Winter 2001-02


Jewish Studies At The University



Jewish Folktales

Prof. Haya Bar-Itzhak Directs the Dov Noy Archives

The Israel Folktale Archives, housed at the University, contains almost 25,000 stories, recorded in their language of origin.  They cover almost every location where Jews were and are to found around the world.  Prof. Haya Bar-Itzhak, Dept. of Hebrew and Comparative Literature, presently heads IFA.

  Recently the University decided to name the Archive in honor of Prof. Dov Noy, who founded it and established folklore studies as an academic discipline in Israel. A special ceremony was held toward the end of November to mark this event. Professor Noy is an honorary doctorate conferee of the University.

Following are two recently translated tales relating to the Days of Awe.  


The Fireflies in the Lodz Ghetto on Rosh Hashanah Eve

During the Holocaust period, the Nazis did not permit candles to be lit in the Lodz Ghetto.  First, in order to cause sorrow to the Jewish population; and second, from a fear of being bombed from the sky.

  On the first evening of Rosh Hashanah 1944, several minyanim of people gathered in a small room in the Lodz Ghetto for public prayer.  Every heart cried: May the year and its curses end, may a new year with its blessings begin.  However, a stiff decree issued from the Gestapo and the Judenrat (the Jewish Council): it is forbidden to light even the tiniest of candles.  So the Jews who were interned in the gloomy, bitter Ghetto were forced to pray in darkness that first night of Rosh Hashanah. However, when the prayer leader sang out the traditional tune of “Barchu”—Bless the blessed name [ushering in the evening service]—tens of thousands of fireflies suddenly penetrated into the room through the open windows and illuminated with a strong light the narrow rooms of Rabbi Melech Roitbart on Deburska Street.  At first, the congregation did not grasp what was happening, but they then quickly understood that this was a miracle, that the fireflies were messengers of the Holy One Blessed Be He, sent to shed light on the holy holiday.

  Of course, the Jewish policemen as well as the Gestapo agents immediately saw that the Jews had allowed themselves, as it were, to transgress the severe decree and had lighted candles prior to the prayer.  A full detachment of S.S. arrived, accompanied by Jewish police, and screamed: “Jews, put out the lights, and we won’t shoot.”

  Whereupon a second miracle took place.  The fireflies scattered everywhere, on the clothes of the S.S. men, on their vehicles, and on their murderous faces.

  The S.S. people then understood that what was happening here was something completely different: Such a heavy swarm of fireflies on this unusual period of the year?  Friedrich Schulze, head of the S.S. detachment wondered about this and swore that it seemed to him like the “beginning” of the bitter end.  Suddenly the God of the Jews, who had all the time gone unheard, unseen, had begun to do miracles and wonders for his chosen people.  The company commander order a retreat, allowing the Jews to pray to the end of the service.

  Rabbi Mordechai, one of the surviving remnant of the Lodz Ghetto, relates that the miracle of the fireflies that illuminated the first night of Rosh Hashanah put a glow into the hearts of the few who were left of the murderous Aktions. He also says that in his opinion there were no fireflies at all, but wandering the Ghetto streets was an old wagon driver, Reb Yoel by name, whom everyone considered one of the hidden 36 Just People because he had remained alive after all the perils and every Aktion.  He dragged himself from house to house, saving, encouraging, comforting, and strengthening spirits.  It was from him that the great light shone out, which in the eyes of those of flesh and blood seemed as a mountain of fireflies.

  May it be that the light of the hidden Just Person, Reb Yoel, stand us in good stead, and that we shall have a year of light and happiness, brilliance and never-ending happiness for our people in the State of Israel and for Jews all over.


--IFA File 2361, told (in Hebrew) by Chaim Dov Armon, 1960.



People of Faith


In Teheran in Persia [today Iran], there was once a large Jewish community, headed by Rabbi Eltzafan, a scholar, God-fearing, and wealthy.  He cast the coins of the realm.  He was very cautious in carrying the commandments, whether those relating to the Almighty or those regarding one’s fellow man.  Everyone loved and respected him.  His open hand was extended to all, and his home welcomed the poor and the passer-by.   He was the community’s Rabbi and prayer leader.  He had a sweet voice, and led the prayers on Sabbaths and holidays.

      One year, on the eve of Yom Kippur, he dressed in his white clothes [traditional for Yom Kippur] and after the final meal prior to the fast, he set out for the synagogue.  It was full from pillar to post, old and young had come to pray, everyone dressed in white, resembling the angels of the Lord.  Rabbi Eltzafan went to the podium to begin the Kol Nidrei prayer.  Just then, two soldiers entered the synagogue and announced to Rabbi Eltzafan that Sheik Nasr a-Din wanted him to come at once.

      Rabbi Eltzafan said to them: Tell the Sheik that for the next 26 hours I cannot come to him, since we are in the process of making an accounting to the King of kings.

      The soldiers departed, and Rabbi Eltzafan resumed the prayers.      The next day, during the morning prayers, the soldiers again came to the synagogue and requested that Rabbi Eltzafan come with them to the Sheik.  Once again, Rabbi Eltzafan replied to them: I cannot come at any time during the day, because I am giving an accounting before the King of kings the Almighty Blessed Be He. 

      Just before the closing Ne’ila service, the soldiers returned, and Rabbi Eltzafan did not respond to their request, saying: In just a couple of hours I shall be able to come to the Sheik.

      After the Ne’ila service, the Rabbi said the evening prayers with the congregants, went outside with them to bless the new moon, walked to his house and started preparations to build a sukka.  Only then did he go in his white attire to the Sheik.  The rest of community remained in the synagogue to pray for his well-being.

      Arriving at the palace, Rabbi Eltzafan entered and, seeing the Sheik sitting on his throne fuming, Rabbi Eltzafan prostrated himself on the floor and did not arise.

      The Sheik called out: Eltzafan! Why did you  not come when I called for you last night and today?  How did you dare do this and disobey me?

      Rabbi Eltzafan, still lying on the ground, answered: Your excellency, attend to my word.  We have one day a year that is entirely devoted to making an accounting of all our deeds to the Kiing of  kings Blessed Be He.  How could I then stop in the middle of this accounting and come?  Now that I have finished, I have come immediately, and I am now in your hands.  Do with me as you wish.  I am prepared to die any death that you decree on me, whether you wish to hang me or to execute me with the sword.  I accept your decree.

      The Sheik immediate ordered his servants to bring in precious garments and to put them on Rabbi Eltzafan.  They brought an expensive robe made of silk and woven with threads of gold and dressed him in it.  Rabbi Eltzafan stood up, kissed the hand of the Sheik, who said to him: Indeed I see that you are a true worshipper of God, and therefore I have allowed you to escape with your life.  Go home in peace.

      Rabbi Eltzafan returned to the synagogue.  When the congregation saw him dressed in the expensive robe, they understood that nothing bad had befallen him; just the opposite, the Sheik had honored him.  They thanked the Lord for the mercy he rendered and concluded the evening in festivity and thanksgiving.


IFA File 10663, recorded by Moshe Rabi (Jerusalem), narrated by Aharon Zvi Ben-David of Iran. 





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