Haya Bar-Itzhak’s analysis of the ethos and cultural symbolism behind immigrant stories in Israel is the 26th entry in the intriguing Raphael Patai Series in Jewish Folklore and Anthropology. Her studies draw from tales preserved in the Jewish Folklore Archives and from firsthand observation. Part 1 views the process of adjustment through local legends at two kibbutzim founded before independence. At Gennosaur, the immigrants’ philosophical struggle to make the land their own found shape in a story of how settlers wrestle to uproot native jujube trees. Bar-Itzhak follows the implications of this story into the next generation, where once-enemy jujubes become friendly hideaways for children playing just outside of the kibbutz compound. At Ein Harod, tales told during cemetery tours demythologize collective memory and help members of that kibbutz come to terms with painful deaths.
Part 2 contrasts stories told by Polish and Yemenite immigrants who arrived in Israel in the late 1940’s. Polish settlers expressed the difficulties they faced in absorbing new mores, new language, new neighbors, and new geography by poking fun at Hebrew terms and often at themselves, for example, for thinking Israeli olives were plums. Yemenite Jews spun saints’ legends where Rabbi Shabazi solves problems in the new land through supernatural means. Preservation of Moroccan ethnicity plays a strong role in Part 3, which examines how earthy wonder tales told by elderly Moroccan women secure the tellers’ positions in this new society and how ritual movements and voice inflections by males and females communicate their commitment to pre-immigration culture. With Israeli Folk Narratives, Bar-Itzhak, head of folklore studies and chair of the department of Hebrew and comparative literature at the University of Haifa, digs into rich new Israeli soil, showing how the stories different immigrant groups tell reflect and affect community change.
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.