Lev’s Love: A Tale of Chelm


Lev didn’t know Love. Lev saw instances of love around him, but feel the effects of Love-never! As he grew from a small child of a Chelm household to a young man of Chelm, he had heard of Love, wanted to learn about Love, yearned for Love, but it eluded him.

Love was not part of  tradition anyway. He was supposed to marry who his parents made an arrangement with: the other parents. It was a meeting of houses, what in joining could make a match that had a benefit for the families more than the two getting wed. Love? When did love ever have anything to do with marriage?

Lev, though…ah, Lev was attracted to the idea of love like bees are to honey, kittens are to milk, and as the Rabbi says, “…gonnifs to a man with money in his pocket.”

His mother would stand in their kitchen, wringing her hands over the evening meals, wondering where she went wrong. His father walked the streets, head held low, his hands in his pockets, and he trod the streets of Chelm, wondering where HE went wrong. Every now and then both of them blamed the other for Lev’s inability to understand and respect the tradition of marriage. They wrung and trod at a similar pace. After all, they had been married for close to 30 years. Lev’s older sister, Raisa…ah, Raisa…she had no problem being married. She had three heathly boys, a mitzvah! Yes, she came crying to Mama every now and then, but it always worked out.  But, Lev? He drifted in an air of love when he should be doing his duty.

It was one year after Raisa had married that Lev’s father had enough. Grandchildren he had from Raisa (indeed, she was due with her fourth child in a month or three, depending on which moon a Chelmite judged these things on) but he wanted at least one with his family’s name stamped on it (people did not actually stamp names on children. Lev’s father thought they should).

“Lev, enough is enough!” Lev’s father cried out after dinner was over. “I will go to the matchmaker and arrange a marriage for you. I am tired of your turning your back on tradition. It was good enough for your mother and I. It is good enough for Raisa. It will be good enough for you.”

“No, Papa. I want to get married for love, and not until then.”

His father’s face filled with anger. “You will do as I say! An arranged marriage has always been tradition with the men in our family.”

“Love,” Lev said.

“Tradition!” his father shouted.





…and this continued all through the night, until dawn broke, but neither of them did.  In weakened, hoarse voices, you could hear them going, if you were up early enough to eavesdrop:




Until, too tired to have anything make too much sense, Lev said:


“That’s it. I’ve had it with this argument!” his father cried out again, pounding on the kitchen table. “Love! You will get married for love and I will not hear another word!”

They glared at each other until breakfast was set down in front of them, in silence.

“Lev,  I have decided. You must go to the Wise Sages of Chelm and find out what it is to love. You cannot stumble about.”

“Father, I have tried, but…”

“Yes, but…” his mother added. “It’s always ‘but’ with you. Where did I go wrong? Oy vey, what did we do wrong?” She sat down, her hands unmoving as tears leaked onto them from her bent over head.

“Mama!” Lev cried.

Lev’s father patted her hand while he stared at Lev. “See what you’ve done now? Go! To the sages with you, and find out what it is to love. Do not come home until you have.”

As Lev left, he closed the door as his father continued to pat his mother’s hand. She wiped her tears, got up, made them a glass of tea, sat, and they held each other’s hand in silence. They smiled.

Lev walked the streets, his head downcast, until he walked into one of the Wise Sages of Chelm. “Watch where you are going, Lev,” he said. “What is troubling you so that you did not notice me?” The Wise Man was stout and hard to miss, and it was inconceivable to him that anyone could not notice him.

Lev explained his problem (which, truth be told, was among the gossip that was already well known). “What should I do, O’ Wise One? Can you explain to me what love is, what I should be looking for?”

The Wise Man stroked his long, white beard, as all good Wise Sages wore as a sign of their wiseness, and smiled. “I am glad you came to me, Lev. What you need is a list of the virtues of what makes a good love between a man and a woman.” The Wise Man bade Lev to write this down. As a good student, Lev always had a used pencil and paper in his coat pocket. The sage proceeded to give Lev his List of Love. “Five things to look for in a woman to find love: first, good grooming; second, good teeth; third, strong sturdy legs; four, a strong back; five, wide hips, and six, a decent dowry!”

The Wise Man, stroking his beard, began to walk away, saying over his shoulder, “Lev, that list will help you find love. Use it wisely.”

Walking away, Lev studied the list the Wise Man gave him. Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on who you ask, Lev walked right into another of the Wise Sages, who was pondering, stroking his beard. “Lev, what have you there that makes you walk into someone?”

Lev explained the list, and in reciting the rules, this Wise Man laughed, and, continuing to stroke his beard, said: “Lev, this is only PART of what makes a good woman for marriage. To help you find love, you need…” and proceeded to dictate four more items to Lev’s list, bringing the total to eleven. Lev thanked the wise man for the additions, and continued on his way, studying his list even more.

