Judah Maccabee Goes to the Doctor would make a perfectly lovely Hanukkah gift for, say, Day Five. It’s cute and innocuous, with warm ‘n cuddly art by Talitha Shipman and a sweet, slightly didactic story about sibling relationships and bravery by Ann D. Koffsky. I mean, it’s no Fisher-Price Shimmer and Shine Magical Light-Up Genie Palace or Power Rangers Ninja Steel Lion Fire Fortress Zord 20-inch Action Figure, but it’s not a lump of coal, you know?
Koffsky, the author of many Jewish children’s books including Kayla and Kugel’s Almost Perfect Passover and Shabbat Shalom, Hey, tells the story of Judah, who tries to be a good big brother despite his baby sister Hannah being deeply annoying. Hannah knocks over Judah’s tower of blocks, toddles after him everywhere, and fountain-spits Choco-monster-delight cereal at him. (Unsurprisingly, the last one is my favorite illustration in the book.) Shipman’s bright washes of color are full of fun little details like the kids’ exhausted-looking coffee-drinking mom’s pink bunny slippers and a gray kitten batting cereal balls off the breakfast table.
But then the story takes a turn! Judah uses the snazzy Maccabee shield he receives from Bubbe as a Hanukkah gift to protect Hannah, Captain-America-style, from hot tea and cold snow showers. When the kids have to go to for a checkup (our librarian Friend of Tablet Rachel Kamin points out that it’s the dad who shepherds the kids to the doctor’s office, and the doctor herself is a woman of color, so go Talitha Shipman), Judah brings his shield. He really doesn’t want to get a shot, but when the doctor explains that a shot is like a shield, and that Hannah is too young to receive it, Judah understands that it’s up to him to protect her from preventable sicknesses. Being brave “wasn’t only an outside, shiny-shield thing,” he realizes. “It was an on-the-inside thing, too. And that’s what he had to show Hannah.” He extends his arm for the shot, cries a bit, and is lauded as brave by both dad and the doc. Yay!
There’s an afterword with a quote from Pirkei Avot: “Who is a hero, a gibor? The one who conquers his own fears.” Then Koffsky, an editor and art director at Behrman House publishers, explains who the historical Maccabees were and how inoculations work (“The shot is like a secret weapon, telling the army in your body all the weaknesses of the enemy… the shot makes your body like a strong Maccabee, with a powerful protective shield inside”).
See? Cute! Pedestrian enough that it would have escaped my notice, had it not been for the anti-vaccine rabble who discovered it on Amazon and posted 11 one-star reviews in two days. (Thanks, patchouli-scented science-haters!) One proud Jewess hissed, “No child should feel the pressure of having to risk their own health under the delusion that it could somehow keep another child safe. I’m amazed that after the forced experimental procedures done on our people during the Holocaust, anyone would willingly inject vaccines into their baby with the knowledge we have, that vaccines contain the DNA from aborted fetuses.” Well, there you go.
Other one-star reviewers called the book “big-pharma propaganda” (I’m waiting on my check for writing this piece, btw), and “pure bullying.” One mentioned mercury and other toxins in vaccines and bribe-taking doctors. Another one-star Amazon general preferred Sarah Does Not Want to Be Vaccinated: “Sarah is really excited about the upcoming Girl Scout trip but there is a problem: she has no vaccination record and doesn’t want to be vaccinated.” Sucks to be Sarah. And in what should surely be the last word on this controversy, one suggested googling “measles and the Brady Bunch–if it were a dangerous disease they wouldn’t have been allowed to make fun of it.” Who can argue with that? (I googled. This Brady Bunch episode is a fave of anti-vaxxers; conspiracy theorists insist that the episode has been removed from circulation because it shows that measles are no big deal. Season 1, Episode 13’s “Is There a Doctor in the House?” is available on Hulu, DVD, and CBS All-Access, but ok.)
On a more somber note, you probably know that vaccine denial is a problem in many Jewish communities. A 2015 Tablet investigation into vaccination rates at Jewish Day Schools in California found some truly staggering figures; at one school, 75 percent of the students were unvaccinated. If author Ann Koffsky, an Orthodox Jew and rabbi’s daughter, cleverly reaches out to kids themselves to educate on the importance of vaccines, I can only say kol ha’kavod to her.
Marjorie Ingall is a columnist for Tablet Magazine, and author of Mamaleh Knows Best: What Jewish Mothers Do to Raise Successful, Creative, Empathetic, Independent Children.
Marjorie Ingall is a former columnist for Tablet, the author of Mamaleh Knows Best, and a frequent contributor to the New York Times Book Review.