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In Memoriam: Tamar Alexander z”l

In: Journal of Jewish Languages
Author:
Galit Hasan-Rokem Professor Emerita, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem Jerusalem Israel

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(1945–2023)

Citation: Journal of Jewish Languages 11, 1 (2023) ; 10.1163/22134638-06011148

Professor Tamar Alexander left her many friends, colleagues, and students with great riches, and with an aching feeling of loss of the many gifts that she could still have shared. She always carried with her the treasure and to some extent the responsibility of being a daughter of Jerusalem, born there on October 17, 1945, and raised in the city. The city would figure at the heart of many of her projects, and she returned to live in Jerusalem after her retirement from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. She died there on March 29, 2023.

However, it was in the Negev, at BGU and beyond, that her scholarly career peaked. The southern university of Israel gave her ample opportunities to develop her talent as a scholar who accomplished numerous projects, as a teacher who charmed introductory classes, and who devotedly and skillfully supervised many theses and dissertations. But Tamar was also a social activist and her activities reached out to the wider community, providing for educational and cultural opportunities beyond the campus in the depth of Israel’s geographical, social, and cultural peripheries.

Tamar Alexander’s academic education stretched between Hebrew literature and Jewish history and culture from her undergraduate studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem until the completion of her PhD at the University of California Los Angeles (1972), in Folklore and Jewish Studies. Upon her return from USA to Israel she taught at various universities in Israel, including the Hebrew University and the University of Haifa, until she took the position at Ben-Gurion University in Beer Sheva, where, until her retirement in 2014, she was the leading scholar of folk literature and folklore. Her organizational capacities led to the establishment of the Section for Folklore Studies, and she also served as the Chair of the Department of Hebrew Literature. At Ben-Gurion University she also established the Moshe David Gaon Center for Ladino Culture.

I had the good fortune to work with Tamar very closely. Our joint interest in folk literature was initiated during our very first undergraduate year in the Department of Hebrew Literature at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, especially in the classes of the late doyen of Israeli folklore scholarship, Dov Noy. Much later, our close friendship and great joy in doing folklore together produced both the journal Jerusalem Studies in Jewish Folklore (from 1982 on), and in parallel the annual Israeli Inter-University Folklore Conferences. Sadly, the conference in May 2023 at Ben-Gurion University will be dedicated to the memory of Professor Tamar Alexander.

Her early research addressed historical, especially medieval European Jewish, folk narrative, more particularly the narratives of the German Jewish pietists known as Hasidei Ashkenaz. Her most important scholarly contribution was the study of Judeo-Spanish and Ladino folk literature, of which she became a leading, internationally recognized authority. Her many publications include studies of Ladino folk narratives, proverbs, riddles, and magic. She maintained active research connections with scholars in Spain at the Council of Scientific Research in Madrid (Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas), the University of Granada, and other institutions. She held an appointment as visiting Professor at Yale University in the early 2000s, and in total she published over a hundred articles in Hebrew, English, Spanish, and Ladino. A Hebrew and Ladino language Festschrift in three volumes was dedicated to her in 2015. Since 2015, after her retirement from Ben-Gurion University, she successfully lead the folklore studies program in a large community college in southern Israel, Achva Academic College, continuing her devotion to the diverse communities of the South of Israel, including a large Bedouin population and the inhabitants of development towns founded during the mass immigrations of the 1950s and 60s. Her election to serve as the academic head of the Israeli National Authority for Ladino Language and Culture after President of the State of Israel Itzhak Navon was the fulfilment of a dream. In that role she initiated a host of socio-cultural events and renewed traditions which greatly contributed to the revival of Ladino and to a wide distribution of knowledge about Sephardic culture. For her many achievements and for her important contributions to the study of Judeo-Spanish folk literature and culture she was awarded an honorary medal by the King of Spain. In her work at the Israeli National Authority for Ladino Language and Culture she facilitated the publication of books and scholarship by graduate students and young scholars. But most of all her leadership ignited excitement and enthusiasm for the culture that she had been introduced to from her early childhood through her maternal family of Jerusalemite Sephardim. Fortunately, we can continue to enjoy her intellectual gifts embodied in her books and articles. It is her charismatic presence and her unbounding enthusiasm and love for everything Sephardic and Ladino that the scholarly world and her friends will miss. A partial chronological list of her bibliography follows below.

