THE HOLE IN A BAGEL
When I was a little Cheder-boy, my Rebbe, Bunem-Breine-Gite’s, a learned man, who was always tormenting me with Talmudical questions and with riddles, once asked me, “What becomes of the hole in a Bagel, when one has eaten the Bagel?”
This riddle, which seemed to me then very hard to solve, stuck in my head, and I puzzled over it day and night. I often bought a Bagel, took a bite out of it, and immediately replaced the bitten-out piece with my hand, so that the hole should not escape. But when I had eaten up the Bagel, the hole had somehow always disappeared, which used to annoy me very much. I went about preoccupied, thought it over at prayers and at lessons, till the Rebbe noticed that something was wrong with me.
At home, too, they remarked that I had lost my appetite, that I ate nothing but Bagel—Bagel for breakfast, Bagel for dinner, Bagel for supper, Bagel all day long. They also observed that I ate it to the accompaniment of strange gestures and contortions of both my mouth and my hands.
One day I summoned all my courage, and asked the Rebbe, in the middle of a lesson on the Pentateuch:
“Rebbe, when one has eaten a Bagel, what becomes of the hole?”
“Why, you little silly,” answered the Rebbe, “what is a hole in a Bagel? Just nothing at all! A bit of emptiness! It’s nothing with the Bagel and nothing without the Bagel!”
Many years have passed since then, and I have not yet been able to satisfy myself as to what is the object of a hole in a Bagel. I have considered whether one could not have Bagels without holes. One lives and learns. And America has taught me this: One can have Bagels without holes, for I saw them in a dairy-shop in East Broadway. I at once recited the appropriate blessing, and then I asked the shopman about these Bagels, and heard a most interesting history, which shows how difficult it is to get people to accept anything new, and what sacrifices it costs to introduce the smallest reform.
This is the story:
A baker in an Illinois city took it into his head to make straight Bagels, in the shape of candles. But this reform cost him dear, because the united owners of the bakeries in that city immediately made a set at him and boycotted him.
They argued: “Our fathers’ fathers baked Bagels with holes, the whole world eats Bagels with holes, and here comes a bold coxcomb of a fellow, upsets the order of the universe, and bakes Bagels without holes! Have you ever heard of such impertinence? It’s just revolution! And if a person like this is allowed to go on, he will make an end of everything: to-day it’s Bagels without holes, to-morrow it will be holes without Bagels! Such a thing has never been known before!”
And because of the hole in a Bagel, a storm broke out in that city that grew presently into a civil war. The “bosses” fought on, and dragged the bakers’-hands Union after them into the conflict. Now the Union contained two parties, of which one declared that a hole and a Bagel constituted together a private affair, like religion, and that everyone had a right to bake Bagels as he thought best, and according to his conscience. The other party maintained, that to sell Bagels without holes was against the constitution, to which the first party replied that the constitution should be altered, as being too ancient, and contrary to the spirit of the times. At this the second party raised a clamor, crying that the rules could not be altered, because they were Toras-Lokshen and every letter, every stroke, every dot was a law in itself! The city papers were obliged to publish daily accounts of the meetings that were held to discuss the hole in a Bagel, and the papers also took sides, and wrote fiery polemical articles on the subject. The quarrel spread through the city, until all the inhabitants were divided into two parties, the Bagel-with-a-hole party and the Bagel-without-a-hole party. Children rose against their parents, wives against their husbands, engaged couples severed their ties, families were broken up, and still the battle raged—and all on account of the hole in a Bagel!
Tashrak is the pen name of Israel Joseph Zevin; born, 1872, in Gori-Gorki, Government of Mohileff (Lithuania), White Russia; came to New York in 1889; first Yiddish sketch published in Jüdisches Tageblatt, 1893; first English story in The American Hebrew, 1906; associate editor of Jüdisches Tageblatt; writer of sketches, short stories, and biographies, in Hebrew, Yiddish, and English; contributor to Ha-Ibri, Jewish Comment, and numerous Yiddish periodicals; collected works, Geklibene Schriften, 1 vol., New York, 1910, and Tashrak’s Beste Erzählungen, 4 vols., New York, 1910.
From Project Gutenberg