USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘jewish’
Folk speech
general
Narrative
Proverbs
Tales /märchen

Proverb: “This, too, shall pass”

Context: The informant, a 20-year-old female college student who was enrolled in ANTH 333 during a prior semester, was eager to participate in my folklore collection. She shared some folklore with me that she has collected throughout her childhood and her time at USC. The following is an excerpt from our conversation, in which the informant relayed a personally significant proverb and the legend associated with it.

Text:

Informant: Okay, so I’ve heard this story told a lot of different ways because like apparently Jewish people tell the story as part of a Jewish religious moment, but I’m not Jewish and my mother used to tell the story and she would take all religion out of it. So, what I know is that basically this king was on a journey to find a ring that would make a happy man sad and a sad man happy. The king eventually finds this ring with the words “This, too, shall pass” engraved on the inside. And so, for the happy man, it’s supposed to remind the happy man that bad things can come at any moment, so you really need to be like in the moment and present and enjoy that and try to extend it. And it makes the sad man happy because it’s also supposed to tell you that bad things come to an end, so like good things will eventually have to come. So, I don’t know… I just really like that proverb: “This, too, shall pass.”

Informant’s relationship to this item: Though the informant is unsure of the proverb’s true cultural and/or religious origins, the proverb’s meaning and the legend surrounding it has remained with her for years. The proverb almost appears to be a family mantra, as it was taught to the informant by her mother. The informant appears to refer to the proverb during times of happiness, as a remainder to savor every moment, and during times of sadness, as a reminder that her misfortunes will also end.

Interpretation: The proverbial phrase is simultaneously metaphorical, rhetorical, and short — all the criteria for a proverb. It is interesting to hear the tales and legends surrounding such phrases, as many of them would lack the same impact or clarity without the context in which they first originated. While proverbs are usually fixed phrases, the double meaning of this proverb demonstrates how they typically do not have fixed meanings, and their significance can readily change in different contexts. Additionally, the fact that the informant was told the proverb by her mother shows how proverbs typically hold a lot of vernacular authority. Her mother likely could have taught her the same lesson using different wording, but the history of the proverb and the fact that it is commonly heard in society gives the impression that her mother is imparting community wisdom on her daughter.

 

 

 

 

 

Customs
Foodways
general
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Mufleta Recipe: Jewish Moroccan Passover Traditional Food

Recipe:

  • 3 cups flour (add more or less depending on desired texture)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 – 2 cups water
  • 1/4 – 1/3 cup oil

1. Mix flour and salt, add water to the other mix. You’ll you get a dough consistency. Pour some oil on top of the dough cover. Let it stand.

2. On a baking sheet pour the measured oil. Make balls of the dough and place on the oil. Repeat and cover and let rest for about 15 minutes.

3. Dunk the dough balls in oil and stretch out the dough. While flattening out the balls, heat a large skillet.

4. Cook them like pancakes and stack upon one another and then roll in sweet sauce of your choosing.

 

Context:

“This is a traditional Jewish Moroccan food. Make this to break the fast for Passover and because it’s “chametz”. It’s a thing you’re not allowed to eat during Passover. It’s kind of like a crepe you eat it with butter or honey or chocolate. It’s a desert.”

Background:

The informant is Moroccan and Jewish, but grew up in LA. She said, “My mom makes it, she learned from grandma. Mom was born in Morocco and lived in Israel, but now lives in LA.” The informant is 20.

My Analysis:

Most families I know have one dessert that they love to make for breaking of the fast, usually it is an iteration of kugel, another starch-heavy meal. It makes sense that these recipes are so simple and consist of almost only flour because in Jewish tradition, you cannot eat flour leading up to passover. So, this is a sweet and delicious way to eat a lot of what you have been barred from eating for a period of time.

