Tag Archives: dov noy

A Tribute to Dov Noy

noySince the death of Israeli folklorist Dov Noy on September 30, I have been trying to remember every moment and image of the time I met him at his home in Jerusalem in 2007. I was there thanks to an introduction by my mentor Peninnah Schram, a friend and colleague of Noy’s, but as I was to find out, anyone could stop by his home for conversation about storytelling. It was a slow night, fortunately, and only one other woman arrived in the two hours I was his guest.

I adored the man instantly, the dim walk-up apartment loaded with books, the face like my late, beloved grandfather, the familiar immigrant accent, the knowledge unobscured by arrogance. I remember nothing much of the conversation; I believe I was too overawed at being in the presence of the folklorist and ethnologist whose more than sixty books, multi-university career, international reputation and founding of the Israel Folklore Archives earned him the prestigious Israel Prize for literary research.

Here’s what Dov Noy teaches me tonight: I open his 1963 classic Folktales of Israel to a random page (190) and find the following story, recorded by Zvulun Kort, as heard in his youth in Afghanistan. It is called “Where Is the Jar?” and designated as IF A 1181, Type 1284, Person Does Not Know Himself:

Mullah Nasser-E-Din went to the public baths. He washed himself and saw that all the bathers were lying on the floor, rending the ceiling and the sky with their snores. He said to himself: “How good it would be to fall into a sweet sleep!” But what could he do so as not to be exchanged for a neighbor? He took a jar, fastened it to his waist, and fell asleep.

In the meantime one of the sleepers woke up and saw the jar fastened to Nasser-E-Din’s waist. He coveted the jar, took it, and fastened it to his own waist. After a short time, Nasser-E-Din arose and saw that the jar was not there. He looked around, and lo! there it was, fastened to the waist of someone else. He woke him up and said, “My friend, if I am I, where it the jar? But if you are me, who am I?”

What pleases me so much about this story? I tell a similar tale about the Jewish schmiel Herschele Ostropolier, not as well-known perhaps as the Wise Men of Chelm in Jewish storytelling circles, but a folk hero from the Old Country just the same. In the story, he mistakenly dons the official hat of an authority figure on being awakened from a nap at a train station, and everyone suddenly treats him with respect. When he gets on the train and sees his reflection in the window, instead of saying: “Oh my God, I’ve got the wrong hat!”, his response is: “Oh my God, the porter woke up the wrong man!”

Now this should not surprise me too much. First of all, if there is a tale type and motif for the story, obviously, according to the classification system of folk narrative developed by Stith Thompson and Antti Aarne, there are other, similar stories out there. In addition, why should it shock me that a story told by Jews in Afghanistan and imported to Israel is similar to an Eastern European Jewish tale that I learned from an American book of Jewish folktales? Isn’t that, after all, the way folk narrative works?

Yes, indeed. And who taught us that? Dov Noy.