Winter 2004/ Adar 5764

From the editor's desk

The Fall semester is over. One of the intangible rewards of teaching is to receive public thanks and words of praise from one of my students. HaSafran had a discussion about recruiting Judaica librarians. Ben Pastcan, one of my San Jose State University students sent a response, "This semester I have had the blessing and fortune of taking a Judaica Libraries class with Mr. Stuhlman, a professor at San Jose State University. He is wonderful and very knowledgeable about the subject of Judaica Librarianship." As librarians we should do more to promote ourselves. I quote this not to brag, but to tell you to not be afraid to tell your boss, your board, and your readers when you receive praise. They should hear praise and not just complaints. Other students said that it was an honor to take my class and they hope they can take another. For Ben this was the second class that he took with me.

Other comments on HaSafran make me fume. It is as if the writers had never taken a library school course, never read professional literature and never read what I have been writing for the past six years. I don't want to embarrass anyone by mentioning details, but sometimes a person needs to admit s/he is just learning and then either pay for the expertise or spend the time and money to learn for oneself. Critical thinking, analysis and research skills are part of every graduate course that I and the other faculty teach.

In this issue we have two library web site reviews prepared by two of my students. One of the class assignments included visits to library web sites. Students shared their reviews with other class members. I choose two for this issue and in future issues I may include others.

A couple of years ago I heard a presentation at the Midwest Association of Jewish Studies about Curious George given by Bella Ehrenpries. I encouraged her to prepare a version for publication. Did you know Curious George had Jewish creators?

Rachel Wexelbaum's article on folklore was originally a class paper. Folklore is an area that academic and Judaica librarians have a hard time getting a handle on because subject headings are not always intuitive.

Daniel D. Stuhlman
Chicago, IL 60645

Contents of this issue

From the editor's desk
Letter from the president
Minutes of the Winter Meeting
Minutes of the Fall Meeting
Library Web Site Reviews
Feldman Children's Library reviewed by Rebecca Marr
Miliken Community High School reviewed by Rachel Wexelbaum
Library Displays at Anshe Emet Bernard Zell Jewish Day School
Curious George : A Jewish Monkey, by Bella Ehrenpreis
L.M. Stein Exhibition
Report from Association for Jewish Studies 35th Convention, by Rochelle S. Elstein
Jewish Folklore: An Academic Librarian's Challenge, by Rachel Wexelbaum

Letter from the president

Dear Colleagues:

It's an honor and privilege to write this to you as the President of the JLN. I hope to stress continuing education for our membership, and utilize our thrice annual programs and supplementary programs to further that cause. Towards that end I want to thank those of you who were able to attend our most recent program on handling archival materials in a library setting by Joy Kingsolver, director of the Chicago Jewish Archives. Our first supplemental program, a half-day "hands-on" Conservation Workshop given by Karen Lee, Asher Library Conservator, was held at Spertus on January 22nd.

I hope you will be able to join us for our Spring meeting, scheduled for Tuesday May 11th at 7:30 pm at Hillel Torah North Suburban Day School. Stay tuned for more details as we get closer to the date. As your president, I also welcome your ideas and suggestions, as well as your participation! Feel free to contact me at 312-322- 1753, or . I look forward to hearing from you!

Glenn Ferdman

Minutes of the Winter Meeting
July 31, 2003
Home of Judy Weintraub
Skokie, IL

Outgoing president Rena Citrin opened the meeting, thanking Judy Weintraub for hosting.

Thirteen members were in attendance.

Approval of Minutes from Last Meeting: The minutes were approved.

Nominations/Election: The proposed slate of candidates for 2003-2004 was distributed:

President  Glenn Ferdman
Past-President/Vice-President  Rena Citrin
Treasurer  Shoshanah Seidman
Recording Secretary  Marcie Eskin
Corresponding Secretary  Joy Kingsolver

The slate was unanimously approved. Newly elected president Glenn Ferdman took over the meeting, thanking Rena for her efforts as president. Glenn looks forward to helping to provide educational and professional development to Chapter members.

