For two years the ring did not turn up. After thoroughly searching her home, Robbins filed an insurance claim and began to plan a European vacation with the insurance money that she would soon be getting. Then came a phone call from a man from Temple Sinai, who told her, “We have something here that may be of interest to you.”
Unable to imagine what it might be, she asked the man what it was.
“I cannot divulge that information over the telephone,” he said, “but let’s just say that it’s a matter of considerable worth.”
The strange and circuitous route by which Leslie Robbins’s diamond wedding ring left her possession, travelled from hand to hand over a distance of more than 100 km, and finally made its way back into her possession is the subject of Robbins’s contribution to the recent book, Chosen Tales: Stories Told by Jewish Storytellers, edited by Peninnah Schram (Jason Aronson, US$35).
Robbins, a master storyteller who founded Jewish Storytelling Arts (Ontario), is at the top of her form with her funny true story, How I Lost My Diamond Ring, which appears as one of nearly 70 stories in this rousing collection.
This collection shows that the art of Jewish story-telling is alive and well. The stories range from poignant reminiscences about grandparents, fairy tales about Jewish kings and princesses in imaginary kingdoms, freshly-minted and twice-told Hassidic tales, and spiritual parables in which the Torah reigns triumphant. Their common denominator is that all originated in an oral form and only later were fixed into writing.
Some entries, like Shlomo Carlbach’s The Ghetto Rebbe and His Kingdom of Children, Doug Lipman’s How I Learned to Study Torah, and Yitzhak Buxbaum’s Telling Jokes for the Sake of God, reflect the great Hassidic story-telling tradition. Other stories, meanwhile, embrace more traditional fairy-tale elements.
The Bookseller from Gehenna, by Lennie Major, is fairy-tale in a shtetl setting. In a remote Jewish village, an old bookseller appears and reads from a magical book that allows each listener to hear something different. “For some, the book spoke of the nearness of the Messiah, while others had visions of the Garden of Eden. Some found themselves inside the Holy Temple with King Solomon, others in great yeshivas of learning.”
The simple villagers eventually put the book in place of the Torah. But when they touch the yod, the pointer, to its pages, the book begins to burn with a smell of sulphur and pitch. Thereafter, the “demon book” is dispelled from their midst and the villagers, feeling chastised and remorseful, return to the right path of Torah.
Another tale, Robert E. Rubinstein’s The Day the Rabbi Stopped the Sun, tells how time stood still while a rabbi performed an important mitzvah in New York before the onset of Shabbat. Other tales are more steeped in the secular world. Hanna Bandes’s The Car That Ran from Mitzvahs is a contemporary homiletic story about how the the author’s repeatedly malfunctioning car brought home an important spiritual truth to her.
Appropriately enough, the collection includes a piece about the great Yiddish storyteller Isaac Bashevis Singer and his meeting with Menachem Begin. Excuse Me, I Heve An Appointment With the Prime Minister, is contributed by Dvorah Menashe Telushkin, author of the Singer biography Master of Dreams.
Whatever style each of these stories take, each seems to satisfy in its own way. I’ve read only about a third of them so far, but haven’t found a disappointing one yet. ♦