'Onions And Garlic' | Circle Round 1226:16

(Sabina Hahn for WBUR)
(Sabina Hahn for WBUR)

Have you ever tasted… an onion?

Even if you haven’t, you probably know it’s a pretty interesting vegetable.

It has all these layers of skin. And when you peel them off, and start cutting the onion up… its smell can fill an entire room! In fact, sometimes the smell is so strong, it can make you cry!

Today’s tale is all about spicy, flavorful onions... but we promise it won’t make you cry. If anything… you’ll laugh and laugh.

Our story this time around is called “Onions and Garlic.” It’s an old Jewish tale, and we recently had a chance to perform it, live on stage... with actors, music, and a really excited audience of children and grown-ups.

Today’s story was adapted by our executive producer, Jessica Alpert, and me, Rebecca Sheir. Our talented cast at the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline, Massachusetts included: Rachel Belleman, Angel Blaise, Jeremy Brothers, Lizzie Milanovich, Ben Atherton Zeman and Lucinda Zeman.

Eric Shimelonis composed our original music, and provided live musical accompaniment. Matt Reed was our sound-recording engineer. Thanks to Amy Macdonald, Candice Springer, and Kristen Holgerson at WBUR and a big shout-out to the Boston Jewish Film Festival for inviting us to perform!

ADULTS! Print out this picture so everyone can color while listening. We’re also keeping an album on Instagram, and we’d love to see what you color. If you’d like to share your picture on Instagram, post your artwork and tag it with #CircleRound.  We'd love to see it!

Things To Think About After Listening
What do you treasure? And I don’t mean those rubies, emeralds, silver and gold that Herschel and Yentl dreamt about. I’m talking about something — or someone — that’s especially valuable to you. It could be your favorite teddy bear… or your best friend.

Find a piece of paper, and draw a picture of your treasure. Then share it with someone you love. And if you’re up for it share it with us! We love seeing your drawings on Instagram and Facebook. Our Facebook page is

Story Transcript
NARRATOR: In the traditional language of Yiddish, the name “Haskel”… means “wisdom.”

And that was the name of a young merchant who lived in a village far, far away.

Haskel’s father, Anshel, was also a merchant. So was his older brother, Herschel. And so was his older sister, Yentl. They all made their living buying and selling the smoothest of silk, the wooliest of wool, and other fine things.

But even though Haskel means “wisdom”… his older siblings called him “Haskel the Fool.” It’s not that Haskel wasn’t smart; he was! But he was also very generous, and honest, and trusting… especially in the marketplace.

ANSHEL: Haskel, my son! How did you do at the market today?

HASKEL: Oh, Father, I sold or traded everything in my cart!

HERSCHEL: Yeah, but ask him if he made a profit, though!

ANSHEL: Alright, Herschel, I’ll ask. Haskel, tell me: did you make a profit?

HASKEL: Well, everyone I met said such nice things about my stuff... and they told me they’d love to buy or trade the whole kitten caboodle! But, somehow, none of them could afford it. They’d either spent their last dime just before they met me, or they’d been robbed! That’s what they said! So, I gave them all a discount. I mean, it was the least I could -

YENTL: Ach! There he goes again: Haskel the Fool!

HASKEL: Yentl, please! I’m so tired of that name! Just because I think about what others might –


HERSCHEL: Haskel the Fool! Haskel the Fool!

HASKEL: Herschel, stop! Dad! Make them stop!

ANSHEL: I’m sorry, my boy, but your brother and sister have a point! You’re just not a natural salesman! You try too hard to please the people you’re doing business with… and you fall too easily for their tricks. From now on, you’re not going out to the marketplace. Instead, you’ll stay here at home, and keep track of the family’s sales. Meanwhile, Herschel? Yentl? You two are free to wander the world. I’d like to see how well you do buying and selling your goods in exotic lands.

YENTL: Exotic lands?

HERSCHEL: Awesome!

YENTL: Let’s go pack our things!

