Foreword
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Foreword Ifirst met Dov Noy in a book—more precisely, in an endnote. I was putting together a collection of Jewish folktales, browsing through hundreds of stories collected in dozens of anthologies and primary sources. Early on in my research, I came across a bibliographic reference containing a baffling acronym—IFA—followed by a number. Then I encountered it again in the next endnote, and the next, and the one after that. In fact, it popped up repeatedly in most of the newer anthologies of Jewish folktales that I consulted. When I delved deeper I learned that “IFA” stood for the Israel Folktale Archives, which is the most extensive collection of Jewish oral tales in the world. I also discovered that one man was responsible for this unique treasure trove—Dov Noy. In time I met Jewish storytellers who had mined the IFA for their books. I heard them recite these tales aloud, putting their own special “spin” on them. And I listened to their personal stories about meeting Dov Noy. It became increasingly clear to me that this Israeli professor was an unsung Jewish hero, whose efforts had contributed significantly to safeguarding a Jewish literary legacy no less precious than the holy books revered for centuries by the Jewish people. The only difference was that such oral tales rarely made it into print, so they had not caught the attention of the scholars. Until recent times, these tales had been carried around in the pekels, saddlebags and aprons of amcha, the Jewish rank-and-file, as they shlepped across five continents during their 2000-year exile. And because the transmitters of these oral texts were only simple folk, not venerated rabbis or community leaders, their tales had slipped beneath the radar of “the Tradition.” They were not taught in yeshivahs or religious schools, recited around the Sabbath table or on the pulpit, not disseminated in beautifully printed seforim, or prayerbooks, or even in popular haggadot. Unlike the universal currency of normative Judaism, these tales were strictly local coinage, eagerly passed around among Jewish tradespeople, laborers, shopkeepers, and beggars, old and young, literate and unlettered, in the marketplace, at family celebrations, at home and in coffeeshops. Remarkably, Dov Noy had understood all this when he was only a graduate student of folklore at Indiana University, and he had proceeded to devote his life to rescuing Jewish folktales before they vanished. The first step he took in accomplishing this mission was to found the Israel Folktale Archives at the University of Haifa in 1955. Today that archive bears his name. I finally had the chance to meet Dov when I attended my first Jerusalem International Book Fair in 1991 as the newly appointed editor-in-chief of The Jewish Publication Society. Some of my storyteller friends had told me about Dov Noy’s “Monday nights,” weekly gatherings in his fourth-floor walk-up apartment that had been going on for decades. Anyone who was in town was welcome to come, these friends assured me, provided that they had some story to xi share. The night I attended there was a motley assortment of characters assembled in Dov’s modest living room, some Israeli, most just passing through Jerusalem. We all sat around a low coffeetable on folding chairs and worn furniture , munching on pistachios, while Dov conducted us in what can only be described as “folklore improv”: one by one, we introduced ourselves, said a little about where we came from, and then shared a tale, a song, an experience, a bit of autobiography. Dov interrupted us frequently, explaining the origin of our family name or the shtetl or village our grandparents had come from, identifying the original source or a regional variant of a folksong, telling us something about how a tale had made its way across the Jewish landscape. The conversation took place in many languages: Hebrew, Yiddish, English, Russian, Rumanian. Dov comfortably negotiated all these languages, translating fluidly so we could all understand one another. I don’t remember exactly what I shared that evening or even who was there— I have now attended about 10 such gatherings and they blur together—but I do remember how I felt that night. It was as if I was in the presence of something very old and authentic, in a time machine of Jewish culture and memory, a living tradition . And Dov, with his encyclopedic knowledge of Jewish folklore and his associative intelligence, was the magician conjuring it all into...


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