Author Archive
general
Legends
Narrative

The Barrel Maker

This story is central to my own background. I asked my dad about this story recently. It’s one that always comes up at any Jewish family gathering. He told me that his dad (my grandpa) told him, and that my grandpa’s dad told him this story. In Minsk, Russia, our family was very orthodox Jewish. It was around the turn of the century when this story occurred. This story is a long running one too because my family has always been taught to have a firm handshake, also known as “Levine Hand Strength.” My great-great grandpa was coming from work in Russia one day and a Russian Cossack soldier, typically known to be anti-Semitic, stopped him. After stopping him, he yanked his beard very hard and called him a Jewish slur. Apparently, my great-great grandpa was a prideful man who admitted humility, so his way of showing this, he thanked the Cossack and put his hand out to shake. According to my dad’s grandpa, the barrel maker crushed the Cossack’s hand and blood came out of the finger tips. My dad likes sharing this story because it’s something that helps him reconnect to his heritage and I feel the same way whenever I hear this story at a family gathering. It’s also important to our Jewish background and to remember not let people be bigoted towards a specific group of people. We also reflect on this story of how lucky we are to have gotten out of Russia during this time because if we had stayed, we would’ve endured the Holocaust and other acts against Jews. My dad still doesn’t know if it’s a true story but it’s still a powerful one to tell.

Customs
general
Rituals, festivals, holidays

We Say “Yay”

A family ritual this informant has is to say “yay” instead of saying “grace.” Informant explained it as so: “Every time we sit down to eat, we all join hands and yell ‘1 2 3 yay’ as loud as we can and then we start eating.” Informant mentioned that her mother grew up very Catholic. As a result, when she left home she decided to rebel and that instead of saying “grace,” she’d say “yay.” Doing this is supposed to be a symbol for pure positive energy with no political or religious connotations and supposed to bring together the informant’s family for a moment of gratitude and love. The informant mentioned that she and her brother were both going to pass along this ritual, and that she likes how anyone can enjoy doing this ritual since it is so non-denominational. This ritual is always done when friends or family come to the informant’s house for a sit-down meal. The reaction to this is positive from all that have done it with the informant and her family. Doing this ritual makes the informant feel closer to her family and happier, since it is something unique to her family. I think this is a great way of remaining unbiased about religion and a good way to raise children. It is not specific enough to really focus on any sort of deity or religion but it is also wholesome and teaches children good morals and how to have gratitude for things in life; it’s not about thanking a higher being but appreciating the things that are present in your life, and this is something I greatly respect and think overshadows most premises of religion.

Customs
Game

The Game

This informant explained a game that she and her family do around the Oscar’s Awards season. “It’s this thing in my family called ‘the game,’ it was started by my godfather and mom and dad.” The informant explained that basically you lay out a certain number of movies and to decide which one you are going to watch you play this game.  It requires a coin and once you have the coin in your hand and you say, “If you choose it you are not eliminated,” and you keep going down until you have an order to pick the movie.  And then you pick in order which movie you don’t want to see.  After that, then it’s the most democratic way to pick a movie. This one is very specific to the informant’s family since the informant’s father is in the Academy and they get the movie screeners for all the films that have come out in the past year and have to watch them and vote for the nominees. The key thing that the informant noted is that everyone eliminates one movie per round so that by the end, it’s a movie that no one DOESN’T want to see. The joke is kind of that no one ends 100% with what they wanted, but no one can complain because they could’ve taken the movie out. The informant mentioned that she hopes to continue this game and that hopefully she’ll have an Academy Award one day so she can continue to get the movies. She does feel that the game is a really long process and at times, tedious, “so it’s annoying sometimes, but it brings us together,” the informant said with a smile on her face. If I were the informant, I’d be happy about playing this game since I love movies, and I think it’s a fun family tradition that’s very unique to them.

general
Legends
Narrative

Tikkun olam

The informant told of story passed down from her great grandpa. The great grandpa lived in Iran, but his name was Israel. He was a doctor and his family was very poor, and so was the whole village. His family was ostracized for being Jewish in a very anti-Semitic part of Iran, that was mostly Muslim. However, he was the only smart enough guy there to become a doctor. Even though he faced tons of judgement from his neighbors, he was still always there to help the sick, despite how rude they might have been towards him, and despite how they might have always treated him. Israel would still help if they couldn’t pay him anything too, even though he and his family was poor and needed money too. But he believed in helping others because of Tikkun olam, a fundamental Jewish belief… the informant paused at this part of the story to define it as, “a means to repair the world.” This story was told to informant who is no 19 when she was only ten. At such a young age, she understood the moral of it immediately but thinks the story is more impactful now because there seems to be even more hatred than there was in the past, and perhaps “I am just more attuned to hatred now and am much more familiar with it; so confronting malevolence with such kindness is really amazing and inspires me today.” The informant is proud of her family and proud of her Jewish heritage and thought it was beautiful to help others who had acted abhorrently towards Israel and to be the bigger person proves a sense of benevolence that is the real cure to metaphorical diseases of apathy and hatred. Being Jewish, I related to this piece a lot and found it to be truly inspiring with the current state of events going on between Israel and Palestine. I hope that the informant’s grandfather can shed some light on how human beings ought to be treated and something of peace comes one day amongst all religions at war.