HERSCHEL: Woo-hoo!

NARRATOR: As Herschel and Yentl danced out of the room, Haskel frowned.

HASKEL: It’s not fair, Father. Herschel and Yentl are going to have such wonderful adventures, while I’ll be stuck here adding up dollars and cents.

ANSHEL: My boy, what can I do? If I send you out there with something to sell, you’ll only be cheated.

NARRATOR: Haskel thought for a moment. He looked his father straight in the eye.

HASKEL: Alright, then. So send me out with something of little value. Something worth pennies! If I get cheated, then what have you got to lose? But if I come home with a profit, think how much you have to gain!

NARRATOR: Anshel couldn’t help but smile at his youngest son’s wise argument. Remember: “Haskel” does mean “wisdom,” after all.

ANSHEL: Very well, my son. You have yourself a deal. Wait right here.

NARRATOR: Anshel ran out to the shed behind the house. When he came back, he was dragging an enormous burlap sack.

ANSHEL: Alright, Haskel. We’ll get you on a merchant ship first thing tomorrow morning. Your job… is to sell… these!

NARRATOR: Anshel yanked open the top of the sack. Haskel peered inside.

HASKEL: Onions!

ANSHEL: Yes! Onions! They’re the cheapest thing I could find. Not even worth a penny apiece. Now it’s up to you to try and bring home something of value.

NARRATOR: The next day… with his sack of onions in tow… Haskel boarded a merchant ship. But even though he tried his best to sell his onions at every port…

HASKEL: Onions! Get your onions here! Cutting them will make you cry, but eating them will make you smile!

NARRATOR: …nobody wanted to buy them.

CUSTOMER 1: Onions?

CUSTOMER 2: How common!

CUSTOMER 3: We grow them in our backyard to feed our cows!

CUSTOMER 1: We grow them in our backyard to feed our rabbits!

CUSTOMER 2: One onion isn’t even worth a penny.

CUSTOMER 3: Why in the world would we ever buy them from you???!?

NARRATOR: Haskell wasn’t making a cent. And before long, he had to start eating his onions just to keep from starving. Inside the ship’s kitchen, he’d scrape together whatever meal he could, and throw in some onions to add more flavor.

Soon, he’d found hundreds of ways to use onions:


Even if his meal was meager, the onions gave it a big, bold taste.

Haskel had been at sea for many months when suddenly, a vicious storm blew in from the north, and capsized his ship! All his fellow merchants on board were flung into the icy blue waters. Haskel stayed afloat by clinging on to his sack of onions. As the storm blew past, he eventually fell asleep.

The next morning, when Haskel woke up…

HASKEL: Where… where am I?

NARRATOR: ...he found himself washed up on a beach. As Haskel staggered to his feet, he felt something sharp and pointy beneath his soggy shoes.


NARRATOR: Looking down, he saw exactly what that sharp and pointy object was.

HASKEL: A diamond!

NARRATOR: But not just one diamond:

HASKEL: Millions of diamonds!

NARRATOR: In fact, the entire beach was covered with sparkling, white diamonds! Some were tiny as a pea… others were giant as a pumpkin… and they were all shimmering and glinting in the sun.

HASKEL: Well, what do you know? I spent my last penny long ago, and I’ve eaten nothing but onions for weeks and weeks. I’ll take one of these diamonds from the beach, and see if I can trade it for some food! A nice, hot bowl of soup would definitely hit the spot right about now.

NARRATOR: Haskel slipped a diamond into his pocket and hoisted his sack of onions onto his shoulder. He walked across the beach of sharp, pointy diamonds…

HASKEL:  Ouch! Ow! Oh! Eeee!

NARRATOR: ...until he came to a road. Before long, he reached a city. He stepped inside the first restaurant he passed.

HASKEL: Hello there! I would like to order a nice, hot bowl of soup, please.

