A book review by Joanne McFall » J-Wire


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Comprised of forty-four traditional folk tales associated with different regions of Britain and Ireland, Liz Berg’s Jewish Folk Tales of Britain and Ireland is essential reading for fans of the genre.

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

Many aspects of Jewish culture are featured throughout the collection, such as festivals, ethics, family, traditions, and travel. As all stories – in keeping with the general tradition of folklore and fairy tales – contain elements of people, places 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 folktales, readers are presented with lists of contributors, a bibliography, and a list of websites.

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

Many folktales in this collection are about specific characters facing a dilemma and how that difficulty is overcome.

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

Overall, Jewish Folk Tales in Britain and Ireland is essential reading for anyone interested in folklore, religions, and traditions of the world. The book contains an engaging combination of Jewish history, folklore and tradition of interest to a wide readership. Although it would have been interesting to also read folk tales associated with the islands around Britain and Ireland (if available), a bibliography is included which can be used for further reading and research. The book also contains spiritual and cultural themes, making it appealing 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 broad knowledge of Judaism due to its informative and holistic nature.

Published by The History Press, 2020

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