Israeli Folk Narratives: Settlement, Immigration, Ethnicity
by Haya Bar-Itzhak and Ḥayah Bar-Yitsḥaḳ
Wayne State University Press, 2005
Paper: 978-0-8143-3047-0
Library of Congress Classification GR285.B37 2005
Dewey Decimal Classification 398/.3295694

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).
"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

"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

    I. The Settlement in the Land of Israel: Kibbutz Local Legends 000
    1. "From a Forest of Thorns into a Flourishing Garden": Local Legends and Cultural Interpretation 000
    2. Processes of Change in the Kibbutz as Reflected in Local Legends 000

    II. Legends of Immigration and Absorption 000
    3. "The Camoufladged Plums": Sweet versus Bitter in Legends of Absorption of Polish Jews 000
    4. The Legend of Yemenite Jews as an Expression of Immigration and Absorption 000

    III. Ethnic Folklore in Israel 000
    5. Old Women Relate 000
    6. Ethnic Nonverbal Components in the Jewish Moroccan Saint's Legend 000

    Notes 000
    Bibliography 000
    Index 000

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