fauxklore (fauxklore) wrote,

Howard Schwartz on Jewish Folklore

I had a strange day at work. Both our director and his deputy were out sick so I ended up covering meetings for them. One of them was a regular meeting I've covered before. The other, however, was something I found out about maybe 10 minutes before it started and I had no time to prep since I wasn't told who I was meeting with and what he was coming in to talk to us about.

I mention this only to point out why buying tickets for events in advance is a good thing. I was fairly worn out by mid-afternoon and, had I not had tickets already, would probably not have gone to the Smithsonian to hear Howard Schwartz talk about Jewish folklore. I'm glad I did go since most of his lecture was more storytelling than lecture. He started out with a story from Afghanistan called "The Cottage of Cradles." The story was interesting to me for having some elements related to folk tales from other cultures (e.g. the Mexican story "Madrina Muerte") and he used it as a platform to talk about what makes a story Jewish. In short, he said there are four elements:

1) Jewish time (e.g. Shabbat, Yom Tov)
2) Jewish place (any story set in Israel is Jewish)
3) A Jewish character
4) A Jewish meaning

He went on to say "take a few Jews and tell them to obsess on a couple of Biblical verses for a thousand years or so."

The other four stories he told were intended to illustrate his four categories of Jewish stories. Those were "The Bird of Happiness" (fairy tale), "The Souls of Trees" (folk tale), "The Cellar" (supernatural tale), and "Rabbi Naftali's Trance" (mystical tale). I'm not sure I'd agree with his categorization, largely because I don't find it useful. The framework I like for categorizing stories has more to do with their purpose so I tend to think in terms of the way Elizabeth Ellis has described the elements of a storytelling program - 1) Ha Ha, 2) Aha, 3) Aah, 4) Amen!

Even so, I found his storytelling engaging (and it was telling, not reading, very clearly within the oral tradition - which is somewhat surprising from an academic who has written several books). And I was glad he talked about the question of what makes a story Jewish since that's a subject I need to address in the framework for the show I'm doing at Agudas Achim in March. (By the way, Barbara, who invited me to do that show, and her husband were at the lecture tonight.)
Tags: storytelling, work

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