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.