A classic European fable goes to Chelm for Passover.
A stranger arrives in Chelm, the folkloric town of noodleheads, and reminds its unwelcoming residents of the Passover custom: “All who are hungry come and eat.” The visitor insists that with only a stone and a large pot, he can make a delicious matzoh ball soup. Unimpressed yet willing to follow their own brand of logic, the townspeople bring forth water as the necessary initial ingredient. The stranger, cunning yet humble, boils the stone and produces a soup fit for himself, but for his hosts, perhaps a bit more might be needed? Salt, onions, garlic, carrots, celery and chicken are offered. However, Yenta, the wise woman, points out the lack of matzoh balls. The visitor promises that his stone can make matzoh balls “so big and heavy they’ll sit in your belly like rocks,” and, horrified, the cooks in Chelm provide their own matzoh balls, “so light they can almost fly.” The visitor’s culinary feat is now ready for the town’s communal Seder. A dark, almost gloomy palette of watercolors offers a drab late-wintry rather than budding-spring setting for its wide-eyed Eastern European peasants and their rabbinic-looking bearded visitor. Unfortunately, the looniness normally associated with Chelm is as muted as Tabatabaei’s illustrations.
The missing ingredient for this conventional retelling is the characteristic foolishness of a Chelm-centered story. (Picture book. 4-7)