Small Worlds takes place in 1903 and introduces the wondrous rebbe of Krimsk, a small Hasidic settlement in Eastern Europe.
The Russians called it Krimsk; the Poles called it Kromsk, but it was mainly the Jews who lived there. They called it whatever their hosts preferred. Krimsk-so it was called in 1903-had hills and valleys, forests not far from town, pastures and Welds close by . . .
In the little town of Krimsk the Jews are about to celebrate Tisha BAv, the day of mourning marking the destruction of the holy Temple in Jerusalem. The teacher has instructed the young pupils in his primary class. And the Krimskers beloved rebbe, who has secluded himself in his study for the past five years, has suddenly, mysteriously emerged on the eve of the holiday. But the joy of his congregants at seeing him is to be shortlived. For this Tisha BAv will be a time of strange and momentous events, a time that will change their lives forever.
Across the river is the Polish town of Krimichak, where dwells the rebbes rival for power, Grannie Zara. The women of Krimsk have always secretly crossed the river to consult her, and even on this fateful night, one determined woman and one small boy from the primary class unwisely feel the need to visit her. There have been pogroms nearby, and the relationship between the people of the two towns, always uneasy, is in danger of igniting.
On this night, too, the rebbe and his wife are discussing a groom for their only daughter, who has reached the age to stand under the wedding canopy. The rebbe summons to their home the man he has chosen. In another part of town, a different young man, a stranger swept up in the revolutionary ferment stirring all of Russia, stops for a while at the Angel of Death, the empty new synagogue. It is he who will face the angry mob from Krimichak as it crosses the bridge into Krimsk-with consequences that will affect and astonish everyone.
Small Worlds is the first in a series of novels concerning the people of Krimsk and their descendants in America, Poland, Russia, and Israel. In each volume Allen Hoffman draws on his deep knowledge of Jewish religion and history to evoke the "small worlds" his characters inhabit.
Echoes of Jewish literary tradition can be heard in Small Worlds, especially the mystical realism of Isaac Bashevis Singer and the poignant humor of Sholom Aleichem, on whose tales Fiddler on the Roof is based.