In the Mar­ket of Zakrobat

Ori Elon, Mena­hem Hal­ber­stadt (Illus­tra­tor), Shi­ra Atik (Trans­la­tor)

  • Review
By – December 21, 2021

The Tal­mu­dic sto­ry about Yosef, a poor man whose unerr­ing love for the obser­vance of Shab­bat grants his life dig­ni­ty and pur­pose, has been recre­at­ed for young chil­dren by Ori Elon and Mena­hem Hal­ber­stadt in their book In the Mar­ket of Zakro­bat. With tex­tu­al atten­tion to the details that con­vey mean­ing in a sim­ple way, and with del­i­cate­ly beau­ti­ful pic­tures, both author and illus­tra­tor con­vince their read­ers of an impor­tant truth; hold­ing on to mate­r­i­al pos­ses­sion brings their own­er noth­ing, while shar­ing enrich­es both the gen­er­ous per­son and those who ben­e­fit from his or her kind­ness. Its ancient set­ting and fairy tale qual­i­ty pair with a clear sense of rel­e­vance today, as two very dif­fer­ent char­ac­ters con­trast to make a gen­tle point about lead­ing a mean­ing­ful life.

From the begin­ning, the sto­ry has a spe­cif­ic geo­graph­ic set­ting: a town called Zakro­bat on the banks of the Euphrates Riv­er. Bal­tosar, a wealthy man who lives alone in a giant fortress,” is vir­tu­al­ly impris­oned by his wealth. Each detail calls atten­tion to his predica­ment, includ­ing the twelve chests filled with gold that he hoards to no pur­pose. So pathet­ic is his soli­tude that Hal­ber­stadt shows him seat­ed at a small table play­ing chess with a pea­cock rather than a human com­pan­ion. Chil­dren will under­stand the ridicu­lous nature of his exis­tence when Bal­tosar boasts, It’s true that I have lots and lots of gold…but that’s because I am very care­ful with my money!”

Baltosar’s oppo­site is the hum­ble Yosef, a poor cob­bler who nev­er fails to enhance the mitz­vah of Shab­bat obser­vance by bring­ing extra beau­ty into his home each week. Rather than chests full of use­less gold, Yosef looks for only mod­est items such as Fresh fruit, a tasty fish, a pret­ty flower,” know­ing that his joy in expe­ri­enc­ing the day of rest will ren­der every­thing excep­tion­al. Baltosar’s frus­tra­tion at Yosef’s hap­pi­ness takes the form of an ugly dream that Hal­ber­stadt visu­al­izes as a tor­ment­ing vision of per­son­i­fied trea­sure chests threat­en­ing the loss of his gold by sprout­ing lit­tle feet and run­ning, shoe­less, onto the slide.” Both Elon’s words and Halberstadt’s images will reach chil­dren at their own lev­el with­out patron­iz­ing them. Bal­tosar con­cocts an elab­o­rate plot to ensure that Yosef will nev­er threat­en his sta­tus as the wealth­i­est man in the com­mu­ni­ty, yet Yosef had nev­er aspired to acquire even one of the chests full of gold. Elon’s rep­e­ti­tion of the same words, as Yosef search­es the mar­ket­place for Shab­bat del­i­ca­cies, rein­forces the tale’s mes­sage about com­pet­ing val­ues. Baltosar’s relent­less fears of finan­cial decline gain him noth­ing while Yosef retains both his self-respect and the love of those around him.

Halberstadt’s char­ac­ters are com­ic and dig­ni­fied at the same time. The car­toon-like sim­plic­i­ty and exag­ger­a­tion of their faces make them rec­og­niz­able types; the wealthy miser radi­ates resent­ment, but the man of faith is able to appre­ci­ate what he has. When Yosef finds a giant gem inside his care­ful­ly cho­sen Shab­bat fish, two pic­tures define his per­son­al­i­ty. In the first, he rais­es one eye­brow in aston­ish­ment, then he embraces his young daugh­ter. At the meal where he has invit­ed every­one to enjoy his good for­tune, he rais­es his arms in their frayed sleeves and clos­es his eyes, trans­port­ed to a lev­el of hap­pi­ness that Bal­tosar will nev­er know. Elon and Halberstadt’s inter­pre­ta­tion of Yosef’s sto­ry is as sweet and reward­ing as Yosef’s Shab­bat celebration.

Emi­ly Schnei­der writes about lit­er­a­ture, fem­i­nism, and cul­ture for TabletThe For­wardThe Horn Book, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions, and writes about chil­dren’s books on her blog. She has a Ph.D. in Romance Lan­guages and Literatures.

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