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Israeli Folk Narratives

Settlement, Immigration, Ethnicity

Haya Bar-Itzhak

Folklore, Israel and Middle East, Jewish Studies

Raphael Patai Series in Jewish Folklore and Anthropology

Published: September 2005
ISBN: 9780814330470
Pages: 208 Size: 6 x 9
Illustrations: 16 b&w photos and 7 tables

The book makes a significant contribution to the documentation, analysis, and interpretation of contemporary Israeli folklore.

— Elliott Oring

The goals and challenges that face the people of Israel are vividly illustrated by the country’s many folk stories. Here Haya Bar-Itzhak presents these tales—gathered from the early settlers of the kibbutz, from immigrants who arrived in Israel after independence, and from ethnic groups—to create a panoramic view of a fascinatingly complex society.

Creating stories set in the past, even the recent past, is a way for societies to express their problems, adversities, yearnings, and hopes. Bar-Itzhak finds this true among inhabitants of the kibbutz, who find their society at a crossroads as a result of changes in Israeli society at large. She reveals the symbolic dimensions of their stories—some dealing with the death of young soldiers (sacrificed sons) in battle—as pointing to the complexity of a local culture that expresses the ethos of Labor Zionism.

In a section dealing with the folklore of immigrants, Bar-Itzhak focuses on the narratives of Yemenite Jews and Polish Jews. Their stories express their traumatic meeting with Israeli society while providing a means for coming to grips with it. The final section, dealing with ethnic folklore of Moroccan Jews, explores the wonder tale through the perspective of disabled and elderly storytellers, who in the language of their community seek to defend their own values and norms, and examines the saints’ legends and the body language usually employed in the telling of them. Throughout, the author illuminates the unique challenge of experiencing ethnicity as Jews vis-à-vis other Jews.

Israeli Folk Narratives combines new data with insightful analyses. Anyone interested in folk stories and Israeli culture will be enlightened by this sensitive, thought-provoking book.

Haya Bar-Itzhak is Academic Head of Israel Folktale Archives and chair of the folklore division of the Department of Hebrew and Comparative Literature at the University of Haifa. Among other books, she is author of Jewish Poland—Legends of Origin: Ethnopoetics and Legendary Chronicles (Wayne State University Press, 2001) and co-author of Jewish Moroccan Folk Narratives from Israel (Wayne State University Press, 1993).

In this book Haya Bar-Itzhak brings together studies she has conducted on narratives from different groups in the State of Israel. She provides an ample perspective on the narrative articulation of a wide variety of relevant issues, including Jewish settlement in the land of Israel, the immigration of Jews from different parts of the world, and the interaction between ethnic groups and the wider society."

– Journal of Folklore Research

Haya Bar-Itzhak's Israeli Folk Narratives . . . contains much data which is new to me and I suspect will be new to most readers. I especially liked the chapter on the jujube tree, a paper I heard Bar-Itzhak give orally. I thought it was brilliant then and it is just as brilliant now. The writing is clear and sophisticated."

– Alan Dundes, University of California, Berkeley

Israeli Folk Narratives presents the reader with a variety of texts and performances-oral histories from the kibbutz, legends of Yemenite and Polish immigrants, Märchen narrated by Moroccan women. Bar-Itzhak unravels the structures and decodes the symbolism of these stories and relates them to their social and cultural milieu. The book makes a significant contribution to the documentation, analysis, and interpretation of contemporary Israeli folklore."

– Elliott Oring, emeritus professor of anthropology, California State University, Los Angeles

With Israeli Folk Narratives, Bar-Itzhak digs into rich new Israeli soil, showing how the stories different immigrant groups tell reflects and affects community change."

– Jewish Book World

In this exciting groundbreaking work, Haya Bar-Itzhak reveals folklore as a primary adaptive strategy for Jews in modern Israel. She offers an inside-out view of an evolving national culture with distinctive features of settlement, immigration, and absorption. Her study is fresh as the daily headlines announcing the dilemmas of contemporary Israeli society, and she uses folklore to give us deep insights into the social dramas and sagas behind the news. She thereby opens our minds to the human complexity and dynamism that is Israel today."

– Simon J. Bronner, distinguished professor of folklore, Pennsylvania State University, editor of Jewish Cultural Studies