NARRATOR: The owner of the restaurant eyed Haskel suspiciously. Remember: Haskel had just survived a shipwreck! So his hair was full of seaweed and his torn clothing smelled of fish. Wouldn’t you be suspicious, too?

RESTAURANT OWNER: So, stranger, you’d like to order a nice, hot bowl of soup, eh? Tell me: how are you going to you pay for it? You look like you haven’t a penny to your name!

NARRATOR: Haskel smiled.

HASKEL: Oh, I have something much more valuable than a penny. I have… this!

NARRATOR: He reached into his pocket and proudly held up the diamond he’d found on the beach. But, to his surprise… the restaurant owner began... to laugh.

RESTAURANT OWNER: A diamond, huh? You do realize diamonds aren’t worth anything in this kingdom, right? They’re so common, we don’t even bother picking them up off the ground!

HASKEL: Oh, wow. Okay. I guess I’ll go, then.

NARRATOR: Dejected… and hungrier than ever… Haskel was about to walk out the door when the restaurant owner stopped him.

RESTAURANT OWNER: Hey there! Listen. You look like you’ve come upon some hard times. I won’t turn away a stranger who’s down on his luck. Please. Have a seat. You can eat as much soup as your belly can hold.

NARRATOR: Haskel brightened up and sat down, shoving his sack of onions underneath the table. The restaurant owner brought out a steaming pot of chicken soup and ladled some into a bowl. Haskel began slurping it down.

HASKEL: Mmm! Chicken soup! With carrots! And parsley! But… something’s… missing.

NARRATOR: Indeed, Haskel couldn’t help but notice that a certain flavor... just wasn’t there. Suddenly... he realized what it was.

HASKEL: Onions!

NARRATOR: Haskel called the restaurant owner over to his table.

HASKEL: Listen, my friend. Your soup is very fine – very fine, indeed! But don’t you think it would taste even better if you added… onions?

NARRATOR: The restaurant owner looked at Haskel as if he was speaking gibberish.

RESTAURANT OWNER: “Onions”? What, ummm… may I ask… are “onions”?

HASKEL: Wait – are you kidding?? Don’t you grow onions in your kingdom? Don’t you feed them to your cows and rabbits and add them to your soups and salads?

RESTAURANT OWNER: Why, no! Quite the contrary! I’ve never even heard of onions, let alone fed them to any animals!

NARRATOR: Haskel couldn’t believe his luck. He reached beneath the table and pulled out his burlap sack.

HASKEL: Well, my friend, it just so happens I have a whole bushel of onions right here with me. Here – taste one.

NARRATOR: Haskel pulled an onion from his sack, peeled off the skin, and sliced off a sliver. The restaurant owner popped it into her mouth.

RESTAURANT OWNER: Mmmmm! Wow! I’ve never tasted anything like this! It’s so pungent! So spicy! Tell me: what can you do with these… onions?

HASKEL: Why, just about anything!

Like… grilling them [AUDIENCE REPEATS: GRILLING THEM!], frying them [AUDIENCE REPEATS: FRYING THEM!], boiling them [AUDIENCE REPEATS: BOILING THEM!], roasting them [AUDIENCE REPEATS: ROASTING THEM!], yum! [AUDIENCE REPEATS: YUM!] They’re a very versatile vegetable, and they add such flavor!

RESTAURANT OWNER: Huh. They do, don’t they!  Listen, stranger. Wait, what’s your name again?

HASKEL: Haskel!

RESTAURANT OWNER: Haskel! Okay, Haskel, you know who would love these onions of yours? The Queen. She adores food that’s full of flavor. In fact, she’s always complaining that her food isn’t flavorful enough! You must go to the royal palace and show her this amazing vegetable.

NARRATOR: So the restaurant owner led Haskel to the royal palace. Haskel stood before the Queen and told her all about onions, and the many ways you could prepare them in your food.


QUEEN: I hear what you’re saying, young man. But there is no possible way all of this can be true! I must try these mysterious onions for myself. Go, now, to the royal kitchen, and show my chefs how to cook with onions. Tonight, we’ll have a magnificent onion feast!

