libraries News & Reviews, her arti­cles and book reviews appear in numer­ous pub­li­ca­tions. She has been a mem­ber of the Amer­i­can Library Association’s Sophie Brody Book Award Com­mit­tee since 2021.

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