From Grandmother to Grandson—Judeo-Spanish Anecdotes in Israel Today: Emigration, Cultural Accommodation and Language Preservation

in European Journal of Jewish Studies

I examine processes of cultural accommodation and maintenance of the Sephardic tradition as reflected in anecdotes of the generation who immigrated to Israel. The anecdotes reflect traditions and beliefs of Ladino speakers; I study their folkloric and linguistic aspects, while exposing the elements that create humor and reflect dominant social norms. The anecdotes present the obvious and the concealed tensions in Israeli society, yet they have a universal dimension: social conflicts in contacts between cultures, between ethnic groups, between the generation of the parents and that of the children and grandchildren, between next-door neighbors and between diasporas which converge in one social habitat. The article examines elements of performance, including the place of the storyteller in the storytelling situation and the techniques that generate laughter and identification with a marginal group: the group of Ladino speakers in Israel, as they clash with the hegemonic power in the Israeli society.

  • 1

    Richard Bauman, Story, Performance, and Event: Contextual Studies of Oral Narrative (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), 55.

  • 2

    Nina Pinto-Abecasis, The Peacock, the Ironed Man and the Half-Woman (Jerusalem: Ben-Zvi Institute, 2014), 150–204 [Hebrew]. I outline a theoretical model for research into the anecdote that is based on three aspects that create the humor in it: the purely humorous aspect, the linguistic aspect, and the folkloristic aspect.

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  • 5

    Marion C. Moeser, The Anecdote in Mark, the Classical World and the Rabbis (London, New York: Sheffield Academic Press, 2002), 31.

  • 6

    As cited in Moeser, Anecdote in Mark, 32.

  • 8

    Dan Ben-Amos, “Forward,” Genre 2 (1969): iii–iv.

  • 9

    Tamar Alexander-Frizer, The Heart Is a Mirror: The Sephardic Folktale (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2008), 381–383. Also see there a short review about documented anecdotes in the Ladino-speaking world.

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  • 24

    Matilda Koén-Sarano, Gizar kon gozo (Jerusalem: S. Zack, 2010), 97.

  • 25

    Arthur Koestler, The Art of Creation (New York: Dell Publishing Inc., 1964) 32.

  • 30

    On this, see the book by Yuval Harari, Early Jewish Magic (Jerusalem: Ben-Zvi Institute, 2010), 139 [Hebrew].

  • 33

    Shmuel Refael Vivante, Beit hachaim: Final Resting Place Laws and Customs of Mourning among the Judeo-Spanish (Ladino) Speaking Communities (Ramat-Gan: Bar-Ilan University, 2012), 45.

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  • 54

    Bronislaw Malinowski, Magic, Science and Religion and Other Essays (Long Grove: Waveland Press, 1992), 90. This analysis does not apply to “healing magic.”

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  • 55

    See Yaron Ben-Naeh, “Il honor no se merka con paras,” Jerusalem Studies in Jewish Folklore 23 (2004): 9–38 [Hebrew].

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