AJL 2003 Convention Report: Cheryl Banks and Donna Stewart reported on the recent national convention held in Toronto from June 15-18. Cheryl, in her capacity as national convention co-chair, reported that the convention was a great success in spite of the SARS issue. Registration was down and programs were affected, but the convention went very smoothly. One of the highlights was the banquet at which the Sydney Taylor award winners spoke. Cheryl and Donna brought back materials including the convention program, lists of Sydney Taylor award and Notable books, and the Southern Florida chapter's tips for maintaining a successful AJL chapter. The proceedings of the meeting will be available online through the AJL web site

2004 Convention: Next year's convention will be held at the New York Marriott at the Brooklyn Bridge on June 20-23. The theme of the convention will be celebrating 350 years of the Jewish American experience. The sites of future conventions were mentioned, including Chicago in 2008 (or 2007 if Spertus' new building has been completed). There was a brief discussion about the scholarship process for next year's convention.

2004 Program Planning: A number of programming ideas for the upcoming year were discussed and a tentative agenda was set for the year's meetings.

Fall (daytime): Joy Kingsolver will talk about beginning an archival collection. The program will be held at Spertus where the Chicago Jewish Archives are housed.

Winter (Sunday?): A discussion about organizing summer reading programs and children's and adult book clubs will be held at North Suburban Synagogue Beth El in Highland Park.

Spring (evening?): A program on Jewish storytelling will be held at Hillel Torah in Skokie. Possible storytellers mentioned were Susan Stone (Eva will investigate) and Irene Sufrin and Nancy Shapiro-Pikelny (Marcie will investigate).

Other programming ideas mentioned were book repair, conservation of books and materials, Yiddish literature, and how to become a Judaic librarian.

Other topics discussed were the idea of developing a mentoring program, and the current efforts of a committee trying to determine whether Spertus should have a juvenile collection with related programming.

Glenn adjourned the meeting.

Minutes of the Fall Meeting
October 30, 2003
Spertus Institute
Chicago, IL

President Glenn Ferdman opened the meeting, welcoming everyone.
Approval of Minutes from Last Meeting: The minutes were approved.

Treasurer s Report: Treasurer Shoshanah Seidman's report was read, noting that as of October 17, 2003, there was $547.27 in the account.

Old Business:

Meeting dates for 2003-04:

Winter Meeting: North Suburban Synagogue Beth El will host the meeting on a Sunday afternoon. The program topic will be organizing summer reading programs and adult/children's book clubs. Possible dates suggested were January 11 or February 1. [Editor's note; Winter meeting did not take place.]

Spring Meeting: Hillel Torah will host the meeting and a program on storytelling on a Tuesday evening in mid-May. Possible dates suggested were May 11 or May 18.

New Business:

New JLN Logo: Glenn showed everyone the new logo created by Spertus design department. It is a Torah scroll with the JLN initials and with the organization's name surrounding the scroll. Everyone agreed to use the logo as is.

Continuing Education Opportunity: Spertus is considering putting on a workshop on collection preservation and repair for the smaller library to be held in Spertus conservation lab. The target audience includes synagogue and day school libraries, as well as any other smaller libraries. He plans to poll the membership to determine the need for such a workshop. The timing of the workshop(s) and the degree of hands-on instruction will depend on the interest level. If there is sufficient interest, a late fall/early winter date is desired.

JLN Membership Update: Membership renewals should be in the mail soon. Robbin Katzin suggested reinstituting sending out certificates of membership, which has not been done since 1999. Glenn asked that he be provided with a sample.

Newsletter: Donnie Stuhlman reported that he has begun to use the new logo on the newsletter. To date, Donnie has not received any articles on the convention.

Glenn adjourned the meeting and everyone proceeded to hear Joy Kingsolver's informative and entertaining presentation entitled "The Accidental Archivist: Archival Materials in a Library Setting." Joy is the director of the Chicago Jewish Archives, Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies.

