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The Jar of Fools: Eight Hanukkah Stories from Chelm

by Eric A. Kimmel

Other authors: Mordicai Gerstein (Illustrator)

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1743137,222 (3.67)2
Drawing on traditional Jewish folklore, these Hanukkah stories relate the antics of the people of Chelm, thought--perhaps incorrectly--to be a town of fools.
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Prolific picture-book author and folklorist Eric A. Kimmel teams up with Caldecott Medal-winning illustrator Mordicai Gerstein in this collection of eight Hanukkah tales from the legendary village of Chelm, said in Eastern European Jewish folklore to be a settlement of wise fools. Some stories are taken from Yiddish folklore about Chelm, some taken from other folk traditions and transplanted to Chelm, and some are original. Here we have:

The Jar of Fools, which explains how Chelm came to be a town of fools, back in the days when God was creating different kind of souls, and sending his angels out to disperse them around the world. This is a retelling of a traditional Yiddish tale.

How They Play Dreidel in Chelm, which relates how the people of Chelm eventually erased the letters traditionally found on a Hanukkah dreidel. This story is original.

Sweeter Than Honey, Purer than Oil, in which Esther Goose sends her son to the market to buy chicken fat, in order to cook latkes, and he returns with a bucket of water. This is an adaptation of a folktale from another, unnamed tradition.

The Knight of the Golden Slippers, in which Motke the Fool is given some golden slippers as a reward for being the wisest man in Chelm. This too is taken from another, unnamed folk tradition.

Silent Samson, the Maccabee, in which the eponymous Samson saves the village of Chelm from an army of invading Cossacks, by having a debate involving only gestures. This is a retelling of a traditional Yiddish story.

The Magic Spoon, in which a stranger comes to Chelm, and shows the villagers how to make latkes "from nothing," using his magic spoon. This is adapted from another, unnamed folk tradition.

The Soul of a Menorah, in which a lost hayfork becomes a treasure menorah, through the unusual reasoning of the men of Chelm. This is an original story.

Wisdom for Sale, in which the people of Chelm attempt to purchase wisdom from the University of Krakow, only to learn their lesson after being repeatedly cheated by two students in that city. This is an original story.

I found The Jar of Fools: Eight Hanukkah Stories from Chelm to be an immensely engaging read, and chuckled aloud on more than one occasion, while perusing it. Many folk traditions make reference to a town or city peopled by fools - in England, there is the legend of 'The Wise Men of Gotham,' in Finland they speak of the Holmolaiset, the residents of Holmola - and Chelm (sometimes written as 'Helm') is the Eastern European Jewish example of the pattern. The stories included here were entertaining, highlighting the "wise fool" type quite well, and the artwork was colorful and engaging. I appreciated the inclusion of an afterword, explaining the origin of each story, although I would have liked it better, with the stories taken from other traditions, if those traditions had been named. The Magic Spoon is a clear adaptation of the French folktale of Stone Soup (with a somewhat different ending), but I wasn't sure about the others. Leaving that aside, this is one I would recommend to young folklore (or folk-style story) lovers, and to anyone looking for children's tales set at Hanukkah. ( )
  AbigailAdams26 | Aug 13, 2020 |
The author's note at the back explains that some of the stories are from Yiddish folktales, some from other traditions, and some are original. ( )
  raizel | Feb 12, 2020 |
Too delicious to be enjoyed only at Hanukkah, these effervescent tales show how the wisdom of fools might be the wisest kind of all! ( )
1 vote STBA | Dec 9, 2009 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Eric A. Kimmelprimary authorall editionscalculated
Gerstein, MordicaiIllustratorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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Drawing on traditional Jewish folklore, these Hanukkah stories relate the antics of the people of Chelm, thought--perhaps incorrectly--to be a town of fools.

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