The Brothers Schlemiel – Episode One 2

The village of Chelm






“Jacob, stop that!” Rebecca Schlemiel snapped at her husband. “We’re moving a table, not giving birth. Not yet anyway.”

“I’m practicing,” Jacob laughed. “It’s going to happen any day now.”

They both looked down at Rebecca’s bulging belly. It was huge, the size of a boulder and just as heavy.

“I can only wish,” Reecca said. She looked around the crowded kitchen and not for the first time wondered how they were going to fit another person into their lives. The house was tiny. In fact, calling it a house at all was a gracious compliment. Two rooms—a bedroom and the kitchen, plus a privy out back. “Do you think the crib is really going to fit between the table and the cupboard?”

“Relax,” Jacob said. “I measured it myself. The first knuckle of my thumb is exactly one inch long. The distance between the cupboard and the table is…” He began measuring again.

Rebecca looked at her husband, inching his thumb along the floor, shook her head, and put on a pot of water for tea. This was going to take a while.

Jacob and Rebecca Schlemiel lived in the village of Chelm, a tiny settlement of Jews known far and wide as the most concentrated collection of fools in the world. Chelm was celebrated in Yiddish jokes, shaggy dog stories, foolish songs, and the occasional ribald limerick. If someone in Moscow did something stupid, it was blamed on Chelm ancestry. A silly accident in Warsaw begged the question, “What part of Chelm did you come from?” And when a new politician promised revolutionary change, he was laughed down as “another wise man from Chelm.”

Now, the villagers of Chelm did not think of themselves as doltish, stupid, slow, or otherwise mentally impaired. They kept to themselves, rarely traveling further than Smyrna for market day. If they were aware at all of the outside world’s low opinion of them, they ignored it. Or perhaps they took it as a compliment.

After all, as the learned Rabbi Kibbitz once said, “Wisdom shmisdom. What good is knowing everything if you can’t laugh?”

All of this is a roundabout way of saying that Rebecca Schlemiel didn’t think it at all unusual for her husband to measure a four-foot space with his thumb. She saw it purely as an opportunity to rest her aching feet….

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