 

Foodways
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Recipe for Passover Kugel

Ingredients:

–  Can of Peaches

– Cinnamon

– Eggs (however you like them)

-Matzoh Bread

 

Steps:

D.F. – “So this is the recipe for passover Kugel.  And uh, this is different from regular kugel, because regular kugel has leavened noodles in it, and that’s a no-no for passover. So:

    • Instead of using noodles, you use matzah. classic.  We also like to use Frosted Flakes, but, uh, not for passover.  Instead of using Frosted Flakes, we just use more sugar.
    • Basically you crush the matzah (or just get crushed matzah which is easier because smaller pieces).
    • You . . . put eggs together with the matzah and mix them together, and add corn starch to make the eggs and matzah rise together a little.
    • Also we use cinnamon, that’s important for kugel.
    • You need a big batch of this, on a huge pan, and you pour your combination of ingredients into the pan across the whole pan
    • You’ll also get canned peaches, set the peaches of every square of kugel that you’re gonna cut out.
    • Put it all in the oven for a long time, and eyeball it.
    • That’s some passover kugel.”

 

This is definitely something I’ve had before.  Although this person’s recipe is happy in it’s relative straight-forward-ness, I must disagree with it’s simplicity.  When my family makes passover kugel, we include all different types of spices from all over the world, just for the sake of having a crazy taste that will knock us all down.  That’s how I prefer my kugel.  Oh, and with way more peaches.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Protection

Jewish Bread and Salt for New Homes

I guess it’s a Jewish tradition to bring salt to somebody when they move somewhere new. When I moved into my first apartment, my mom brought a loaf of bread and salt. I think she said it’s supposed to be so you never go hungry, and then the salt brings flavor. She also sprinkled the salt on the floor because she said it protects against evil, and I couldn’t vacuum the salt for at least twenty-four hours. She said that her parents did the same thing when she moved into her first apartment, so she was passing that tradition on to me.

Context: The informant’s maternal grandparents are both Jewish, and the informant practiced Judaism throughout his childhood.

Interpretation: This is an act of love and concern from whoever brings the homeowner salt and bread. In this case, it also connects the informant to his grandparents by bringing their tradition into his home. Lastly, it is a religious practice that connects Jewish people to one another by practicing the same traditions.

 

Adulthood
Customs
Initiations
Kinesthetic
Life cycle

The Jewish Slap

“It’s a Jewish tradition for mothers to slap their daughters after their first period. I don’t actually know the source of this tradition. Maybe it’s to warn the daughter of the pain of womanhood. I also heard from someone that the slap is supposed to bring blood to the daughter’s cheek, but I don’t know what that means. I never slapped my daughter, and my friend yelled at me because I didn’t. She slapped both of her daughters when they got their periods.”

Context: The informant is a Jewish woman with one daughter. Both of her parents are Jewish. She was raised in a Conservative Jewish household and raised her children in a Reform Jewish household.

Interpretation: The most reasonable conclusion seems to be that the slap is a symbol of the pains of womanhood. It could also be used to shame young girls out of sexual activity by immediately punishing them for being capable of reproduction. It also connects Jewish females both to their mothers through the slap and to other Jewish women through the shared experience.

 

Musical

“Wherever you go, there’s always someone Jewish…”

“Wherever you go, there’s always someone Jewish.

You’re never alone when you say you’re a Jew.

So when you’re not home, and you’re somewhere kind of newish,

The odds are, don’t look far – ‘cause they’re Jewish, too.

 

Amsterdam, Disneyland, Tel Aviv – oh, they’re miles apart,

But, when we light the candles on Sabbath eve, we share in the prayer in our hearts.”

 

Context: The informant went to a Jewish summer camp in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania where one of the activities was to sit in a circle with a camp counselor who could play guitar and sing as a group. “My friends and I learned all of the lyrics to this song because we thought it was so funny and misguided. Actually, one of my friends wasn’t even Jewish, but he still sang the song with us. Whenever there was silence, one of us would start singing the song. It became this inside joke.”

Interpretation: This song appears light-hearted and unifying, but it encourages Jewish children to keep within their own religion. This could be in response to the notion that Jewish people are “going extinct,” so it is beneficial to introduce children to the idea of staying within one’s religion and passing on Jewish heritage. The song mentions that Jews are diverse and spread throughout the world, and tells children to look for other Jewish people in new situations rather than being open to all kinds of people. It is a declaration of Jewish pride and unity, but also a way of encouraging children to associate with (and eventually marry) other Jewish people.

