Reading this book is like attending a storytelling festival in print! Laney Katz Becker has invited fifty-four rabbis, from all branches of Judaism, to contribute their favorite stories. A great variety of genres are included: classic Bible stories, midrashim, folktales, extended jokes, and legends. The stories come from many different places, time periods, and cultures. Each brief story, most as short as a page or two, reflects a Jewish value and is written in an oral style. At the end of each story there is an instructive note from the contributor explaining the story’s lesson and why it is the rabbi’s favorite or how the rabbi applies the story’s lesson. The book is divided into four sections: 1) Community— stories about relationships, tzedakah, and tikun olam, our responsibility to heal the world; 2) Religion — stories about Jewish identity, practices, and spirituality; 3) God’s World — stories about the ways in which we relate to God and live according to God’s plan; and 4) Outlook — stories about our attitudes, choices, and quests for truth, honesty, wisdom, and courage. As wonderful as this book is, it would have become an even greater resource if sources for the stories were also included. Some of the rabbis do indicate in their personal notes where or when or from whom they first heard the story but about half of the stories have no sources given. Nevertheless, more source information, supplied by the rabbi or else by Laney Katz Becker who collected and edited the stories, would have added a valuable dimension to such a collection. Perhaps what could be included in the next edition of the book is an index to the story sources or to an early version of the story, in addition to a glossary, which would contribute greatly to setting the midrashim, legends and folktales in a context and supplying much-needed identifying background. This book of favorite Jewish stories is highly recommended. It is certain that storytellers, educators, clergy, parents and grandparents will find a treasure trove of marvelous stories to read and tell!
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.