There are so many short stories in Jewish culture that it's hardly surprising that a series of Sunday-night readings that began airing on KCRW-FM (89.9) shortly after the Fourth of July should still be running strong.
Just in time for the Jewish High Holy Days, beginning Sunday night.
Co-produced by KCRW and the National Yiddish Book Center of Amherst, Mass., the 13-part, 32-story series--"Jewish Short Stories From Eastern Europe and Beyond"--pairs mostly well-known theater, movie and TV actors with the works of writers such as Sholom Aleichem (whose stories formed the basis for "Fiddler on the Roof"), Nobel Prize winners Isaac Bashevis Singer and S.Y. Agnon, and contemporary authors including Philip Roth, Woody Allen and Cynthia Ozick.
The series includes stories of the present, notes Johanna Cooper, head of the Yiddish Center's West Coast office and one of the producers, "to show the legacy and thread of continuity" involving humor, pain and sensibility of language.
For KCRW, stories from ethnic cultures have become \o7 tradition\f7 . Already the station has produced two other series--"Short Stories From Modern Mexico," which debuted in November, 1991, and "Contemporary Japanese Short Stories," which aired a year ago last July.
Sarah Spitz, KCRW's publicity director, said that the Jewish series was a natural for the Santa Monica public radio station. "Our most popular show is [General Manager Ruth Seymour's] annual tribute at Hanukkah to Yiddish culture--'Philosophers, Fiddlers and Fools.' "
At 7 p.m. Sunday, listeners will get a stunning contrast, going from a Hasidic village in 19th-Century Poland to a Jewish cafeteria in 1950s Manhattan. Both stories intertwine belief and disbelief.
The first, read by playwright/actor Isaiah Sheffer, is I.L. Peretz's "If Not Higher," a frothy, magical tale about a rabbi who is so holy that he is said to ascend to heaven, if not higher. Then actor David Margulies reads "The Cafeteria," by Singer, about a woman who survived Stalin's Siberia--a story as stark and bleak as an Edward Hopper painting.
Leonard Nimoy is the series host; Joan Micklin Silver ("Hester Street," "Crossing Delancey") directed.
The following Sunday, at 6 p.m., David Paymer ("Mr. Saturday Night") delivers "The Last Kopeck," by Shimon Frug, set in a town in the Ukraine, followed by Lauren Bacall reading "A Ghetto Dog" by Isaiah Spiegel, a survivor of Auschwitz, whose story deals with a wealthy old woman and her dog who must share a room with a prostitute in the Lodz Ghetto.
The rest of the series, airing at 6 p.m., concludes Oct. 15. (This Sunday at 6, KCRW is airing "Birthday of the World" narrated by Nimoy to observe Rosh Hashanah music and traditions.)
In one of the stories this Sunday, Peretz writes: "A rabbi has plenty of business to take care of just before the Days of Awe. Jews . . . need livelihood, peace, health and good matches. . . ."
And perhaps some good stories.