 

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine

Jewish Penicillin

“When I was growing up in a Jewish home near Philadelphia, whenever my sister or brother or I would get sick, our grandmother would make us chicken soup. It was referred to as “Jewish Penicillin,” even though it was just matzah ball soup or chicken noodle soup. My mother was convinced that it cured what ailed you. If you were sick, she probably wouldn’t take you to the doctor right away. She probably wouldn’t take you to the doctor for maybe five days. Only then would she admit that you were really sick and the Jewish penicillin hadn’t cured you because in my family, it was believed that was all you need when you’re sick.”

Context: The informant was raised in Cherry Hill, South New Jersey, which is minutes away from Philadelphia. She was raised in a Conservative/Masorti Jewish household. Both sides of her family are Jewish.

Interpretation: This illustrates the value of folk medicine in certain cultures. Jewish Penicillin was not only seen as a valid cure, but actually a preferable cure to traditional Western methods. It can also be seen as an act of embracing Jewish culture before American culture. The informant and most of her family see their Judaism as one of the foremost facets of their identity.

 

Foodways
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Recipe for Matzoh Brie

Ingredients:

– Matzoh bread

– Eggs

– Salt & Pepper

 

Steps

D.F. – “Some people do it differently, but my family – you start with one board of matzoh per egg, so – if you have two boards of matzah, that’s two eggs, and a bowl of warm water uh:

– First you need to crack the matzoh boards to reasonable sizes

– And then soak them in the water; wait until it’s, like, not super soft, but you could see some mush there.

– Then drain it from the water, make sure there’s no water left, and then:

– Go mix your eggs (usually while the matzah is soaking), put some salt and pepper in there

– And then, you pour the egg on top of the drained matzoh,

– Mix it within the drained matzoh, prep your stove,

– YOU CAN scramble it or have it pancake style, (my grandpa likes it pancake style, but I’m not about that life, I like it scrambled.

– You must wait for the matzah brie to fully cook.

– I hate it when the brie is like eggy and not cooked, it’s disgusting, so wait until it is fully cooked.

– When it’s done, serve it however, but make sure you have some good jam.  I’m a big blueberry jam person, but you do you.

 

This is a good way for this person, D.F., to get in touch with her own culture.  Her being Jewish has always been a huge part of her identity, and she externalizes that identity whenever she can.  If that means preparing this dish, along with others she likes, as often as she can, then that is how she portrays herself to the world.

I found this very interesting, because; while my family on my father’s side is jewish, I had never heard of this recipe before this person’s interview.  The ingredients in the dish remind me of my own family, and the times I spent with them during the holidays, but that combination of ‘foods’ was totally foreign to me.  So, n0w that I’ve heard about it, I feel almost as if I’m more encouraged to explore my own identity, and ask the people I’m close with how they portray themselves to others, including me.

 

Humor
Narrative
Tales /märchen

The Story of the Trids

Subject: Narrative joke.