Respectfully submitted,

Marcie Eskin

Recording Secretary

Library Web Site Reviews

Feldman Children's Library
Congregation B'nai Israel
Boca Raton, Florida 33431
Librarian: Heidi R. Estrin

Reviewed by Rebecca Marr
Student, San Jose State University, School of Library and Information Science

Established in 1992, the library has a collection of over 4,000 books for children of all reading levels and secular picture books for the preschoolers. Computers in the library allow access to educational games and a computer lab is attached to the library. There are story times for children and workshops for Bar and Bat Mitzvah training. The library's mission is to support the students and teachers of the religious school programs at Congregation B'nai Israel. Members of Congregation B'nai Israel and the staff, students and families of the Nadel Center for Early Childhood Education and the Barry Ira Graff School for Living Judaism may borrow books from the library. The library's catalog is not available online. The library is open Sunday through Thursday during the school year and for limited hours on Tuesday and Wednesdays during the summer.

The library web site has a number of useful links to information for children and parents. The articles include topics such as the importance of reading to children, reviews of books, and lists of recommended books. Books purchased from the web site's recommended list through earn tzedakah for the library. The web site's photo shows a library that is colorfully decorated and arranged for children to be able to reach the shelves. The library web site is easy to use and the links offer useful literacy information for children and parents anywhere.

Sol and Esther Family Library
Miliken Community High School
Los Angeles, CA 90049
Head Librarian: Shamsi Katebi, Ph.D., M.L.S.
Librarian: Taylor Harris, M.L.I.S
Library Assistant: Tarince Tyler

Reviewed by Rachel Wexelbaum
Student, San Jose State University, School of Library and Information Science

This is a user friendly school library web site that insults no one's intelligence with easy access from the main high school web page, and a welcome sign when you get there. Links include connections to Library Services, Internet links, searchable databases, online resources, cultural programs, path finders, "Cite your Sources", and new books. The collection contains over 8,500 general and Judaica books, periodicals and 200 videos. Standard databases (ProQuest, Encyclopedia Britannica, etc) are accessible through the web site for registered students and faculty with passwords. The main library page links to the basic Winnebago library OPAC. This is an interesting web site since it is a high school, not a research library. The Sol and Esther Family Library collection meets its mission of promoting lifelong learning, inquiry, and creativity.

Library Hours: Mondays - Thursdays: 7 am - 5 pm; Fridays: 7 am - 2:30 pm

Library Displays
by Daniel D. Stuhlman

Public relations in libraries take many forms. What people see when they come to the library helps promote the library's public image and promotes the idea that the library is a place for all kinds of information and is not limited to books and magazines. Here are some ideas from recent exhibits prepared by Rena Citrin for the Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day School Library.

The bulletin board outside the library door promotes movie/book connections. Recent movies such as Holes, Freaky Friday, Lord of the Rings, and The Princess Diaries were based on books found in the library. The hundredth anniversary of the Wright Brothers' first flight was celebrated in a book exhibit on a table near the library entrance. The books, ready to pick up and examine, were placed on a tablecloth with words printed on the overhang telling the title of the exhibit. A third exhibit was in closed cases-- Teddy Bears from the collection of Meridith Mann, one of the staff. The collectible bears, included some over 40 years old, were displayed next to books with bear characters. A fourth display held holiday connected books on a prominate shelf.

These exhibits used four different display techniques -- bulletin board, table, shelves, and closed display cases to hit the visitors with a variety of visual experiences. They created interest for four types of books and readers. In your library try to use multiple simultaneous displays to show the visitors that the library can have something for everyone.

Curious George : A Jewish Monkey?
by Bella R. Ehrenpreis

Is Curious George1 Jewish? Of course he is; he had Jewish parents, H.A. Rey and Margaret Rey. Was he the first Jewish monkey? Not at all. The Reys were certainly not the first artists in history to depict a monkey, nor the first Jewish artists to do so. Indeed, it may be that their story's importance lies in the fact that they were not unique but representative of a trend relating Jews and monkeys. This essay touches on the assimilated Jew, the notion of the 'other', the attitudes of German Jews towards themselves and Germany. It may even be argued that the Reys were representative of Jews who were no longer Jews until the Nazis defined them as such. The Nazis often described Jews as monkeys in anti- Semitic texts as well as cartoons.

