A novel set in a small Jewish village chronicles an unlikely romance.
This latest book from Binder (The Zombie Cat, 2017, etc.) continues his stories about the village of Chelm “on the edge of the Black Forest, in a part of the world that was sometimes Poland, sometimes Russia, briefly Austria, and maybe Germany.” The author has related the fictional goings-on in this little village in five works. This sixth installment centers on the wisest man in Chelm, Rabbi Kibbitz, and an unexpected late-in-life romance he enjoys. The book opens with a note of hyperbolic wry humor that skillfully captures the tone of the whole volume. The good rabbi is officiating at the wedding of a young couple who have succumbed to the temptation to write their own vows. As those vows drone on and on, various members of the congregation drift off to sleep. When the couple are finally done with their pledges and married, they’re frozen in place. “They both made so many vows to each other,” Rabbi Kibbitz explains, “that they can’t move for fear of breaking their promises.” One of the most surprising marriages in the village turns out to be the rabbi’s own. He weds Mrs. Chaipul, “owner and operator of Chelm’s sole kosher restaurant, the village’s chief caterer, and the best wedding planner” within four days’ ride. She insists on being called Mrs. Chaipul even after their marriage (her first husband’s last name was Klammerdinger, so she’s a bit skittish). Their union is a happy one, gently and wonderfully portrayed by Binder. The slim book’s descriptions of small-town Jewish life glow with affection, including Rabbi Kibbitz’s irritation concerning his obligation to eat his wife’s tough-as-nails matzah balls (“After five minutes your jaws began to ache, and the villagers started to wonder whether Mrs. Chaipul’s family had all died of starvation or lockjaw”). In all of these engaging tales, the jokes and human pathos are expertly balanced.
Village stories that deftly lift a curtain on a world of friendly humor and touching details of Jewish life.