Collection: “Uh, so this is… um, let’s see. So, long ago… long ago in a faraway kingdom, there lived a tribe of- of these druid like people. Um… you know, it’s yore, I guess. Um, and they live- lived, it’s this agrarian society, they’re very peaceful, uh, they don’t practice warfare um li-like of any kind, not even like with sticks or anything, you know. They’re just ve- very nice people uh pacifists, no violence. If you swing a punch, like that’s your- that’ it, you’re out of the society. You know, you’re gone. Um… and uh it’s almost a utopia just because of how peaceful it is, and, uh, and sustainable and everything. Except for one thing. All of their crops- they’re separated from their crops by a river. Um, on their side of the river, it’s not suitable for their crops. Um, but on the other side uh, it is. And the thing is, uh, they weren’t the best engineers so they only really managed to build a bridge in like one place. Uh, otherwise they would have to go way, like a couple miles away to like a calmer part of the stream, I mean river. Because it’s a little bit of a wild river. So, uh, so the- they really found that one perfect spot, and then the other good spots weren’t for a few miles, like in the other directions. Um, so they only built one bridge and the thought, like why would we- we need more than one bridge. Um… so and the other thing about these crops is um they’re very, very particular. They hav- they’re very sensitive, um you have to take care of them really well. You know, the right amount of water, the right amount of food, these people actually sang to their crops. Um, because, uh it-it helped the crops grow. Um, they were very talented musically. And um, oh I forgot to mention, these people are- they’re um, let’s see… yes, they are Jewish. Um, so, and they uh, they’re very talented musically so they’ve go- they have their own fiddler on-on the roof. That’s not the joke, don’t worry. Um, and uh, and yeah, these crops and um the fiddler would go and play to the crops as well. Um, not because that actually helps the crops as much as singing, um but um, just because they’re nice. They’re nice people. And these crops needed to be harvested at a particular time, uh otherwise they were terrible. Um, it’s kind of like, like you know avocados. Like how if… you buy an avocado, an- and it’s not ripe yet. And then it’s ripe for five seconds and then suddenly it’s- you’ve got to throw it in the trash. Or compost it. You got- composting is important. That’s actually a very important part of this society. That’s one of the- the core tenets of their sustainability program… Um, and um so yeah. It’s not exactly like an avocado, like you harvest them and then they’re ripe for a small amount of time. It’s that they have to be harvested at a perfect time. Um but that’s like, the avocado was just like the closest analogy I could come up with to help you understand because the particularity of these crops is a very important part of this story. Um, it’s- it’s you know, it’s one of the main character motives for this society, this group of people. So, I really want to hit home that just like an avocado, there’s a really small window where they’re good to go. And, uh, one day it’s harvest season and they’re like, ‘let’s go, let’s go. This is the window, let’s go get these crops’. Uh so, they all prepare to cross this bridge, when from under the bridge a troll jumps out and um they’re like, ‘what, we’ve never seen this troll before, where did you come from? Uh, and who are you? Uh, will you allow us to pass’. And the troll says, ‘no, this is my bridge. And none of you will pass’… and uh, and the troll says, ‘none of you will go back either’. And they go, uh, they go, ‘No, what does tha- what? We’re going to be stuck here forever?’. And uh the troll says, ‘No, I’m going to kick you into the river’. And they go, ‘What?’ [laughter]. And so, one by one he kicks all of them into the river. And they’re fine though. Uh, It’s a, you know, it’s a bit of a wild river, but they’re all okay, none of them have any broken bones or anything, because they just fall into the river and the river, it- it sweeps them pretty far away, you know. Because, like I said, the only good places for a bridge is where that place, and then like really far away, and they get swept all the way there. Many miles away. And they- they’re- they manage to get out of the river and they’re alright. They’re wet, they’re a little wet you know, it’s not fun… And uh, so all their clothes are cotton and cotton shrinks., is the problem. So, they’re worried about their clothes, and they’re worried about the crops, they just got sweeped down the river miles away, they’re running out of time for these very time-sensitive crops that need to be harvested. Otherwise, they won’t have any food. And they don’t know where this troll came from or why it’s there or why he’s kicking them or how to get around him. So, they go and they go, let’s try again. So, they go and they try again and the same exact thing happens. Again. Uh, and… threes are also a very important part of this story, because the rule of threes contributes very heavily to the comedic effect, um… But the other thing about the three is, uh, you know these people, they’re, uh, they’re called the Trids. Because they love the number three. And, uh, uh, uh the Trids. Um, so plenty of things are based off the number three. The fiddler, all the songs that he plays are- they’re in three. Like 1-2-3, 1-2-3. When the sing to the crops, it’s in three. Part of their sus- their sustainability program is actually a three-point program, and the composting is one of the three points. Um, and also, the- their sustainable fields are like organized into three sections. Um, so they’re big on threes… So, they go back and the second time, you know, the second time. And the third time, they’re like, ‘What can we do?’. So, they go back to the town, um, and they get the rabbi. And the rabbi, and they say, ‘Rabbi, there’s a troll on the bridge who won’t let us get to our crops’. So, he goes, ‘Oh my goodness! Uh, that’s why you guys aren’t back with the crops yet’. And they go, ‘Yeah! What do we do?’. And he goes, ‘Oh, I don’t know. I’ve never dealt with trolls before. Um, but I’ll give it a shot. I’ll try talking to this guy’. You know. And so they go back again to the bridge. This time with the rabbi at the front. And, uh, the rabbi says, uh, to the troll, ‘Uh, I am the rabbi and these are my people the Trids, please let us pass. We have these very important time-sensitive crops’. And the troll says, ‘No, I’m going to kick you again’, And he starts kicking people. And the rabbi is like, ‘hold on, hold on, hold on! Stop kicking people’. And the trolls are like, the troll is like, ‘Okay, I’ll stop for like three seconds. And the rabbi says, ‘Please just tell me why you’re doing this’. Uh and the troll’s like, ‘No’. And, uh, so he starts kicking people again and the rabbi is like, ‘Come on. Hey, stop it! Stop it’. He ju- grabs the troll and starts shaking him and he’s like, ‘Why are you doing this’. And the troll is like, ‘Get off of me old man’. And uh, you know, he shimmies out of the rabbi’s grasp, the rabbi is pretty old you know. He- he’s not very strong. It’s- it’s -it’s not an even match-up. And finally, Uh… the rabbi… um… invokes God and says, ‘In the name of God, I command you to stop and tell me why you are kicking my people off the bridge’. And, uh, and he’s like, ‘Is it, you know, tha- is it a personal thing? Like, are you guarding the crops?  Like, I don’t understand’. And the troll goes, ‘Silly Rabbi, Kicks are for Trids’.

