GERSHON'S MONSTER by Eric A. Kimmel
Kirkus Star

GERSHON'S MONSTER

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Kimmel (Jar of Fools, p. 1287, etc.) is particularly skilled in refashioning the ritual and folklore of Judaism into widely accessible yet faith-filled retellings. Here he recounts a soul-satisfying Hasidic legend and incorporates the persona and teachings of the 18th-century Ba'al Shem Tov ("Master of the Good Name") Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer. Gershon, rude and self-absorbed "paid no attention to how he treated others and he didn't care. For he could shed his . . . thoughtless acts like a dog sheds hair." Before each Shabbat he swept his sins (personified as impish, black creatures) into his cellar. "And once a year, on Rosh Hashanah, he stuffed them into a sack and dragged them down to the sea." But Gershon and his wife were childless. Always seeking the quick fix, he blunders in to see a tzaddik, a wonder Rabbi. The Rabbi emphasizes with Gershon's wife but cautions Gershon: "Did you think you could live so thoughtlessly forever? The sea cries out because you have polluted her waters. (Y)our wife . . . will give birth to twins . . . They will be with you five years." Heedless, the ever-arrogant Gershon is convinced he can stave off the inevitable. Five years pass and his children, Sarah and Joseph, are playing on the seashore. Horribly, Gershon's sins coalesce into a huge, black sea monster that threatens their fragile lives: "On each scale was written one of Gershon's misdeeds." Horrified, he began to plead for forgiveness—for the first time in his life. God was merciful. He acknowledged Gershon's heartfelt act of t'shuvah—repentance—and the monster was transformed into a cleansing rain. And Gershon? Having returned to his better nature—he made amends, kept "his soul clean" and never saw the monster again. A deft watercolorist, Muth (Come on Rain!, 1999 ) is particularly skilled at limning personality thorough the telling gesture. The dark grays and blacks of Gershon's sins threaten the soft earth tones, lush greens, sunny yellows. The fluid, clear blues of the sea and the freshened horizon line communicate the gratitude, the exhilaration—and the freedom—of truly placing our sins behind us. Sustaining. (Folktale. 5+)

ISBN: 0-439-10839-X
Page count: 32pp
Publisher: Scholastic