The Heart Is a Mir­ror: The Sephardic Folktale

Tamar Alexan­der-Friz­er; Jacque­line S. Teit­el­baum, trans.
  • Review
By – August 26, 2011
It states in Pirke Avot (1:16), Pro­vide for your­self a teacher.” There are no bet­ter teach­ers for learn­ing Jew­ish folk­lore than the revered and hon­ored pro­fes­sor of folk­lore Dov Noy and his bril­liant stu­dents, such as Dan Ben-Amos, Matil­da Koen-Sara­no, Galit Hasan-Rokem, Eli Yasif, and Tamar Alexan­der– Friz­er, to name but a few. Each of them has con­tributed his/​her schol­ar­ship to the field of Jew­ish folk­tales by teach­ing and pub­lish­ing major books. Tamar Alexander-Frizer’s vol­ume, The Heart Is a Mir­ror: The Sephardic Folk­tale, trans­lat­ed from Hebrew, is an expan­sive explo­ration of folk­tales found in the Sephardic oral tra­di­tion. 
Alexan­der-Friz­er takes as her start­ing point the view that the folk­tale is an inte­gral part of its social and cul­tur­al con­text.” Along the way, the author address­es ques­tions, such as what iden­ti­fies a Sephardic folk­tale, the rela­tion­ship between the oral and writ­ten ver­sions, and her major con­cern for dis­tin­guish­ing and char­ac­ter­iz­ing Sephardic folk­tales in com­par­i­son to the uni­ver­sal nar­ra­tive tra­di­tions and the tra­di­tions of Jew­ish cul­ture.”
Through­out the years, there has been more atten­tion on the Ashke­nazi folk­tale. Dur­ing the ear­ly part of the 20th cen­tu­ry, there had been sev­er­al ethno­graph­ic expe­di­tions to East­ern Europe to record (most­ly in writ­ing) Jew­ish folk­tales by peo­ple such as S. Ansky and Yehu­da Leib Cahan. How­ev­er, there were no such equiv­a­lent expe­di­tions sent to retrieve the Sephardic tales. While the Sephardim took mov­able type with them when they were expelled from Spain in 1492, they set up print­ing press­es in Italy and Turkey to print sacred books, not the folk­lore of the peo­ple. Thus, the Sephardic folk­lore remained main­ly in the oral tra­di­tion until 1955, when the Israel Folk­tale Archives, found­ed by Dov Noy, began col­lect­ing those folk­tales. It is from this trea­sure-trove that Tamar Alexan­der-Friz­er drew so many tales for her research, along with oth­er sources. This vol­ume is a major con­tri­bu­tion to the impor­tant and valu­able grow­ing library of resource books on this sub­ject of study. 
 This book is not only for folk­lorists and aca­d­e­mics but for any­one inter­est­ed in the Jew­ish oral tra­di­tion in all its com­plex­i­ty and vari­ety. The author’s research into 4,000 Sephardic folk­tales is thor­ough and a num­ber of sto­ries and excerpts pep­per the book as illus­tra­tions through­out. Bib­li­og­ra­phy, name index, notes and sub­ject index.
Penin­nah Schram, well-known sto­ry­teller & author, is Pro­fes­sor of Speech and Dra­ma at Yeshi­va Uni­ver­si­ty’s Stern Col­lege. Her lat­est book is an illus­trat­ed anthol­o­gy, The Hun­gry Clothes and Oth­er Jew­ish Folk­tales (Ster­ling Pub­lish­ing) and a CD, The Min­strel & the Sto­ry­teller, with singer/​guitarist Ger­ard Edery (Sefarad Records). She is a recip­i­ent of a Covenant Award for Out­stand­ing Jew­ish Edu­ca­tor and the 2003 Nation­al Sto­ry­telling Net­work’s Life­time Achieve­ment Award.

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