Background Info: M. Takla is currently a sophomore at the University of Southern California pursuing a degree in Computer Engineering. He is from Foster City, CA.

Context: M. Takla told me this joke over dessert, sitting outside around dusk. I challenged him to a joke off, through which we both learned each other’s best narrative jokes. I then asked to record him telling this joke for my collection.

Analysis: This joke subverts the expectations for a typical punchline while employing traditional narrative elements on which the narrator is free to embellish. First, the narrator sets the story in days of “yore,” setting up the expectations that this will follow the formatting of a normal tale. Therefore, when the whole story leads to a joke, the subversion of the typical genre lends the joke its surprise and humor. Second, the story (rather openly) capitalizes on the tradition of tales to introduce an activity or patter three times before arriving at the punchline. By building to the punchline in this way, the joke comments on its dual roles as narrative and joke so that the genre of tale is mocked.

This joke also interacts with institutional and copyright culture, playing off the motto of Trix cereal brand: “Silly Rabbit, Trix are for Kids”. Therefore, it can be determined that the joke emerged Terminus Post Quem the television and network advertising. Without these commercial systems, the aesthetics of mocking brand marketing would not have emerged. Furthermore, when hearing or telling the joke, the individual recalls their experiences with the cereal, usually from childhood, locating them within a group. The combination of these factors affords the joke its immediate humor and, then communicates further mocking of childhood elements such as the tale and Trix breakfast cereal.

For Further Research: For reference to the Trix marketing and commercials that popularized the phrase in the 1970’s and 1980’s, refer to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CUIYYx2n1bI.

Folk speech
Holidays
Humor
Narrative
Rituals, festivals, holidays
Tales /märchen

Levine Hand Strength

I’ve sat next to this girl for most of the semester, however our conversation has been limited to commonalities between the pair of us rather than old family stories. I knew she was Jewish and from the Valley. She seemed eccentric, and dressed in that way only those privy to Los Angeles beach culture – striped shirts, ripped jeans, lots of pins on backpacks and patches on shirts – can pull off. I had no idea her family came from Russia, or that they were known for their hand strength.

The following was transcribed from a recording taken in class and shared among three or four other classmates. The background buzzed with chatter from other students, but still the edge of the story shone through.

“He was an orthodox Jewish barrel-builder in Russia at the turn of the century. He started this thing in our family, ‘Levine Hand Strength’ – the firm handshake. He was coming off work one day and a Cossack soldier – these guys are usually pretty anti-Semetic – came up to him and pulled on his beard and called him a ‘Jew bastard’. Anyways, in Russian, my great grandpa said to the Cossack, ‘that was very good of you to let me shake your hand’. According to grandpa Harry, he crushed the Cossack’s hand so hard that blood came out of his finger-tips. That’s the family story that we tell at every Jewish holiday.”

Almost as timeless as time itself, stories of Jews overcoming their oppressors never fail to entertain. Fitting in with movies like “Inglorious Basterds”or “Life is Beautiful”, this story further illustrates the pride Jews feel in keeping a positive spirit while facing constant prejudice and oppression. Additionally, it celebrates the familial trait of strength, both physical and mental, by being retold multiple times throughout the year.

 

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