While the Reys' biographies are typical of a middle class assimilated German Jewish couple, their monkey has company in the work of other German-speaking Jews. The trained monkey, who takes on human forms, yet, who always falls short of becoming human, is present in Kafka's "The Report to an Academy," published in the November 1917 issue of Der Jud. Here the monkey, perhaps, representative of the Jew in the gentile world, learns very well how to be 'human' but loses his soul as a monkey in the process and is caught between worlds: the Jew loses his " yiddishkheit" but never really becomes assimilated. Likewise, in S(hmuel) Y(osef) Agnon's children's poem, entitled Kof, published as part of a Hebrew alphabet book. From 1913-1924 Agnon lived in Germany. This poem was first published in the journal, Der Jude, in 1919. In the poem, the monkey remains 'other' despite his attempts to learn how to pray and acquire general knowledge. He remains the beast who is unable to have knowledge of good.

With the Queen of Sheba,
APE came one day
To Solomon's Temple
To learn how to pray

To grow in his knowledge
Letter by letter
And day after day.
But he liked eating better.
A beast after all
Though he did what he could
He never learned Wisdom,
Or the knowledge of Good.

And all of his brothers
Who thought him quite other
Left him to wander
Alone in the wood.

The Reys, although they appeared to have become assimilated, are nonetheless influenced by their Jewish background. They try to become assimilated as their monkey tries to become human. Their monkey assumes human habits, smokes a pipe, eats at a table, wears pajamas, learns to read, never quite becomes human and, in the end, despite his assertion of his independence, he always has to be saved by a human, the Man in the Yellow Hat. This is the leitmotif of the seven Curious George books that they wrote. It may be suggested that Curious George represents the Jewish condition. He is always "other", a monkey acting out the escape from the zoo, just like the Jew from the ghetto, always traversing worlds, never belonging. Some writers have made much of the Reys' Brazilian sojourn and have suggested that the inspiration for Curious George lies solely in Brazilian folktales, but this monkey is influenced as much by German Jewish experience of the 1920s as by their stay in Brazil.

Born Hans Adolph Reyersbach in Hamburg, Germany, on September 16, 1898; his wife Margaret Elizabeth Waldstein, was also born in Hamburg, on May 6, 1906. These two Hamburg Jews from fairly illustrious families appear to the outside world as not at all Jewish. Their fascinating story can be gleaned from the huge volume of documents they amassed through their lives, now stored in The de Grummond Children's Literature Collection at the University of Southern Mississippi, Hattisburg, Mississippi. ( is the site for the collection.)

They both attended secular schools in Hamburg and even when Hebrew was offered as a language as it was in the school that H.A. Rey attended, he did not opt to take it although he did study English, French, Greek and Latin. Both he and his wife Margaret were descendants of rabbis, and they both early on discarded the rituals of their religion and in the case of Margaret even a belief in G-d. Her father incidentally was a prominent member of the German Parliament. The Reys were very adventurous and traveled widely. Hans left Germany for Brazil to sell bathtubs along the Amazon River. After meeting Margaret earlier in Hamburg, she too subsequently found her way to Brazil where they married. They returned to Germany after their marriage and then left for a honeymoon in France. This honeymoon lasted four years! On a rainy morning of June 14, 1940, the Germans entered Paris and the Reys fled on their bicycles with nothing but the coats on their backs and a few manuscripts on the back of their bicycles. Curious George was one of these manuscripts, along with Whiteblack the Penguin - which is another Jewish story to be told. As they were both Brazilian citizens, they wee able to enter Portugal and then leave through Lisbon, the only remaining port open in Europe. They then traveled to the United States, courtesy of their Brazilian citizenship papers. It is interesting to note that the Gestapo may well have been aware of the Jewishness of Curious George. They confiscated the remaining papers and in a letter from their publisher including a note relating to the Semitic nature of George.

When they arrived in America in 1941 they lived first in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of New York City, an enclave of artists and intellectuals. After one year, they moved to Washington Heights, where the Orthodox community of Frankfurt-am-Maim had settled, but within a year had made a hasty retreat back to the Village, living in Washington Square. From 1963, and for the rest of their lives in America, they lived in Cambridge, the home of Harvard University, with a retreat home in New Hampshire, both very Anglo-Saxon communities. They lived an apparently secular, non-Jewish life, continuing to send Christmas cards to friends around the world. Indeed, when asked later in an interview what societies she belonged to, Margaret Rey said she disliked organizations.

