Book Review: Small Choices, Big Changes by Sarah Pachter (Targum Publishers 2017), 255 pp.
Reviewed by Devorah Talia Gordon
In Small Choices, Big Changes, Sarah Pachter explores fundamental facets of Jewish life with clarity and wit. From the seemingly mundane to the more elevated parts of life, Pachter draws rich lessons that the reader can easily integrate into daily living.
The book is organized by sections, such as “Happiness,” “Success and Confidence,” “Relationships,” and “Parenting.” The chapters within each section explore the topic from various angles and are not repetitive. If you only have a short amount of reading time, this structure makes it easy to jump right into what interests you, but be warned, like a good dessert, a little bit leaves you desiring more, and it’s hard to stop at one. I suggest making yourself a good cup of coffee and getting comfortable on the couch with Small Choices, Big Changes.
Several themes run through the book, and each one Pachter explores thoroughly. I gleaned the most from “Success and Confidence” and “Parenting,” most likely because those topics are pertinent to me now; however, Pachter has great Torah-based ideas to share about each topic, including dating, happiness, and gratitude.
Apropos for Purim, one of the wonderful “small” choices (that is anything but small) appears in “Topsy-Turvy World.” Through a real example that happened with Pachter’s son, she illustrates perfectly the concept of nahafoch hu. The tangible example leads to a great takeaway about the interaction of Hashem and man, and it’s well worth reading as we enter Adar.
One effective tool Pachter uses in many of the pieces is to take an everyday example and create a metaphor for something else, particularly in Jewish life. For example, in one of my favorite chapters “Boundaries Help Us Break Free,” Sarah begins by writing, “Nearly every female I know has at some point in their lives stood before their closet…and thought, ‘I have nothing to wear.’” Pachter goes on to seamlessly transfer this mundane occurrence to the idea that boundaries (particularly in terms of Torah) allow us greater freedom. These types of mental leaps keep the reader interested and engaged, and I often found myself thinking, What a great analogy, why didn’t I think of that?
Pachter moves gracefully among a wide range of topics, from current issues like social media and electronic devices, to the more sublime, such as Divine intervention, private success, and recognizing our own faults. I appreciate her wit and the light tone – almost cheeriness – she brings to serious topics. This makes those topics easier to digest. For example, Pachter writes about parenting, “Even before they leave home, it seems that all too quickly the stage passes when their eyes light up and they race to the front door when Mom or Dad gets home. Before you have time to blink, they’re ‘too cool’ for a hug.”
Another aspect I appreciated was Pachter’s presentation of ideas that I had perhaps pondered at one time or another, but never fully grasped, which she articulated in such a clear way that they were concretized for me. For example, Pachter has a chapter on the power of writing handwritten thank you notes; how receiving such notes impacted individuals, including herself, and changed an entire company. What a great reminder of a small choice that can make a profound change. Insights like the one above, which give practical advice, are replete in the book and well-worth taking to heart.
With her upbeat, friendly voice, Pachter’s perspective is relatable. Even though from her biography and testimonials, it’s obvious that she is quite accomplished, Pachter struck me as down-to-earth and easy to get to know through her writing. Her wisdom is for both men and women, and although her lessons are chockfull of Torah-based teachings, her integration of secular writers and studies give this book a wider appeal, one that a non-religious reader would also find enjoyable. A book such as Pachter’s could be a good starting point for one interested in growing in Judaism, as her real-life stories and observations are not at all didactic.
My favorite lines in the book are the following: “Who are we when we think no one is looking? That is who we really are, and that is where our true growth can begin.” By articulating her own growth and self-awareness, Sarah Pachter inspires us to better know ourselves, make positive small choices, and become the person we were meant to be.