Hello from warm, wet, cold, dry, hot and lovely Providence.
The weather is changing, and so is the newsletter (a bit)…
While we liked calling it “The Fabulist”, Mike Daisy’s recent encounter with the difference between fiction and fact seems to have blackened the eye of that name. Also, it was confusing. So now the newsletter is prosaically called, “storyamonth.”
April Subscriber Specials
If you subscribe to the Storyamonth newsletter, not only will you get a story, you’ll get nifty specials. This month’s special is a bonus free CD…
A few weeks ago, I was getting ready for a program called, “Stories of Kindness and Peacefulness” at the Centredale School in North Providence.
While I was warming up, I decided to check my book, “Matzah Mishugas” and see if one of those stories would fit. I soon found myself smiling and laughing over the misadventures of the characters — which was a good thing since I wrote the book!
If you’ve never read any of my Chelm stories, the one in this issue (which isn’t in any book) is a good starter — as the commercial says, “You don’t have to be Jewish to enjoy…”
This month, in honor of Passover, the first 20 customers who order “Matzah Mishugas” or “The Complete Chelm Series will receive a complimentary copy of the CD “The Brothers Schlemiel from Birth to Bar Mitzvah”
And for a limited time, the ebook is half price.
I’m even willing to offer a promise — if you don’t enjoy it, I’ll buy it back from you.
About this month’s story…
Chunky Matzah is a bonus story that would have been included in my collection “Matzah Mishugas” — if it had been written a few years ago…
Every year, I try to think of something new having to do with Passover. This year, I began to wonder about the shape of Matzah, and what would happen if Matzah was thicker rather than thinner. Would matzah that gets thicker “rise”? Would it even be kosher? As I was writing, even I didn’t know how it was going to turn out.
a Passover tale of Chelm
by Mark Binder
Reb Stein, the baker of Chelm, stared at the thing in his oven. It looked like a slightly scorched white square block. He slid his metal paddle under it, and put it on the cooling rack next to some of the other scorched white square blocks. He sighed. It was time to ask the rabbi.
He pulled on his overshoes and coat and stepped out into the raging snowstorm. As he pushed his way through the gale, feeling the cold sting of flakes on his face, he went over in his mind what he was going to say.
By the time he arrived at the synagogue, his teeth were chattering and he was muttering to himself. Reb Levitsky, the caretaker, led him to the stove in the rabbi’s study to thaw his fingers and toes.
“Reb Stein,” Rabbi Kibbitz began, but he didn’t get further than that.
“I didn’t do it!” Reb Stein shouted. “It’s not my fault!” Melting ice was dripping from the brim of his hat onto the Rabbi’s stove, where it hissed and evaporated. The air was becoming thick.
“So? Nu?” the rabbi asked. “What?”
Reb Stein sighed. “The matzah. It’s rising.”
“What do you mean it’s rising?” Rabbi Kibbitz’s face grew puzzled. “If it’s rising, it’s not matzah. Matzah is supposed to commemorate…”
“I KNOW!” screamed Reb Cantor. “But every single matzah I’ve baked this year isn’t flat, it’s a chunk!”
“So, what are you doing wrong?” Rabbi Kibbitz asked, innocently.
Reb Stein spun around and faced the rabbi, a look of madness in his eyes. He opened his mouth, bared his teeth, took in a breath, and then started to sob. “I don’t know! I’ve been baking matzah my whole life. It’s not that difficult. Flour and water. You mix it up, you roll it flat, you hurry and put it into an incredibly hot oven, you watch to make sure it doesn’t rise, and then poof. You’re done.
“Not this year. Every single matzah is coming out cubed!”
At last, Rabbi Kibbitz spoke. “Show me.”
They bundled themselves warm, and pushed the synagogue’s door open. Reb Kimmelman was busy shoveling the path, but they made their way past him and trudged the short distance to the bakery.
Rather than taking Rabbi Kibbitz inside, where the ovens kept everything warm, Reb Stein led him around back. He slid a bolt, kicked more snow out of the way, and yanked open a large door.
At first Rabbi Kibbitz could see very little inside. The snow had been very bright, and the few windows in the building were high up and concealed behind stacks and stacks of boxes.
“Here!” Reb Stein picked up one of the boxes and handed it to the Chief Rabbi.