References to their Jewishness and clues to their direct feelings about their Jewishness are difficult to find in the archives. It is interesting to note that the Reys did not have to struggle too long to establish themselves. Soon after their arrival Hans Rey found work as an illustrator for a famous children's book author, Margaret Wise Brown. After 1942, he never worked with her again. This might have been because of publishers' contracts, but it is surely not insignificant that Margaret Wise Brown was known for her anti-Semitism. Although throughout her life she continued to make anti-Semitic remarks to people, including her Jewish friends, her biographer Leonard Marcus, writes, that "...she disliked herself for harboring what she called a 'Jewish prejudice'."

From the documents in Hattisburg, the Reys meticulous record keeping methods are visible. For a period of 51 years Hans kept masses of correspondence to friends and family scattered around the world. They kept recipes, sketches that Hans had made of his classmates at school, and records of their charitable gifts. He kept a daily record of his health listing such matters as weight with blood pressure. These are but a few of the materials available in the archives. It is quite startling that the fact although their families had been scattered during World War II from England to Tokyo and they themselves had been forced out of Europe because of World War II, there is only one obscure reference to the war in this material. A letter in the archives written by a relative refers to the "international situation." No other mention is made of how their families came to be so splintered and by what means they had managed to survive.

In one of the letters we read that Rey is contributing money to a relative, Hildegard Reyersbach, a widow, still living in Germany after World War II, but there are no details of how this relative survived.

It is also fascinating to note in the archives that there is an unpublished manuscript that Hans Rey wrote once called the Evolution of the World. From this unpublished material which categorizes different time periods in history, it is clear that he has a knowledge of Jewish history. He writes of the pogrom of 1215 and the persecution of the Jews of Poland in 1334. He describes the greatness of Maimonides. Yet, while every time period in history is delineated, 1939-1945 is left blank. From the records of his charitable contributions, it is clear that the Reys were politically liberals, donating money to the ACLU and the United Negro College Fund. What is most intriguing about these financial records is that although the Reys were unaffiliated with any Jewish organizations, and considered themselves as typical Americans, lived in Anglo-Saxon communities, they were generous contributors to Jewish organizations such as the Combined Jewish Appeal of the Boston area.

Curious George reading It is also clear that after Hans' death, Margaret began to question her own attitudes toward Judaism. In her mid-70s she traveled to Israel for the first time. As her friendship deepened with companion and aide, Lay Lee Ong, she confided in Lay Lee that she regretted not having thought more about her relationship to Judaism. According to Lay Lee Ong, Margaret began to talk more and more about the contribution made by Jews to civilization.

It was this new awareness that led to legal complications regarding her estate and will after her death. In addition to her formal will Margaret shared in a joint savings account with Lay Lee Ong. She had stated orally, not in writing to Ms. Lee that she wished for this money, about three million dollars, to be given to the Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Boston. Probably Ms. Lee could have taken this money, but she wanted Margaret Rey's wishes to be followed. What did follow was a legal battle and anti-Semitic charges against the Public Television Station, a major recipient of the formal will. The issue was finally resolved with the money being divided between a number of charitable organizations as well as personal bequests. The Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Boston received 2.5 million dollars. Nancy Sterling, a representative of Lay Lee Ong's attorney, told the media that Rey had wanted the money to be donated to a Jewish group because "her parents were Jewish and she wanted to honor that part of her heritage." It is clear that despite the outcome of the dispute, Margaret had begun talking more publicly about her Jewish background than in her younger days, when she first arrived in the United States. It should be noted that the net worth of Curious George far exceeds the net worth of Margaret Rey's estate. At the time of her death, the estate was worth 8.7 million dollars. The publishers continue to benefit from the sale of the Curious George books, the new books based on the Curious George character and all the 'tchotkes' that are sold with the Curious George label. Indeed, when Curious George's publisher Houghton Mifflin was sold recently, it was Curious George who was featured in the announcement in the New York Times.