general
Legends
Narrative

Dave the Ghost

The informant told me of a ghost story that happened where he was living. Prior to it happening, three years before, the informant’s cousin was living in the same guest house (in Calfiornia) the informant was living in. The guest house was conjoined with a shed that had a lot of spooky things in it. The cousin was telling the informant of a time when he woke up in the middle of the night because he heard loud breathing around three in the morning. Upon hearing this, the informant’s cousin ran outside in a panic. The cousin had informed the informant and his family the morning after it had happened. “Fast forward a few years later,” the informant said, “I randomly think of how my cousin told me this story and how eerie it is that I live in the same room as he did now.” As the informant is thinking this, out of nowhere, a pipe burst and water starts spewing all over the place. The informant said he felt totally surprised and scared, yet finally believed at that moment that his cousin had experienced the supernatural. The informant later went on to learn that someone did die on his property. After that, the informant moved out of the guest house a few weeks later and spoke about how the grounds he lived on were definitely haunted by a ghost he thought to be named Dave. The informant went on to say that supernatural events like this seem to only happen to the men in his family, each male family member having some sort of weird event happening to them. I found this piece to be exhilarating to hear spoken. I could really hear the emotion and feeling from the informant upon his descriptions. I got an overwhelming sense of spookiness just by listening, with myself even getting goosebumps.

general
Humor

Smart Pills

The informant began this story with, “So I used to hear this story a lot when I was around six or seven years old from my dad.” The informant’s dad heard this story from his grandfather. When informant’s dad was younger, he would always try to pull pranks on his friends, as his friends would do the same to him. One day, he went up to his grandfather and asked if he had any ideas for the next prank he was going to pull. The informant then said that he great grandfather told her dad, “Robbie, have you ever heard of smart pills?” to which the informant’s dad replied no. The great grandfather went on to explain that “my dad should pick up some rabbit pellets (rabbit poop) and put them in a pill bottle.”  After that, the grandfather suggested to his grandson that he go up to his friends and say, “Hey! Want a smart pill? It’ll make you super smart.” And then hand the friends the pill bottle. The informant told me that she never actually thought her dad gave anyone the rabbit poop but the meaning still stands that people can be gullible despite how apparent rabbit poop is. The informant expressed the humor in telling this story because of the comedy shared between her and her father knowing that her great grandpa suggested this humorous prank. I find this specific piece of folklore funny that an authority figure like a grandpa would suggest partaking in such a gross prank. I wonder if anyone would have fallen for that and wish I could place myself back in time to see. I also wonder if the informant’s father would suggest the same prank to her.

Folk speech
Proverbs

Live Beneath Your Means

Informant learned this proverb in a time of monetary deficiency where he overextended himself in terms of keeping track of money in his previous business world. He heard someone say this and it has stuck with him for decades. The informant said it taught him to spend less and to be diligent about keeping track of money; as a result of this proverb, he now only spends money on his debit card. This is a proverb he will continue to speak about for the rest of his life and has passed it onto his own children.

Game

Whiffle Ball

We used an over the line game principle; on the tennis court; we played when we were young, dad and I vs. brothers, to make it fair since I was the youngest. The premise is like baseball with the same rules. If the ball was hit over the fence on the left or right side, it’s an automatic three outs. It used to be that you could peg the runners with the whiffle ball after they left the base and they would get out, but since I would always get hurt by how hard my brothers threw the ball, we changed that rule. We would play this game from when we were children up until our teens, we would always play it during summer holiday events and usually every night in the summer. It was unique because it was our own rules. My dad enjoyed playing it because he loved being with his kids and it was a part of us growing up. It was a nice way to bring us all together and made us feel more familial.

Folk Beliefs
general

Mexican Salt Shaker Superstition

The informant described that it bad luck to pass salt from hand to hand. The informant explained that if need the salt, you put it on the table first and the let another person grab it. She has known this superstition her whole life because her grandmother was really into it and believed it could really have some serious effects. There wasn’t really any origin from what the informant told me but that everyone in Mexico does it.  I think this one is interesting because I’ve never heard of this being associated with bad luck, if it were in the states, I’d have a lot of it. Instead, comparatively, here it’s mainly if you drop the salt shaker and salt spills is when it’s bad luck. The informant told me there wasn’t any way to reverse what happened, unlike here, you throw salt over your right shoulder. It’s wild that a whole country does this though, and I think it speaks to the customs of this culture. The informant says that whenever she does it by accident here, she feels very uncomfortable, but it doesn’t really count since she isn’t in Mexico City.

Folk speech
Proverbs

Coyote Proverb

The informant told me of a proverb she learned from her father who was born and raised in Israel. The proverb is central and common to Israeli culture and is as follows: “It’s better to be the head of the coyotes than to be the tail of the lions.” The informant explained that in the Israeli culture, everyone wants to be a leader and that Israeli people typically want to be super independent. Her father tells her this proverb in times where she feels lost and when she is not motivated to keep going forward. She explained that she feels a sense of pride whenever her dad tells her this proverb, or whenever she thinks about it. I think this is a proverb that we should all follow, it says a lot with minimal language and is telling of true character.

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