NARRATOR: So Haskel went to the kitchen and spent hours showing the royal chefs the many ways they could prepare onions,


That evening, they served dish after dish to the Queen. After each one, she’d exclaim:

QUEEN: Superb!


QUEEN: Scrumptious!


QUEEN: Yummy-nummy-nummy!

NARRATOR: At the end of the meal, the Queen took Haskel by the hand.

QUEEN: Tell me, young man: how many onions do you have there in your sack?

HASKEL: Well, we used quite a few to cook tonight’s meal. But I still have a good number left, and onions are very easy to grow. I can show you how to plant them. Then you can have as many onions as you’d like!

QUEEN: Alright. I will take all the onions in your sack – every last one. What would you like... in exchange?

NARRATOR: Haskel thought for a moment.

HASKEL: Well, I don’t need much – just enough to help me get back home to my family. Maybe a couple of diamonds from your beach?

QUEEN: Just a couple? We can do better than that! I will give you one-hundred sacks of diamonds, and a ship to carry you to your native land. Do we have a deal?

HASKEL: Your Majesty, we have a deal!

NARRATOR: Haskel had never felt such happiness.

HASKEL: Finally: I’ve made a good trade. A great trade! Now my brother and sister will never call me “Haskel the Fool” again!

NARRATOR: Haskel returned home with his one-hundred sacks of diamonds just as his brother, Herschel, and his sister, Yentl, were coming back from their adventure around the world.

When they saw his treasures, they couldn’t believe their eyes. When Haskel told them how he’d gotten the diamonds, they couldn’t believe their ears. And when he cooked them a delicious dinner that night – using, yes, onions – they couldn’t believe their tastebuds!

HERSCHEL: Little brother! First of all, this meal is delicious. But tell us: is it true? You really found a kingdom where onions are worth more than diamonds? Just because they add flavor to a dish?

HASKEL: Yes, brother. It’s true.

YENTL: But, but, you’re Haskel the Fool! It’s not fair that you’re the one with all the diamonds! I wonder… if the Queen would trade all those diamonds for a few measly onions, just imagine what she’d pay for something else that adds flavor to a meal? Hmmmm. Haskel: you’re a fancy cook now. Tell us: what’s another vegetable that spices up a dish?

NARRATOR: Haskel thought for a moment.

HASKEL: Well, there’s always… garlic.


YENTL: Of course!

HERSCHEL: We’re going to bring as much garlic as we can to your kingdom, Haskel the Fool…

YENTL: .. and we’ll bring back even more diamonds from your Queen!

NARRATOR: So the next day, Herschel and Yentl went to the marketplace and bought up all the garlic they could find. They loaded it into a massive sack, and set sail for the kingdom Haskel had just visited.

After they arrived in the port, they dragged their sack of garlic to the palace. When they got there, they saw it was surrounded by farmland… with thousands of rows of a very particular crop:


NARRATOR: Herschel and Yentl entered the palace and stood before the Queen.

HERSCHEL: Your Majesty, my sister and I are merchants from a far-away land. We have heard you’re quite fond of food that has a lot of flavor.

NARRATOR: The Queen laughed.

QUEEN: “Quite fond”? “Quite fond”? I’m “quite fond” of a good party. I’m “quite fond” of a new dress. But flavor? I adore flavor! I’m crazy about flavor! The more flavor, the better! No. The more flavor... the best!

YENTL: Well then, Your Majesty, you will be pleased to hear we’ve brought something that will make your food positively burst with flavor! The most flavor you’ve ever tasted in your entire life!

QUEEN: Really...? Tell me more!

HERSCHEL: There’s no need to tell you, Your Highness.

YENTL: We’ll just show you! We’ve brought with us a delicious bounty of...

NARRATOR: Herschel and Yentl yanked open the top of their sack.


NARRATOR: The Queen was intrigued.

