Until recently, Bram Presser was known as the lead singer of YidCore, a Jewish punk band that played loud, fast versions of songs such as “If I Was a Rich Man” and “Wind Beneath My Wings,” and blew hummus out of a shofar during concerts.
Now Presser has taken up writing fiction, and his new short story “Crumbs” was just announced as the winner of the Australian Age’s National Short Story Prize. Presser’s writing is darker than his music, but no less mischievous. “Crumbs” features a dybbuk living beneath the village bridge and a rabbi’s son who secrets away newspapers from the non-Jewish town across the river, educating himself in the ways of the greater world.
Each character is introduced by his or her eventual death–Hermann, as he enters the village, is “destined one day to swing from the gallows for treason,” while Reb Shimon “would die covered in blood in the back of a cattle train.” As brief as the story is, it both glamorizes shtetl life and tells of its darkest parts, half fairytale and half deadly premonition of the Holocaust. The “crumbs” in the story’s title refer to the crumbled bread tossed into the river during the tashlikh ceremony each Rosh Hashanah: the small sins that we try to shed, but can never completely get rid of.