A rich tradition of Jewish storytelling emerges from the shtetl life of pre-Holocaust eastern Europe. These stories, full of mystical happenings involving rascals as well as the holiest of sages, tell of living in the most trying of circumstances with both your identity and your faith intact.

Moishele the Water Carrier

As told by Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach
What does it mean to be in exile? That I don't know anymore how to pray because, since the Temple was destroyed, I haven't been able to daven [pray] properly. The moment a person prays on the level of the Kingdom, Malchut, with all his strength, he is free. But if he cannot concentrate, then the "Other Side" has dominion over him. When I try to pray and can't, then I know I'm in exile.

What does it mean to have a covenant with somebody? In the midst of all the darkness and stupidities that could bring one down, I can turn to that person completely. To have a covenant with God means I can be in the lowest depths, but one second I can turn my heart to God and shake off the dark tyranny of the Other Side.

Moishele the Water Carrier lived next door to Ivan the Magician. Now Ivan earned thousands. I don't mean he was an ordinary magician with smart tricks like you see on television. Ivan knew the real secrets of heaven and earth, powerful secrets from the "Other Side" and he was not adverse to using them for his own personal benefit.

One day, Moishele couldn't bear his own poverty anymore. He went to Ivan and said: "Magician, I want to become your follower."

Ivan pointed to the couch. "Sit down. I'll have to hypnotize you first."

Moishele lay down and Ivan said: "Okay, now. Forget your name."


"Forget all the names you've ever so much as heard in the world."


"Forget those you love, your wife and children."

Wiped out. Erased.

"Forget your father and mother."


"Forget there's only One God."

Moishele jumped out of his trance. "What! I can't do that!"

"Why not?"

"Because I'm a Jew!"

"So, forget you're a Jew!"

"How can I when there's only One God?"

Carlebach, Shlomo, with Susan Yael Mesinai, Shlomo's Stories. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson Inc., 1984, pp. 236-238. Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach holds a special place in the Jewish realm as both the father of modern Jewish music and a fine storyteller. Although Shlomo passed in 1994, his influence will be felt for many years to come. Click here for another Reb Carlebach link.

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