Neither of the Reys was buried in accordance with traditional Jewish custom. Hans Rey's body was, at his request, donated to science. Margaret was cremated. The memorial services rendered for them were non-denominational. They left us no headstones, no burial plots, no monuments, but it is clear that they left a legacy of their Jewishness both in terms of the disposition of their estate and in their kaddishel, Curious George, their Jewish monkey.

1. Curious George® is a registered trademark of Houghton Mifflin Company. Illustration is used with their permission. Official Curious George® web site:

Bella R. Ehrenpreis is retired teacher and a graduate student at Spertus Institute. This paper was originally delivered at the Midwest Association of Jewish Studies, October 2001.

Made in Chicago: The L.M. Shtayn Farlag, 1926-1949

The Asher Library and Chicago Jewish Archives are currently presenting a display in the 6th floor gallery of books published by the L.M. Stein Publishing House(farlag). Louis M. Stein (1883 -1956), born Yizhok Leyb Fradkin in Berislav, Ukraine, was educated both in a traditional cheder and a non-Jewish Russian school. He became active in the Russian Social Democratic Party. In 1907 he immigrated to Chicago, adopted the name L. M. Stein and became active in the Jewish community. He became an ardent supporter of YIVO( founded in 1925) and helped organize the Chicago YIVO Committee, acting as its treasurer for many years. He was also active in the Sholem Aleichem Folk Institute.

L.M. Stein was best known as a publisher of Yiddish and Yiddish-English books. His publishing house, the L. M. Shteyn Farlag, provided a venue for a wide circle of Chicago artists and writers during an era when the arts flourished in Chicago. Stein was an important collaborator with artists such as Enrico Glicenstein and Todros Geller. Together they produced books of high quality, books that were visually striking and significant for the history of Jewish Chicago. He was so beloved that in 1938 tributes from many prominent Yiddish scholars, poets and other literary figures were gathered into a Jubilee Book. Jacob Levin, in a tribute published in this book, referred to him as "the book and school man." When he died in 1956, Chicago lost a leader of Yiddish culture and the arts.

In this exhibition, we display many of the books produced by Stein's press, along with photographs and reproductions of art work featured in his books. The items on exhibition are drawn from the collections of the Asher Library and the Chicago Jewish Archives. The exhibition is located on the 6th floor, in the Gallery of Chicago Jewish History.

The Spertus Museum and the Chicago Jewish Archives is preparing an exhibition on immigration to Chicago in the 19th and early 20th centuries to commemorate the 350th anniversary of Jews in America. This exhibition will feature the stories of immigrants to Chicago, including Maurice and Herman Spertus. Immigration documents, photographs, and other items will be shown. Anyone who may have items to loan or donate for this exhibition is encouraged to call Joy Kingsolver at 312-322-1741 or email

Report from Association for Jewish Studies 35th Convention
by Rochelle S. Elstein
Bibliographer, Northwestern University Library

The Association for Jewish Studies 35th annual convention took place in Boston from December 20 - 23, 2003. Aaron Katchen, capping years of service as executive director in which the membership increased to almost 1500 people, was honored and wished well on his retirement. Michael Walzer of the Princeton Institute for Advanced Study gave the keynote address, "Who is an American Jew? : some thoughts on the contemporary diaspora," in connection with research which is to culminate in a four-volume study. Commenting on the polity, which is and has historically been the structure of this voluntary community, he noted the concentration of a small number of people in the center, with increasing numbers toward the periphery.

The vigor of Jewish Studies in academia, both here, in Israel, and in Europe was demonstrated Zohar Matt edition by the number of session and the variety of subjects in the 10 time slots and concurrent sessions. The number of exhibitors was huge, but the star of the show was The Zohar : The Pritzker Edition, a critical edition from manuscript originals and translated into English by Daniel Matt. The first two volumes of a projected 10 volumes of text and two of contextual and historical material have already been published by Stanford University Press. They also mounted the Aramaic original on their website. http//

Asher Library Acquires Two 18th Century Rare Books!

The Asher Library of Spertus Institute recently acquired two Jewish classics from the 18th century.

