Review: The Christmas Mitzvah

The Christmas Mitzvah

by Jeff Gottesfeld, illustrated by Michelle Laurentia Agatha

Creston Books

Category: Picture Books
Reviewer: Rachel J. Fremmer

The Christmas Mitzvah by Jeff Gottesfeld nearly brought me to tears. More than once. Inspired by the real-life Al Rosen of Milwaukee, this book tells the story, in simple but effective language, of how this Jewish man volunteered to take over work for those celebrating Christmas on Christmas Eve. He worked all sorts of jobs, mostly unskilled, and passed the tradition down to his children and grandchildren, as well as inspiring people around the world to substitute for others on their holy days. In a nice touch, the fictitious version of Al continues his mitzvah for exactly 36 years - twice chai (18), the Hebrew number associated with life. 
The brightly colored illustrations complement the text beautifully, showing a truly diverse city. The illustrator does not shy away from depicting the physical effort required by some of the jobs Al takes on. The text, too, acknowledges those who do these jobs, noting that they are “[a]ll the folks easy to dismiss in a world that mistakes wealth for worth” but who we depend on every day.
The Christmas Mitzvah is certainly an outstanding book that authentically portrays the Jewish experience and as such, is a contender for the Sydney Taylor Book Award.
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Reviewer Rachel J. Fremmer is a lawyer-turned-unemployed elementary-school librarian. She is a native New Yorker and lives there with her husband and two daughters, ages 16 and 13, who are rapidly outgrowing her area of book expertise. She loves baking and doing crossword puzzles.