A third time Lev stumbled into a Wise Sage, but this was one of the Wise Women instead. “Lev! You almost knocked me over. What is troubling you so?” So, Lev, again, described the situation and his list and his quest. Again there was a laugh and a stroking of the beard (for is that not a sign of being wise?) and she then instructed Lev to add seven more items to his list, which now brought it up to sixteen items!

“Now I will be able to find true love,” Lev gleamed. He thanked the Wise Woman and ran off to the pond, where he sat and studied the list over and over again. Then, using the other side of the paper, Lev began to write down all the names of the young ladies he knew were available in Chelm.

Going from front to back and back to front, Lev considered them all on his list, and mentally checked off each one. Where Sara had seven of the qualities on his list, that was not enough for him. Ruth, only two. Adele had eleven, but she was missing two teeth. Ona…no, not Ona. Lev sat and crossed off name after name, some coming close, but no one having all the qualities to find love. He wished he had a long white beard to stroke.

He heard his name called from behind him. Turning, Lev saw Ahava coming to join him at the pond. She and Lev had known each other since they were children. Ahava had been away for the last year, helping her grandparents out in the town over the hill.

“What are you doing, Lev? You look so serious, and so unhappy.”

Lev explained the entire story to Ahava, showing her his list and lightly wailing that no one fit the requirements that the Wise Ones bestowed upon him.”I’ll never find love, Ahava. Never.” He buried his face in his hands, leaving Ahava to study the list. Looking at him, she put it in her pocket.

“Let’s go for a walk, and talk, and catch up with each other, and maybe that will help you get your mind off your worries,” she said.

Ahava listened to Lev as they walked. She talked, and he listened to her. They talked of old times, old games they played, the times they were mischievous together, the times they shared secrets. While they talked, they laughed at the right times when it was appropriate, they finished each others sentences, and walked in quiet together too.  Now that Ahava was back, they did this daily. The daily turned weekly. The weeks turned into the next season.

Lev forgot about the list. Mysteriously, the list found its way into a fireplace one evening.  The walking together had turned to holding hands together, and one day it led to a kiss by the pond. Then, another.

Lev and Ahava married a season and a day after she came back to Chelm. A year and a day after that, they had a daughter, and they named her Ahuva…and she was beloved.


The names Lev, Ahava and Ahuva all have meaning for the story. Look them up if you are interested. (btw: going with the “How I Write” page…almost every time I name a main character, that name has a meaning that influences how I write them, or how the story moves around them. I guess I should add that into the main post).

The stories of Chelm are part of Jewish Folklore. A town of foolish people who happen to think they are the smartest of the smarts. I do storytelling programs on the stories of Chelm, in character, and the above story is one I created for telling but I never wrote down.

Until now.

I do have more stories I’ve created in Chelm. This just happens to be one of my favorites. When telling it, I add or delete as the mood in the telling strikes me. This caused the writing of this to not be as easy as I thought. I hope you like it. It means a lot to me.


35 responses »

  1. I absolutely loved the lesson here, Stu! I’m a huge planner and researcher myself, so I can totally relate to making lists and finding out what the “experts” say, but I’m learning to trust my intuition more. =)


  2. Hi Stuart –

    I think you should make your own list and go stumbling about the streets and malls of NYC. Stumble your butt 3 times then head for Central Park. Your mate awaits you there. Good story Stuart. 🙂


  3. Ahhh the list….This made me smile a lot and ponder on a lot of things. I really enjoyed this one (and of course a hopeless romantic like me would be defenseless, lol!). Perhaps it is true when they say you don’t look for love but instead, love finds you.


  4. I’ve loved storytelling since the first story my grammy ever told me of her childhood in Oklahoma…

    That was just plain wonderful! Every story has a moral, and this was lovely to read, and so true!

    ~cath xo
    @jonesbabie on Twitter


  5. I LOVE this Stuart! I wish I could hear you tell it!! This would be a great recording!! Love, tradition, love, tradition… delightful!
    The list, the wise men and wise women, the Jewish humor. The people of Chelm may not be the sharpest, but they are well LOVED!


  6. dear stuart… i haven’t been into commenting on your posts lately, but know that i’m reading them :)… what i like most about what you write is you play with words… and they always have deep meanings… plus you have a great imagination… you almost always remind me of ‘robin williams’ :P…although of course, stuart nager’s style…

    i knew what lev meant studying it from our Old Testament class… but Ahuva, wow!!!

    i love this…;)


    • Thank you Melissa. Yes, the names here were very important choices for me. I’m glad you “loved it”. Don’t worry about the commenting. The number of hits far exceed what is on the commentary. Glad you took the time to post now.


  7. Certainly glad you wrote it down! This is a real gem. It’s deceptively simple, as a folk tale should be, yet it has a strong message. Also a gentle sense of humour, and the dialogue is spot on. I love gorgeous prose and wordplay as much as the next person, and yet a seemingly spare telling can be equally beautiful if done properly. As you have done here.


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