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Shlemiel Crooks (2005)

by Anna Olswanger

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Two crooks, following the inspiration of Pharaoh's ghost, fail to steal a precious shipment of kosher wine from Israel and lose their horse and wagon in the process.
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This adorable story, based on a true incident that happened in 1919 to the author’s great-grandparents, is told in the style of Yiddish folktales. The author’s great-grandfather, Reb Elias Olschwanger, had an establishment in St. Louis that sold kosher wine, brandy, and cognac for use on the Jewish Sabbath and on Jewish holidays. He was the only seller of kosher wines, so he and his store were important fixtures in the community.

On February 21, 1919, the St. Louis Jewish Record reported that thieves tied to steal several barrels of brandy and beer. (A photocopy of the article is included at the back of the book.). As Olswanger tells it, “the two crooks - potatoes should sprout in their ears - were stealing crates of Passover wine shipped special that year to Reb Elias on a boat from the Land of Israel.”

In the course of explaining what happened, Olswanger retells the story of Passover - also in a humorous way, “in case you haven’t been reading the book of Exodus in the Bible lately…”

The crooks - “a trolley car should grow in their stomachs” - were about to make off with the wine when they were yelled at by neighbors, and they got scared and ran off:

“How scared? I’ll tell you. They ran away like their pants were on fire and left Reb Elias’s wine sitting in the middle of the sidewalk, not to mention their horse and wagon in the street.”

We learn that Reb Elias was so grateful he placed an ad in the St. Louis Jewish Record to wit:

“Elias Olschwanger wants to thank all his friends on Fourteenth and Carr streets who stopped the no-good crooks from stealing his wine. Don’t worry, he’s still got a fine stock of full and half-bottles of Land of Israel wine and brandies for Passover. Also, now he’s delivering in a horse and wagon, you shouldn’t have to come to him, you’re so busy. Only, in case the shlemiel crooks come back for the horse and wagon, you could order now maybe? E. Olschwanger, Liquor Company, 1028 N. 14th Street.”

Colorful woodblock print illustrations by Paula Goodman Koz feature plenty of historical details.

Some of the details about Passover and references to the Talmud may need explanations for the recommended audience of four and over, but will provide an opportunity for adults to offer children an amusing take on this Bible story.

Evaluation: Readers of all ages, including adults, will appreciate the humor and the message of “divine justice” in this story. ( )
  nbmars | Mar 24, 2023 |
Told with Yiddish inflected English, sprinkled with familiar Jewish curses and words, Anna Olswanger
elaborates on the true story of the attempted robbery of her great-grandfather’s saloon in St. Louis in 1919. ( )
  STBA | Oct 9, 2007 |
Hear an interview about Shlemiel Crooks with author Anna Olswanger on The Book of Life podcast's April 2006 episode at www.jewishbooks.blogspot.com.
This review has been flagged by multiple users as abuse of the terms of service and is no longer displayed (show).
  bookoflife | Jun 25, 2007 |
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In memory of
Elias and Dora Olschwanger
In honor of Joy & Roxana--The Starr-Weg Family
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In the middle of the night on a Thursday, two crooks---onions should grow in their navels--drove their horse and wagon to the saloon of Reb Elias Olschwanger at the corner of Fourteenth and Carr Streets in St. Louis.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Two crooks, following the inspiration of Pharaoh's ghost, fail to steal a precious shipment of kosher wine from Israel and lose their horse and wagon in the process.

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