Fic­tion

Folk­tales of the Jews, Vol­ume 2: Tales from East­ern Europe

Dan Ben-Amos, ed.; Dov Noy, con­sult­ing ed.; Ellen Frankel, series ed.
  • Review
By – December 9, 2011

The same team that pre­sent­ed the 2006 Nation­al Jew­ish Book Award Win­ner in Sephardic Cul­ture and Final­ist in Schol­ar­ship now gives us the sec­ond in a five-vol­ume series of Jew­ish tales from around the world — sev­en­ty-one Ashke­naz­ic sto­ries cho­sen from immi­grant nar­ra­tives in the Israel Folk­lore Archives. What a gift it is! Over six­ty per­cent of the folk­tales from most­ly Poland, the Ukraine, Lithua­nia, Roma­nia, Belarus, and Hun­gary will be new to read­ers, hav­ing nev­er appeared in Eng­lish or even in print before. 

An intro­duc­tion exam­ines dif­fer­ent the­o­ries on how Jews who told these tales arrived in East­ern Europe and fas­ci­nat­ing com­men­tary expands each sto­ry with lit­er­ary, cul­tur­al, and his­tor­i­cal insight, nam­ing three nar­ra­tive pat­terns for bro­ken mar­riage engage­ments, for exam­ple, or detail­ing hier­ar­chies in the demon world. Humor­ous tales and moral tales com­prise the largest two sec­tions, with Hasidic tales close behind. A Mid­dle Ages leg­end about the poet Ibn Ezra shares space with more mod­ern sto­ries, like Stal­in Tests His Friends.’” Fire­flies mirac­u­lous­ly appear in the Lodz Ghet­to on the first night of Rosh Hashanah. Awoman who has nev­er seen a mir­ror objects to the oth­er woman” in her hotel room. Here, too, are super­nat­ur­al and his­tor­i­cal tales and a dis­tinc­tive sec­tion that focus­es on Jews who have for­got­ten or who do not know that they are Jew­ish. Ben-Amos links Jew­ish tales to sim­i­lar themes in oth­er cul­tures and to vari­ants in the IFA col­lec­tion. As in Vol­ume 1, he also lists their folk­tale types and folk­lore motifs. And, as in the first vol­ume, the gen­er­al index dis­ap­points with ran­dom sub­jects and incom­plete ref­er­ences. Still, there is no deny­ing the scope, flu­id­i­ty, and unique­ness of this col­lec­tion. It brings us sto­ry­telling gems from a dis­ap­pear­ing world and lov­ing­ly pol­ish­es them with dis­course. 76- page bib­li­og­ra­phy, gen­er­al index, motif index, tale type index. The title was reviewed in gal­leys with­out illus­tra­tions or world map.

Sharon Elswit, author of The Jew­ish Sto­ry Find­er, now resides in San Fran­cis­co, where she has been help­ing stu­dents vis­it­ing 826 Valen­cia loca­tions around the city to write sto­ries and poems and get­ting adults up and retelling Jew­ish folk­tales to share with their own spin. 

Discussion Questions