QUEEN: “Garlic”? Whatever in the world is garlic? I’ve never heard of it! Go, now, to the royal kitchen, and show my chefs how to cook with garlic. Tonight, we’ll have a magnificent garlic feast!

NARRATOR: Herschel and Yentl spent hours showing the royal chefs the many ways they could add garlic to soups, stews, sauces... even bread! They demonstrated how you can even roast garlic and eat it all by itself.

That evening, they served dish after dish to the Queen. After each one, she’d exclaim:

QUEEN: Brilliant!


QUEEN: Delicious!


QUEEN: Nom-nom-nom-nom!

NARRATOR: At the end of the meal, the Queen took Herschel and Yentl by the hand.

QUEEN: You two were right! Garlic is even better than onions! How much garlic do you have left? I will take it all!

HERSCHEL: Well, a little garlic goes a long way, Your Majesty...

YENTL: …so we still have nearly a sackful left!

QUEEN: Oh, goody! And what would you like in exchange?

NARRATOR: This was the question Herschel and Yentl had been waiting for.

HERSCHEL: We’ll take one-hundred sacks of diamonds from your beach, Your Highness!

YENTL: Yes. One-hundred sacks of diamonds should be just enough!

NARRATOR: The Queen rolled her eyes.

QUEEN: Diamonds? Why, diamonds are barely worth a thing! They’re so very common. Garlic is such a special delicacy; you deserve something worthy of this wonderful treat. Listen: in exchange for your garlic, I will give you the most precious treasure in my entire kingdom. My guards will load it onto your ship tonight, and stash it safely down below, in the hold. Meanwhile, come. Spend the night in my palace. Tonight, you are my honored guests!

NARRATOR: As the Queen walked away, Herschel pulled Yentl aside.

HERSCHEL: Can you believe it? The Queen’s loading our ship with something even more precious than diamonds!

YENTL: Let’s wait ‘til we get home to open it up. We don’t want to spoil the surprise!

NARRATOR: The next day, Herschel and Yentl boarded their ship and sailed back home. Their brother, Haskel, and their father, Anshel, were both there to meet them at the port.

ANSHEL: Welcome back, my children! Welcome back! So, did you find the kingdom where they’re crazy about onions?

HERSCHEL: We did, father!

ANSHEL: And was the Queen pleased to learn about your garlic?

YENTL: She was, Father.

HERSCHEL: In fact, she loved it…!

YENTL: …even more than onions! So, take that…

HERSCHEL/YENTL: Haskel the Fool!!!

HASKEL: Alright, alright. I’m happy to hear it. But did the Queen trade your garlic for diamonds?

HERSCHEL: Actually, she didn’t!

YENTL: She traded it for something even better!

HASKEL: But dear brother and sister, what could possibly be better than diamonds?

HERSCHEL: Only the most precious treasure in the kingdom!

YENTL: And we’ve waited this entire voyage to find out what it is!

NARRATOR: Herschel, Yentl, Anshel and Haskel all climbed down into the hold of the ship. There, they found a giant wooden box, sealed tightly with big iron nails. As Herschel and Yentl struggled to pry open the lid, they fantasized about what might be inside.

YENTL: I bet it’s rubies!

HERSCHEL: I bet it’s emeralds!

YENTL: What if it’s… silver?!?

HERSCHEL: Ooooh, what if it’s… gold?!?

NARRATOR: Just then, the lid came flying off the box… and a familiar smell filled the room.

Because the Queen had, indeed, given Herschel and Yentl the most precious treasure in all the kingdom.

And it wasn’t rubies... and it wasn’t emeralds.

It wasn’t silver... and it wasn’t gold.

No... it was something you can cook… and grill… and fry… and boil… and roast. Something very versatile, and it adds such flavor.

Can you guess what it was? That’s right! All together now!


Rebecca Sheir Twitter Host, Circle Round
Rebecca Sheir is the host "Circle Round," WBUR's kids storytelling podcast.