Théodore Rousseau, A Vil­lage in a Val­ley, late 1820s

The Met­ro­pol­i­tan Muse­um of Art The Fried­sam Col­lec­tion, Bequest of Michael Fried­sam, 1931

I didn’t mean to fall in love with a fic­tion­al place. It was a Wednes­day morn­ing in Jan­u­ary 1992, and I was the edi­tor of Rhode Island’s last for-prof­it week­ly Jew­ish news­pa­per. A reporter blew a dead­line, so we had a hole in the paper. Thir­ty years ago it wasn’t so easy to steal from the Inter­net, so I sat down and wrote my first sto­ry in what would become Izzy Abrahmson’s The Vil­lage Life Series.”

The words came quick­ly. A trav­el­ing can­tor comes to the vil­lage (because the place is so small, they can’t afford a full time singer), but he los­es his voice. All the vil­lagers search to no avail. Final­ly, as the Shab­bat Shi­ra ser­vice begins, a bird starts singing out­side the win­dow, and all is right in the world.

Jew­ish news­pa­pers are multi­gen­er­a­tional, which meant that the sto­ry had to amuse chil­dren, adults, and curi­ous teens. A few weeks lat­er, while work­ing on the newspaper’s Bar and Bat Mitz­vah sup­ple­ment, I wrote anoth­er Vil­lage sto­ry. And then one for Passover.

When I left the paper, the sto­ries kept coming:

On the edge of the Black For­est, some­where between Rus­sia and Poland (and occa­sion­al­ly Ger­many) there was a small Jew­ish vil­lage with more chick­ens than people.

But from the begin­ning, the peo­ple of the vil­lage were the stars. Although the speech­less can­tor nev­er reap­peared, Reb Stein the Bak­er, Reb Gold the Cob­bler, and Reb Can­tor the Mer­chant became reg­u­lars. (Reb is the Yid­dish hon­orif­ic for Mr.)

Rab­bi Kib­b­itz was the village’s offi­cial leader, but Mrs. Chaip­ul— the cater­er who ran the only Jew­ish restau­rant in town— held as much sway, if not more.

Some of the vil­lage life sto­ries are about fes­ti­vals and life rit­u­als, oth­ers told about ordi­nary days that became extraordinary.

While the vil­lage, like many shetls, was overt­ly a patri­archy, the women reg­u­lar­ly met in secret to set the agen­da, and every­one knew that young Rachel Cohen was as smart as Rab­bi Kib­b­itz… if not smarter.

Twen­ty years ago, there were many Jew­ish news­pa­pers across the Unit­ed States and around the world, and they paid mon­ey for arti­cles. Soon the sto­ries were appear­ing in New York, Los Ange­les, Toron­to, and Houston.

When I real­ized that one paper, The Hous­ton Jew­ish Her­ald Voice, was buy­ing every sto­ry I wrote, I pitched Vic­ki Samuels — their edi­tor— with the idea of writ­ing a seri­al­ized nov­el in the tra­di­tion of Dick­ens and Sholom Aleichem.

She said yes, but I don’t think she real­ized that it was going to run for 100 week­ly installments.

With a few words and ges­tures the audi­ence van­ish­es, the sto­ry­teller van­ish­es, and all that is left is the tale — float­ing in the shared space of the room.

Seri­al­iza­tion is a seri­ous busi­ness. You have to hook your read­er with the first sen­tence and first para­graph of every episode. Then, at the end of that episode you have to either resolve some­thing or leave them with a cliffhang­er so they always want more.

Every Mon­day morn­ing I’d take my lap­top (with a spiffy built-in track­ball!) to a near­by cof­fee shop and draft the install­ment. The next day I’d read it aloud and begin edit­ing. Sev­en weeks lat­er it appeared in the paper, which gave me time to tweak and cor­rect mistakes.

The Vil­lage Twins, which is being reis­sued in Jan­u­ary 2022, is the sto­ry of Abra­ham and Adam. These boys are so iden­ti­cal that their par­ents, teach­ers, and their wives can’t tell them apart. But because it’s a sto­ry about vil­lage life, it is also about their friends, their sis­ter, and even the rob­bers who even­tu­al­ly threat­en the entire community.

