Rabbi Zoë Klein is the author of Candle, Feather, Wooden Spoon: New Jewish Stories, now available for pre-order from CCAR Press. In this excerpt from the introduction, she discusses what inspired the collection and how readers can make the book their own.
On the night before Passover, it is traditional for families to hide pieces of bread in a ritual called b’dikat chameitz (searching for leaven). Children search for crumbs with a candle and use a feather to sweep them onto a wooden spoon, all of which are then put in a paper bag. The paper bag with the items inside is burned the following morning, signifying that the home is ready for the holiday to begin.
I have always loved the candle, feather, and wooden spoon. While not on par with the royal flush of seder plate sacred symbols (shank bone, bitter herbs, charoset, parsley, and egg), in their own gentle way, they indicate that we are ready to begin this story of freedom. For me, they represent the process of storytelling. First comes the light of an idea, then the quill with which to write it down, and at last it is ready to be spooned out and shared.
I also love that all three objects are fairly mundane. Candles are common. You can find feathers amid fallen leaves and weeds. And there is probably a wooden spoon floating around everyone’s cookware. Judaism is about elevating the mundane to the sacred, helping us transform mindless action into mindful intention. Stories have the same power of transformation. The famous Jewish story of a person scattering feathers from a pillow and then fruitlessly trying to gather them all back together becomes the simple but effective tool to transmit the important value about speaking kindly and not spreading rumors.
This collection’s first part, “Candle: Stories That Shine New Light on Tradition,” explores Jewish texts and teachings from new vantage points. The second part, “Feather: Modern Stories That Take Flight,” explores identity and relationship through a modern Jewish lens. The characters in these stories may remind you of people you know or yourself. The final part, “Wooden Spoon: Stories That Stir Food for Thought,” mixes story with philosophy in an attempt to taste the transcendent.
The stories in this collection are intended to be shared, interpreted, and discussed. In the same way that musicians use their artistry and unique style to make a known melody their own, you are encouraged to adopt and adapt these stories, add your voice, and make them yours. Judaism has an extraordinary oral tradition evolving from generation to generation, with each new storyteller adding flavor, color, and texture.
You are a storyteller, with your own voice and experience to add.
At the end of each story in this collection, there are a number of questions designed to encourage self-reflection, conversation, and engagement. So take a candle (or a reading light!), a feather, and a wooden spoon and search these pages for morsels, parables, and words of Torah. And keep telling your stories.
Rabbi Zoë Klein serves Temple Isaiah in Los Angeles, California. Rabbi Klein is the author of Drawing in the Dust: A Novel (Gallery Books, 2009), The Goblins of Knottingham: A History of Challah (Apples & Honey, 2017), The Scroll of Anatiya (Wipf and Stock, 2009), and the collection of short stories Candle, Feather, Wooden Spoon (CCAR Press, 2023). Her poems and prayers are used in houses of worship around the world.