On the Way from Chelm

Nina Adel

About Nina Adel

An MFA graduate of Hamline University, I recently won the Bellevue Literary Review’s 2020 Buckvar Prize for Nonfiction and have been published in Door is a Jar, Moria, Sweet Tree Review, matchbook, Selcouth Station, Linden Avenue Literary Journal, The Tennessean, Sinew (forthcoming) among others, and am a Glimmer Train honorable mention recipient. I am not only a writer, but also a musician. I used to work primarily as a singer-songwriter and teaching artist and I have three studio-length recordings. I speak a few languages, have published translations, and have created 3-D art quilts for several organizations. Originally from Milwaukee, I live in the heart of Nashville alongside my children. I teach writing at a local college and am the program director and instructor for the Immigrants Write program at The Porch Writers’ Collective. Amongst the many things I love are gourds, cardamom pods, plant seedlings, homemade ice cream, music in languages I don’t know, large dogs with silly faces, shades of blue and orange, the herbs epazote and shiso, international grocery stores and, while digging through piles of dusty books, pulling out a gem.

About On the Way from Chelm

Bella, a girl from a secular Jewish family steeped in Ashkenazi cultural traditions, has taken up her grandmother’s love of storytelling. As the family prepares a holiday meal and an evening of celebration, Bella struggles with what it means to have a cultural heritage, family, and identity of her own. As she entertains friends and family with a humorous story of Chelm, the town of fools from Yiddish folklore, she falls asleep and dreams herself into the tale as first one character and then another, from rabbi’s disciples to goats to inanimate objects in the shtetl of her ancestors. Awakening back into her real life, Bella feels more secure in her identity when it’s challenged at school. The story posits time spent in community, the value of dreaming, and a visit with a cultural past closer to village life as restorative experiences, embodying the principles of Shmita, which help Bella learn who she is and where she can find the puzzle pieces of origin, self, community and family to fit into her present life in a world where identity is less prescribed and constricted and, while more open-ended, sometimes also more elusive. The meal preparation at the beginning of the piece illuminates my own practice, which also embodies Shmita, as it is rooted in the belief that people who prepare, cook and eat food together, followed by restful companionship and sharing, receive an essential, grounding connection that eases conflict in favor of love and commitment. Through the intermingling of traditional narrative, folklore, and dream sequence, I ask the audience to suspend reality for a moment of fanciful imagining; and through this imagining, to feel how culture carried within us from childhood can be reasserted in new ways, addressing new issues and circumstances to the benefit of all.