I’ve found that these sto­ries mir­ror real life . Motives are often sim­ple. Adam falls in love with Riv­ka, but she hates him, and so he swaps names with Abra­ham. It’s the deci­sion of a moment, but it has con­se­quences that last for years. For his part, Abra­ham is in love with a Roma princess, so he doesn’t mind the trade. Boris Krabot, the rob­ber, is a beast of a man, but when you learn his back­sto­ry you begin to under­stand the com­pas­sion that the vil­lagers even­tu­al­ly show.

Because of the vil­lage I also became a pro­fes­sion­al sto­ry­teller. An acquain­tance invit­ed me to a sto­ry swap that met on Tues­day nights. At first I read excerpts from the ser­i­al, but after a while these pro­fes­sion­al sto­ry­tellers sug­gest­ed, Why don’t you try telling a sto­ry.” Feh. I didn’t know the dif­fer­ence between read­ing from a text and set­ting aside the papers.

If you’ve nev­er par­tic­i­pat­ed in a live sto­ry­telling, I rec­om­mend it — it can be mag­i­cal. With a few words and ges­tures the audi­ence van­ish­es, the sto­ry­teller van­ish­es, and all that is left is the tale— float­ing in the shared space of the room. I spent the next twen­ty years cross­ing the coun­try (and the Atlantic) telling sto­ries of the vil­lage (and many oth­ers ) to lis­ten­ers of all ages and backgrounds.

How remark­able a priv­i­lege to share the same sto­ry of Why the Bride and Groom are On the Wed­ding Cake” (first pub­lished in Hadas­sah) with Reform, Ortho­dox, Con­ser­v­a­tive, Recon­struc­tion­ist, Chabad, Unaf­fil­i­at­ed, Sec­u­lar, Catholic and Protes­tant lis­ten­ers. These audi­ences weren’t always in the same room, but some­times the Yid­dish Book Cen­ter gets a pret­ty good cross section.

When I’d col­lect­ed enough Chanukah sto­ries, we pub­lished them as Win­ter Bless­ings, which was a final­ist for the Nation­al Jew­ish Book Award for fam­i­ly lit­er­a­ture. It took ten years for The Vil­lage Twinsto find its first pub­lish­er, but they didn’t like the romance between Abra­ham and Rosa, so that edi­tion was abridged. The forth­com­ing ver­sion has been ful­ly restored and revised.

Along the way, I real­ized that Rab­bi Kib­b­itz and Mrs. Chaip­ul had got­ten mar­ried, but she’d kept her own name. As I began to com­pile the sto­ries of their rela­tion­ship, I dis­cov­ered the moment she assert­ed her iden­ti­ty as I wrote the sto­ry, What’s in a Name?” You can find that tale in A Vil­lage Romance, a book that is lit­er­al­ly short and sweet.

For me, writ­ing Jew­ish fic­tion is easy. Sell­ing Jew­ish fic­tion is hard. Some peo­ple think it’s too Jew­ish, and oth­ers think it’s not Jew­ish enough . Some peo­ple think the sto­ries are child­ish, while oth­ers think they’re too com­plex for children.

Still, I per­sist­ed , and, when the pan­dem­ic broke my live per­for­mance tour cal­en­dar, my pub­lish­er and I began to dig and re-edit, record, and reis­sue all of my many tales. There will be four vol­umes out by Feb­ru­ary of 2022, with a fifth already writ­ten and planned for fall of 2022. And a pod­cast too, called Izzy Abrahmson’s Vil­lage Life. My pseu­do­nym, Izzy Abrahm­son is based on my Hebrew name Isaac, and my father’s Hebrew name of Abraham.

Right now I have one request. Take a moment and read, or lis­ten, to one of the sto­ries. Share it with your friends and fam­i­ly— or even your ene­mies! Come back, and read some more.

Vis­it­ing The Vil­lage is like going on a brief vaca­tion to a place that nev­er exist­ed, but should have. You don’t need a pass­port, a reser­va­tion, or a health test to vis­it. And for the price of a few dol­lars (or euros), you can return again and again.

I hope to meet you there.

Izzy Abrahm­son is a pro­fes­sion­al sto­ry­teller, and the award-win­ning author of The Vil­lage Life series of books. He has toured the world delight­ing read­ers and lis­ten­ers of all ages with his sto­ries inter­spersed with his unique klezmer har­mon­i­ca sounds.