Bibliography

  • Alexander, Tamar. 1986. “The Judeo-Spanish Community in Israel: Its Folklore and Ethnic Identity.” Cahiers de littérature orale 20: 131152.

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  • Alexander, Tamar (with Elena Romero). 1988, 1992, 1996. “Erase una ves” … Maimonides, Cuentos tradicionales hebreos. Cordoba: Ediciones El Almendro.

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  • Alexander, Tamar. 1991. The Pious Sinner—Ethics and Aesthetics in the Medieval Hasidic Narrative. Tübingen: JCB Mohr.

  • Alexander, Tamar. 2000. “The Usage of Djuha Proverbs as Strategy in Discourse.” In Studies in Memory of Seyfi Karabas, ed. D. Zeyrek. Ankara: Middle East Technical University, 2941.

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  • Alexander, Tamar. 2002. “The Wealthy Senor MiguelA Study of a Sephardic Novella.” In History & Literature—New Readings of Jewish Texts in Honor of Arnold J. Band, eds. W. Cutter & D. Jacobson. Brown Judaic Studies 334. Brown University Press: Providence, 189209.

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  • Alexander, Tamar. 2004. Once Upon a Time … Maimonides, Traditional Hebrew Tales. Lancaster, CA: Labyrinthos.

  • Alexander, Tamar. 2008. “Traditional Memory and Jewish Culture: The Life Cycle in Sephardic Proverbs.” Narodna tvorchist’ ta etnografia (Folk Studies and Ethnography) 4: 3842.

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  • Alexander-Frizer, Tamar. 2008. The Heart is a Mirror: The Sephardic Folktale. Raphael Patai Series in Jewish Folklore and Anthropology. Detroit: Wayne University Press.

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  • Alexander, Tamar & Y. Harari. 2009. “Jewish FolkloreEthnic Identity, Collection & Research.” European Journal of Jewish Studies 3.1: 117.

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  • Alexander, Tamar. 2010. “‘Quien madruga el Dio le ayuda’Between a Spanish Proverb and a Sephardic Proverb.” In 3rd Interdisciplinary Colloquium on Proverbs, eds. Rui Soares& Outi Lauhakangas. Tavira: IAP AIP Portugal, 327339.

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  • Alexander, Tamar. 2010. “Woman-Girl, Girl-Woman: Body, Self Image, Family and Memory in Personal Narratives of Female Greek Holocaust Survivors.” El Prezente, Studies in Sephardic Culture 4: 1129.

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  • Alexander, Tamar. 2011. “‘En kada palavra metes un rifrán’: The Functions of the Proverbs in Satirical Sketches from Salonikan Newspapers.” In The 4th International Conference on Judeo-Spanish Language, Satirical Texts in Judeo Spanish by and about the Jews of Thessaloniki, eds. Rena Molho, Hilary Pomeroy, & Elena Romero. Thessaloniki, 120143.

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  • Alexander, Tamar, Shalom Sabar, & Gila Hadar. 2011. “Jewish Postcards from Salonika.” Jerusalem Studies in Jewish Folklore 27: 183230 (in Hebrew).

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  • Alexander, Tamar & Eli Papo. 2011. “Te Aprikanto i te Diskanto, La Medisina Tradisional de las Mujers Sefaradis de Bosnia.” In Encuentro Internacional Sefarad en la diáspora 1492 = 2010, ed. José Luis Campoy Rubio. Murcia: Universidad de Murcia, 57104 (in Ladino).

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