Rabbi Kibbitz peered. This thing, if you looked at it directly from the top, the sides, or the bottom, it looked just like matzah. It was that magical combination of smooth and bumpy and white and dark that promised eight days of crunch and crumbs. Except matzah was supposed to be thin. This was thick, very very very thick.
Rabbi Kibbitz searched for something nice to say. “It’s very light.”
“Of course it’s light,” Reb Stein said. “A piece of matzah doesn’t weigh anything. The first one that came out of the oven, I thought maybe was hollow, so I dropped it on the ground. It didn’t break. A few crumbs come off. I hit it with a hammer. It still didn’t break. I had to use a saw to get a piece big enough to taste.”
“What’s it taste like?”
“It tastes like matzah,” Reb Stein grumped. “It would be good with butter or chopped liver, except for the fact that it’s so wide you can’t put it in your mouth!”
Reb Stein’s voice kept rising. “I start baking the matzah right after Passover. It keeps for a year. If I have too much, I can sell some of it and make a little extra money. Every week I make a batch. Every week it’s the same thing. I tried different flour. I tried different temperatures.
“I tried watching. You know what happened? The matzah was flat, it was flat, it was flat, and then I blinked and poof! It’s a square. This happened over and over and over and over again! I filled the whole warehouse. Passover is next week! What are we going to do?”
Just then Reb Kimmelman burst into the room.
“Rabbi Kibbitz! The ceiling on the synagogue! It’s buckling under the weight of the snow.”
Right behind him was Mrs. Chaipul. “Husband,” she said. “The roof of my restaurant is beginning to collapse from the snow.”
Reb Cantor huffed in after her. “My shop,” he panted. “The snow. Too heavy.”
They all stared at the rabbi. “What do we do?”
“Here,” the rabbi said, handing Reb Kimmelman the chunk. He quickly took two more and gave them to his wife and the merchant. “Take these. Make columns. Use them to prop up the roofs.”
“What is it?” Mrs. Chaipul asked.
“It’s matzah,” Reb Stein said.
“Matzah?” All three visitors spoke as one. “Matzah is supposed to be flat.”
“We know!” shouted Reb Stein and Rabbi Kibbitz. “Now go!”
Soon, a matzah chunk brigade was formed from the bakery warehouse to every home and building in the village of Chelm.
The chunks were light and strong and they stacked well. Although the roofs sagged, they did not fall.
For the week before Passover, everyone in Chelm tiptoed around their matzah columns, careful not to disturb the architectural support.
Reb Stein was miserable. The roads were covered with snow. No supplies could possibly get through. Every time he looked at the tower of matzah holding up the roof of his bakery, he moaned, “It’s not my fault!”
Then, on the morning before Passover, the villagers of Chelm awoke to warm sunlight, the sound of snow melting, and piles of neatly stacked, wafer-thin pieces of matzah in their homes, barns and places of business.
One after another they came to Reb Stein and thanked him for saving their property, and so conveniently delivering the matzah.
“All that pressure must have compressed it,” Reb Stein said to Rabbi Kibbitz. “But is it Kosher for Passover?”
The rabbi looked thoughtful. “Did you see it rise?”
“No. I watched carefully.”
“And it’s flat now?”
“Flattened.” Reb Stein nodded. “All of it.” He took a bite of one piece. “Crunchy, dry and bland too.”
Rabbi Kibbitz took a bite and chewed thoughtfully. “It’s perfect. ”
And then, grinning ear to ear, both friends began to laugh while the crumbs of matzah flew around the room and danced in the air before settling to the floor of the bakery like a thin layer of snow.
BIO: Mark Binder is the author of The Mega Matzah, eight Passover tales. His collection, “A Hanukkah Present” was the finalist for the National Jewish Book Award for Family Literature and “The Brothers Schlemiel” a novel of Chelm. All of these books are available in softcover and electronic editions through Amazon.com and for Android, Nook and iPad.
Information about Booking Events for you or your organization. (Your referrals are the best!)
Mark Binder tours New England, the United States and the world giving presentations and leading workshops. As an author who really knows how to tell a story, he is both educational and entertaining for audiences of all ages — from Preschool through High School, Family, Adult and Senior. He has presented in schools, libraries, churches, synagogues, theaters, community centers, at festivals and in parking lots.
Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call (401) 272-8707 to discuss possible dates.
For more information: http://storyamonth.com/booking/
Have an excellent day!