The White Russian-born Reisen (1876-1953), who spent the last 40 or so years of his life in N.Y.C., was a standby of the American Yiddish papers for his sketches of shtetl life. A few vignettes (of the 27 pieces here, almost none can be called quite stories) concern the immigrant experience (eating a banana and tomato for the first time, trying to fit the matchmaking system to the New World), but the best are planted firmly in Russia--in the little Jewish villages of the Pale--where whose matzoh got baked first was an unshakable social indicator, where wretched freelance tutors starved and begged and cajoled, where poor men became robed in instantly available dignity once they entered the synagogue. Of this first collection in English, though, the title piece is perhaps the finest. A travelling preacher comes to a town to try his luck in front of a notoriously finicky synagogue, where every congregant is a critic and no one can possibly please. As the visitor begins, he grows clumsy, tongue-tied, unsure--and the shambles that is his sermon comes over in the end as truly holy. This piece could have been one of Reb Nachman's Hasidic tales, so deft and surprising is it--and it gives a strong flavor of the timelessness and security of the shtetl life now forever gone except in its faithful representations.