Mesillat Yesharim/ by Moses Hayyim Luzzatto, one of the most important works of Jewish ethics still widely read today, was first published in Amsterdam in 1740. This (fourth) edition was published in Mantua (Italy) by Samuel Eliezer of Italia, in 1781.

Sefer Ha-Hinukh: An explanation of the 613 mitzvot, following the order in which they appear in the Bible, this work (whose authorship is in dispute), was first published in Venice in 1523. This (third edition) was published in Amsterdam by Aaron de Solomon Antonius, in 1715.

These purchases were made through the Asher Library Rare Book Fund, with support from the Lucius N. Littauer Foundation, whose purpose is to develop the Library's collection of approximately 2,000 rare books. The collection includes rare works of the Bible, Talmud, responsa, liturgy, art, ethics and mysticism. It also houses the Muriel Yale Collection of Rare and Antique Maps of the Holy Land and Ottoman Empire, a collection of nearly 900 maps dating from the 15th century.

Jewish Folklore: An Academic Librarian's Challenge
by Rachel Wexelbaum

Student, School of Library and Information Science of San Jose State University. This paper was originally prepared for a class in Judaica bibliography.


Many people associate the term "folklore" with children's stories, legends, and other products of imagination that are widely believed, passed down, and preserved among a people for generations. Elements of folklore can include wise old sayings, healing potions, songs, and rituals practiced during particular times of the year or human life cycle. They can also include archetypes: inherited images, ideas or modes of thought derived from a particular people's experience that serves as models to represent what may exist in real life (i.e. the shtetl and the Jewish mother).

In Jewish culture, some aspects of folklore come into conflict with religion, while others have sprung directly from religious texts. Family structure, relationships with non-Jews, and the physical or perceived "place" that Jews hold in society has also shaped Jewish folklore over time. In the United States, Jewish screen writers, directors, playwrights, actors, authors, singers and lyricists-- consciously or not--integrate elements of Jewish folklore into their artistic contributions to mainstream modern American culture. These works are passed down to another generation of Americans, Jewish and non-Jewish alike. This is what makes Jewish folklore a dynamic field of study for anthropologists, literature scholars, ethnomusicologists, and historians. If a college or university has large Jewish studies, cultural anthropology, comparative literature and sociology departments, the academic librarian must be aware of the researcher's challenge to locate Jewish folklore materials.

Challenges for the Researcher

Where would a researcher begin to look for information on Jewish folklore? A subject search for "Jewish folklore" in the Library of Congress OPAC, retrieves items with the subject heading "Jewish folklorists". A search for "Folklore, Jewish" will tell you to search under "Jews, Folklore", which retrieves a staggering number of results. And that isn't everything--one could also find materials dealing with Jewish folklore when searching for "Jewish folk literature", "Folk Music, Jewish", "Folk Art, Jewish", "Folk songs, Jewish", "Proverbs, Jewish", "Jewish dance", "Jewish poetry", "Jewish parables", "Jewish mythology", "Jewish mourning customs", "Jews--Medicine", "Jewish marriage customs and rites", "Fasts and feasts--Judaism", "Jewish etiquette", "Demonology, Jewish", "Jewish chants", etc.. Do a general subject search for "Yiddish", "Ladino", "Hebrew", "Israeli", or "Jews", and many records of interest to a folklorist will appear. Memoirs, diaries and autobiographies of people who might also talk at length on the traditions and folkways of the place they live, but that would be addressed, for example, through the subject heading "Jews, Russia -- Social life and customs". As the cataloger indexes Jewish folklore materials under different subject headings, this means that the materials will receive different call numbers as well, scattering materials around the library. Because Jewish folklore is often confused with Judaism, some Jewish folklore materials are cataloged as religion or literature.

The biggest challenge to a folklorist is the selection of materials dealing with Jewish folklore. What makes one anthology of folktales more accurate or better researched than another? What is an "authentic" collection of songs "from the old country"? Were researchers in the past always reporting the truth about Jewish women's customs or other "private" rituals? Do the researchers address the influence of Judaism, neighboring cultures, family structure, or the Jewish place in society in a way that will support the folklorists' observations? Where can the folklorist find true primary sources of Jewish folklore? An academic librarian must address these issues when developing a bibliography of recommended materials.

