Take the bus from Lev HaMifratz ( Heart of the Bay) up to Haifa University. It will take you about half an hour, twisting and turning up the Carmel Mountain. The views are spectacular.  The bus will take you into the University campus and stops at various buildings. Wait until the very last stop. There is a turning circle and a concrete bus shelter. Get off and walk towards the Multi-purpose building. If you miss the turn to the left, as I did, don’t panic. Go down to the end of the path and turn left.  You will come to the student building with the law building ahead of you. Turn left and enter the back of the Multi-purpose building. Go past the dinosaur bones in the hall down to the main doors (which are locked). Turn left by the glass screen and walk down the corridor. Almost at the bottom on the right is a door, 146. A sign above states Israel Folktale Archives, named in honour of Dov Noy. This is your destination.

Inside you might find Dr Idit Pintel-Ginsberg. She runs the archive now. At any one time you might find two or three other women, volunteers who come in to help put the archives on computer so you can access them from your home.  I had phoned before hand to arrange an appointment, leaving a hurried message in English in the answer phone. Idit rang back the next day with an invitation to visit and precise directions. The IFA is open in the mornings from 8 am to 2pm Sun to Thursday. A cup of tea would be waiting if I let them know I was on the way.

The archives themselves are housed in manila boxes in a temperature controlled room. There are over 24,000 of them. Stories, initially collected by Dov Noy and the oral historians he trained in 1955 from the immigrants.  Folk stories that betray not only the country of origin but also the essential Jewishness of the storytellers. The fragile original handwritten notes are kept together with the initial typewritten transcript.

The volunteers work to put the stories into digital form for easy access. The tales have been collected and annotated so that you can follow a thread if you want to- which tale does this resemble, other tales that have similar themes, lands where similar tales are told, explanations of the personalities in the tales and so on. All of the narratives are sorted according to an internal indexing system based on the following categories:  Ethnicity/ Storyteller/ Recorder/ Holidays/ Colours/ Music/ Well-known Personalities/ General Personalities (kings, wise men, rabbis, mothers, etc.)/Places in Israel/ Plants and Animals. Over half of the collection is indexed according to the Aarne-Thompson tale types and can be accessed accordingly. If you are looking for a certain theme contact IFA and they will find you a story that illustrates it.

Although the collection is in Hebrew, they have already published three volumes of tales in English and are working on the fourth. Each volume comes fully annotated with explanations and additional stories as well as the IFA numbers of similar stories for further research, so in effect you get a lot more than story for your one tale.

Idit is very welcoming. She offered tea and gave free access to the library they have in the archive including computers, scanned documents, and audio-visual equipment to view and listen to recorded sessions.  She also presented me with a volume of stories- a precious gift to any storyteller. I didn’t realise how quickly the time flew as I researched tales there. Volunteers left at intervals , but so engrossed was I, it was nearly 2.30pm before I realised that there was only Idit and myself there. Embarrassed for taking up so much time, I apologised. Idit was amused. That’s what happens when you get involved with stories. I caught the bus back to the Lev HaMiftratz and then the train to Nahariya with my head full.

Idit would like more people to use the IFA. A story to fill the empty spot in a sermon, a tale to illustrate something in cheder, a story to make children and adults alike gasp with wonder and then laughter- a Sephardi tale, an Afghan tale, a Yemeni tale, an Ashkenazi tale, an African tale, even an American tale south or north – they are all there, waiting to be found by you. The tellers brought them to Israel as part of the cultural heritage of the Diaspora, don’t let them moulder.  Dov Noy knew the value of these tales, which is why he started to collect them long before it was fashionable. In so doing he has saved the tales for us to discover anew.

Research is going on into the whys and wherefores. Why is there a Jewish version of this type of tale, what does that tell us about the times they lived in? What about the specifically Jewish stories, wonder workers, etc? Why was this story remembered and not others? What is so special about these folktales? These tales come with the notes of the oral historian collecting them on the person who told the tale. Fascinating stuff.

Contact Idit via email:  ipinterg@research.haifa.ac.il . Visit the archive but phone first 972-4-8240726. Or write to Dr. Idit Pintel-Ginsberg,The Israel Folktale Archives named in honor of Dov Noy (IFA)
Haifa University, Mount Carmel 31905, ISRAEL. The website is http://ifa.haifa.ac.il