As a Jewish woman, who also recently found out that she’s 20% British, I thought that Jewish Folk Tales in Britain and Ireland was an amazing find. I love folklore, and I know so little about where the stories of my culture come from. Unfortunately, I ended up being a bit disappointed with Liz Berg’s work.
Jewish Folk Tales in Britain and Ireland is divided by different areas of England, Scotland, and Ireland. Before each story, Berg gives a brief overview of the history of the Jewish peoples that lived in the specific area of Britain. Then she goes on to tell a Jewish folk tale.
I will say, I did enjoy the stories. They reminded me of the stories that the rabbi would tell us every Friday on Shabbat when I was in elementary school. The feeling of nostalgia was a tad overwhelming.
Liz Berg, however, is not really a writer. I tried to find information on Berg, her history, writing career, etc. All I really found is that she is a storyteller and has preserved these Jewish folk tales. Because of this lack of information, I have assumed that this is Berg’s first attempt at writing anything major, but I will take corrections to my assumption.
The little historical overviews at the beginning of each chapter are not written as histories, but more in the style of the stories she’s about to recount. The histories felt flimsy and not very thorough. In addition to this lack of thoroughness, she never explained where each story came from. She would explain her little history, then jump completely to something that is seemingly irrelevant. Here is an example from the historical introduction for Dublin:
“The first Chief Rabbi of Ireland (1921-36) was Rabbi Dr Yitzhak haLevi Herzog, whose son, Chaim, was born in Belfast and brought up in Dublin. Chaim went on to become the sixth President of Israel, while his father was the first Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel, having been the Chief Rabbi of the British Mandate in Palestine. Chaim Herzog retained close links with Ireland, presenting a sculpture in honour of the fifth president of Ireland, Cearbhall O Dalaigh, which is in Sneem Sculpture parkk, Co. Kerry.
This story is from Poland, where Rabbi Dr Herzog was born.”
A short history about a well-known rabbi in Ireland, which is fine, but then Berg ends with “This story is from Poland, where Rabbi Dr Herzog was born.” Nothing about how the story came to Ireland, who told it to her, and why it is relevant to Rabbi Herzog, besides the fact that it is from Poland (which, in and of itself, is very irrelevant). Most of the chapters are like this, and because of that, I feel that I haven’t learned anything.
It is a shame, really, as I haven’t found many other books like this – I only have one other in my library, but it is larger and less focused on one country. If this book could be republished with more thorough historical contexts added in, I would buy it and keep it in a heartbeat.
I don’t know if I will keep this book, if only for the stories. My recommendation is to just go online to find these stories and the history behind them, as I don’t feel that this book is worth it in its present state.
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