California: Family Tale

Informant: There’s this story my dad tells me all the time around the Jewish holidays. He only really tells me this story during the Jewish holidays and he makes it a big elaborate thing. The story goes like this: 

“My great great grandpa was an orthodox Jewish man and a barrel builder in Russia at the turn of the century who started the ‘Levine Hand Strength,’ aka the firm handshake.One day he was coming home from work when a Cossack soldier, who were typically anti Semitic, came up to him and yanked his beard very hard after calling him a Jewish bastard. My great great grandfather responded ‘that was very good of you…let me shake your hand.’ According to the story, the handshake was so strong that  he crushed the Cossack’s hand and blood started gushing out of his finger tips.” That’s the story. 

Collector: How does it make you feel when your dad tells you this story? 

Informant: I love when my dad tells this story because he saves it for special occasions and always makes it such a big deal that it makes it feel like an important story. It also makes me feel closer to my heritage and makes me feel better about being Jewish. It’s part of my family’s identity. 


This piece of folklore is very interesting because it is personal folklore. The tale being told by the informant is relevant to her and her family. I really like the importance of this tale within the informant’s family. It is a way for her to understand where her family came from and it makes her feel closer to her heritage, which I think is important. I think that the reason why this story is so impactful for the informant is because it has a direct relationship to her and her family and because it is treated by her father almost as if it were an epic tale.

There is a lot that can be learned from the informant based on this tale. First, we learn that her family is originally from Russia. We also learn that she is from Jewish heritage and that her family has continued to follow the Jewish traditions. Lastly, the story provides insight into her relationship with her father. Clearly, he is someone she respects and loves, which is why the fact that it is him telling her the story is so important. All of these small details are specific to this informant rather than to a group of people/society, which demonstrates the difference between personal/family folklore and cultural/public folklore.