The following sections deal with different Jewish folklore resources. This bibliographer's intention was to 1. Show a range of subjects covered within Jewish folklore; 2. Include well-researched English language materials by leading specialists that provide bibliographical references and annotations for the researcher.

Ethnography, Anthropology and Comparative Folklorics

Ethnographers, anthropologists, and other researchers began to study Jewish folklore in earnest toward the end of the nineteenth century. In the beginning, two "teams" ran the race to collect and analyze manifestations of "traditional" life. Jewish scholars and "cultural activists" who collected lore which they viewed as unique to the Jewish people and might one day serve as the basis of a Jewish national culture (Yiddish folktales / edited by Beatrice Silverman Weinreich ; translated by Leonard Wolf. 1st ed. New York : Pantheon Books Published in cooperation with Yivo Institute for Jewish Research, c1988), and non-Jewish northwestern European "ethnographers" from imperialist nations who compared all other cultures, belief systems and physiques to their own. Though their biases toward living sources of Jewish folklore were apparent, the two "teams" concurred on the study of religious texts. Jewish and non-Jewish scholars from the nineteenth century both viewed the Bible as a sacred text, and were reluctant to study its Biblical stories from an anthropological perspective (Eilberg-Schwartz, Howard. The savage in Judaism : an anthropology of Israelite religion and ancient Judaism. Bloomington, IN : Indiana University Press, 1990).

The fear that existing belief systems would be challenged by anthropological inquiry kept the origins of Biblical legends, commandments and symbolism a mystery until the mid-twentieth century. For these reasons, studies of Jewish folklore published prior to the 1950s must be placed in a historical context. The academic librarian should collect these works to show a historical survey of folklore analysis and criticism, but will not necessarily recommend these books to a researcher. Recently published studies tend to be more objective, and place Jewish folklore in the context of the relationships to surrounding cultures, history, and family structure.

In the twenty-first century, a wide range of analytic studies are available to a researcher of Jewish folklore. Research findings on Jewish folklore exist in many scholarly journals. Israeli folklorists also publish many studies of mainstream Israeli and Hebrew folklore, Middle Eastern and North African Jewish folkways and traditions, as well as Israeli Arab folklore. Academic librarians developing their Jewish folklore collection must be familiar with the organizations that sponsor and publish this research in order to judge if the work is biased or not.

Folktales, Folk Music and Poetry

Many anthologies and recordings exist of Jewish folktales, folk music and poetry. All of these entertain and teach valuable lessons, but this is not sufficient reason for an academic librarian to include an anthology in a university collection. The academic librarian must keep the following in mind while developing a Jewish folklore collection:

1. Jewish folktales, folk music and poetry were most often written, spoken, sung and performed in languages other than English. Translators of written works should have sufficient familiarity with the subject and the ability to transfer the rhythm and spirit of the original text into English. Some translators provide the original language version of the work with the English version.

2. Every anthology should include historical information about the collected works, as well as bibliographic references to support it, to put the works in context for the researcher. A useful anthology of authentic works should also include a list of annotations for each piece. An annotation contains the original teller/poet/singer/writer, that person's place of origin, the recorder /collector, place of publication/storage of the original piece, and a few comments about the piece indicating if it was typical for the region, a variation of a particular style, influenced by the host culture's folklore, or anything else that makes the piece stand out among others. Some annotations also include a code that indicates genre. Without this information, it is impossible to tell whether the pieces in an anthology are authentic, original or modern versions. These rules also apply to music recordings.

3. Primary sources of Jewish folklore (i.e., the actual sound recordings, scripts or journals produced during particular times in history) exist in museums and archives around the world. Reproductions are available for purchase, but researchers may want to look at the originals. Students and researchers must have special permission to study them. An academic library may have contacts with specialists who work at the museums and archives in order to get recommendations for materials, or to build working relationships with the institutions for their students and researchers.

[Editor's note: The original paper had over eight pages of bibliographic listings. They are not included here because of space limitations. The author will them upon request.]

©2004 by JLNMC All rights reserved. Last Revised March 4, 2004

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