Book Review: Adirondack Mendel’s Aufruf

— by Rabbi Goldie Milgram

Adirondack Mendel’s Aufruf: Welcome to Chelm’s Pond is a delightful and successful new interpretation of the genre of Chelm stories, with an original tale by author Sandor Schuman.

Theological inquiry and Jewish learning are traditionally embedded like subtle gems in the Chelm genre, and Schuman has not missed a beat on this score either. The illustrations, by Kevin Kuhne, are so clever and lively that one can also get drawn into the story through them. The pacing and parsing of the narrative has the tone of a great storyteller. Good fun and solid musing, all in one.

More after the jump.
Some of you may be thinking, “Chelm?” While today a town of almost 70,000 residents in Eastern Poland, for Jews Chelm is the name of a legendary village of inept, inside-out, hilarious illiterate Jews, whose behaviors and Yiddishisms have kept our people in stitches through many hard times. Beyond Mendel, “the renowned adventurer, woodsman, mountain man, and Adirondack guide who always tells the truth, even if he has to lie to do it,” the main characters in the book include Aufruf, the Yiddish-speaking dog, the Jewish quote maven Rabbi Chayyim Shammayim, “the oldest and wisest khokhem in all of Chelm’s Pond,” and especially, Bloomie, the dim-some shayne meydl.

Is this book for you? In this sample passage Bloomie is speaking:

“What’s your name, doggy?

Wagging his tail wildly, Aufruf replied, “Aufruf.”

“That’s a lovely name for a dog. How appropriate. Who gave you that name?”

“Colin Powell.”

“Hmmm. I don’t know him. Is he your owner?”

Nisht ahin, nisht aher. I am without an owner.”…

[Aufruf]… How can you just talk with me like it was an ordinary thing?”

“Well, it is an ordinary thing for you, isn’t it?” Bloomie replied. “And as for me, I talk to animals all of the time.”

“Yeah, but they don’t talk back.”

“Sometimes they do,” Bloomie replied, and then added, slowly for emphasis, “but you really have to listen.”

Aufruf was taken aback. Here was someone who could teach him his own lesson. Perhaps he should be more open-minded to hear other animals…”

Love, difference, gender issues, conversion to Judaism, belief in God, honesty and over 130 Hebrew and Yiddish terms are brilliantly introduced within the 103 pages of a book that can fit in a coat pocket. There are many interpretive levels to this book, making it appropriate for reading and discussion with children as well as adults. Adirondack Mendel’s Aufruf, while keeping faith with the Chelm traditions, is also moving us forward with honest inquiry on difficult topics. It is a great way to develop a useful Jewish cultural vocabulary, and as a new piece of Jewish folklore, a sheer delight. A Guide to Chelm’s Pond for Teachers and Discussion Leaders is available as a free download at http://www.chelmspond.com.

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  1. sschuman says

    I am delighted to see this review. As a  storyteller, I wanted to tie together various Jewish jokes and stories into a larger setting and decided to set them in Chelm, the traditional Jewish Eastern-European setting for stories of fools and their mistaken reasoning. I wanted to move the fools of Chelm to America, and in particular to my home state of New York, so I searched for a “Chelm” in New York using Google Maps and Mapquest. No luck. I tried an Anglicized spelling, “Helm,” and found Helm’s Pond in New York State’s Adirondack Mountains. I moved the Jews of Chelm to Chelm’s Pond and incorporated my long-term love of Adirondack tall tales into the stories. I tried to create a climactic tall tale that would reveal the greatest of our wishes and yet remain true to the Chelm and tall-tale genres. Let me know if I succeeded.

    ~ Sandor Schuman

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