In the Month of Kislev: A Story for Hanukkah by Nina Jaffe
Illustrated by Louise August
In a Polish shtetl, a hardworking but poor peddler has no money to provide even a single potato for his family during Hanukkah. His three daughters, passing by the home of a wealthy merchant while returning from temple, stop outside his kitchen window and fill themselves with the aroma of latkes. That night, they light the menorah, play the dreidel game, and contentedly crawl into bed, their hunger satisfied. Each day they revisit the merchant’s kitchen window to smell the latkes, but on the eighth day they are apprehended. The irate merchant hauls the peddler before the rabbi, demanding payment. The rabbi asks the townspeople for their Hanukkah gelt and they drop their copper coins into his cloth bag. Shaking the bag until all can hear the jingle of the coins, he tells the merchant that the sound of the gelt is just payment for the smell of the latkes. Enjoined to return home and do good in the world, the chastised merchant mends his arrogant ways and every year thereafter invites the peddler and his family to join him for the Hanukkah celebration.
Nina Jaffe, an accomplished storyteller who has written a number of retellings of Jewish folk tales, has a penchant for riddle stories and justice tales. In the Month of Kislev was based upon a story told to her by her father, who heard it in turn from a man who learned it from his Eastern European father. It is a story that captures much of Jewish culture, not only the traditions of Hanukkah, but the intelligence and humor of rabbinical judgment and the injunction towards generosity and charity.
Louise August’s rich woodcuts incorporate a golden glowing warmth that matches the tone of Hanukkah, a holiday whose iconic candles celebrate light over darkness. The historical realism of her illustrations provides a window into Jewish life in an Eastern European village at a time when such a life still existed.