Jewish Folk Tales in Britain and Ireland: A book review by Joanne McFall

May 25, 2022 by  
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Comprising of forty-four traditional folk tales associated with varying regions in Britain and Ireland, Liz Berg’s Jewish Folk Tales in Britain and Ireland is essential reading for fans of this genre.

The collection contains quaint, enchanting illustrations by Karen Berg and most of the tales have accompanying illustrations. All of the stories contain a short introduction and vary in length. A glossary is also included at the end of the book. Some readers may already have been familiar with themes and plots of some of the tales but not about background or origins. The book’s main introduction, foreword and shorter introductions provide readers with significant background information about the Jewish community in each specific region – such as how they came to be there, roles, families and impact.

Many aspects of Jewish culture are featured throughout the collection such as festivals, ethics, family, traditions and travel. As all of the stories – in line with general folk and fairy tale tradition – contain elements of people, place and the supernatural, they appeal to readers of different ages and backgrounds. Overall the collection is accessible, easy to read and informative. As a book of collected folk tales, readers are presented with lists of contributors, a bibliography and a list of websites.

The foreword of the book informs us of the importance of storytelling in every Jewish community and in each generation. We are informed about the two distinct Jewish communities – Ashkenazi and Sephardic- their impact on wherever they settled and the folklore associated with them. Every major city throughout Britain and Ireland is represented by at least one story with a varying theme, message and moral.

Many of the folk tales in this collection are concerned with specific characters facing a dilemma and how this difficulty is overcome.

The importance of place and community are also important aspects in many of these tales. Different dimensions of Judaism are a vital part of each story such as religious rituals, family traditions and customs. Many tales contain the theme of facing challenges, overcoming them and learning from them. Interaction with other parts of the wider community and area plays an important role in all of the stories. Through the mediums of folklore and fictional folk characters we are presented with contrasting experiences both on an individual and larger community level. Many of the characters must overcome particular obstacles, some reflected to their faith, others concerned with the world around them.

Overall, Jewish Folk Tales In Britain and Ireland is vital reading for anyone interested in folklore, world religions and traditions. The book contains an appealing combination of history, folklore and Jewish tradition of interest to a wide readership. While it would have been interesting to also read folk tales associated with islands around Britain and Ireland (if any), a bibliography is included, which may be used for further reading and research. The book also contains spiritual and cultural themes, making it enticing to a wide and varied readership.

The book is suitable for readers who may have little or no knowledge of Jewish culture and tradition but will also benefit readers with a vast knowledge of Judaism due to its informative, holistic nature.

Published by The History Press, 2020

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