Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Well by Chaim Grade

This novel is a profound cacophony of Jewish life in Vilna that culminates with a visit of the famed Chafets Chaim, Israel Meir HaKohen Kagan.  The book on the surface revolves around a water well in the Jewish section of the city of Vilna (Vilnius) that needs repair but no one wants to step forward and raise the necessary funds.  The reader is introduced to a cast of descriptive characters only found in a Yiddish novel.

The translation is almost too literal and thus loses some of Yiddish's lyrical rhythm, nevertheless, as one reads this beautiful story of Jewish life and values with its trials and tribulations and challenges to the Almighty one understands the book's value as a testimony to the wisdom of Jewish tradition.

It is a book of loss and tragedy, about a couple who lost young children and about a couple who are left childless.  It is a book of Jewish politics, the Zionists vs. the Non-Zionists.  It is a book of apostasy with some who no longer believe in the miracles of the Bible but, nevertheless, need to rewrite the stories.  The climax of the book is so sad when the greatest Jew of that generation, the Chafets Chaim refuses to give the childless couple a blessing because "Nowadays,  no one knows how children will turn out!"

The Well is really a story of redemption because ultimately beyond the logic, beyond the social cacophony, the well is indeed repaired!  The person least expected to raise the funds is successful after visiting a rabbinical conference.  There is a wonderful celebration that all can draw "water with joy from the wells of redemption..."

This story will make one cry and laugh, an incredible satisfying read, a clear testimony to Chaim Grade's genius.

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