For thirty years, Rabbi Yosef Goldstein shared ethical and moral Hasidic tales aloud with youngsters in the Orthodox Chabad community; since 2014 his son has been transcribing and publishing them. Salted with Yiddish, most of the stories take place in Eastern Europe a century ago, where individuals endured difficult situations through belief in Hashem and trust in God’s protection.
Readers with a background in Orthodox Judaism are more likely to appreciate these old-fashioned teaching tales, which end with brief moral statements, and may frighten younger children. Humor does occasionally appear, as in the story of a poor woodcutter who asks the robber who holds him up for his tzedakah money to shoot holes in his clothing, so people will believe his story. Other tales are skimpy on plot and depend on reverence for known rabbis.
Rabbi Goldstein’s best storytelling in this volume, however, is on display in his tales about returns to Judaism: Children who have been lost and raised as Christians, plus one who loses his own way in bad company, rediscover their roots as adults.
Sharon Elswit, author of The Jewish Story Finder, now resides in San Francisco, where she has been helping students visiting 826 Valencia locations around the city to write stories and poems and getting adults up and retelling Jewish folktales to share with their own spin.