Israeli Folk Nar­ra­tives: Set­tle­ment, Immi­gra­tion, Ethnicity

Haya Bar-Itzhak
  • Review
By – July 16, 2012

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 shares tales aloud in a local JCC preschool and vol­un­teers with 826 Valen­cia to help stu­dents write their own sto­ries and poems.

Discussion Questions