Larisa Fialkova Koly hory skhodiat'sia: Narysy ukraiins'ko-izraiil's'kykh fol'klornykh vzaiemyn [When Mountains Meet: Essays on the Ukrainian-Israeli Folklore Studies] (in Ukrainian). Kyiv: Avtohraf, 2007. 176 pp. List of works cited. Photographs. Summary. Cloth. ISBN 978-966-02-4631-7
How does immigration affect people's sense of motherland when they move to the historical one? To what degree does Ukrainian culture affect the identity of people, both Jews and non-Jews, who immigrate to Israel? How do they negotiate their identities within a new culture? What would survive from a wide folklore complex they bring with them? Which stories do the Israeli Ukrainians tell and which language do they use for this? Is there such a phenomenon as the Ukrainian Diaspora in Israel and what does it mean? Fialkova addresses these and many other questions in her monograph, which is based on the author's fieldwork and research conducted during 1992 and 2006.
Jewish and Ukrainian cultures have been mutually influencing each other throughout the centuries, though, unfortunately, the scholarly research on this issue is sparse, and many works exist only in the manuscripts. Fialkova's monograph is a valuable contribution to the Ukrainian-Jewish studies, and the author beautifully reveals those influences to the reader throughout three main parts of the monograph.
In the first part, The Image of Jerusalem in Ukrainian Folklore, the author discusses how the Biblical geography and characters became an integral part of the texts of Ukrainian legends, ritual seasonal songs, incantations, and vertep (folk puppet theatre) regarding life and death of Jesus Christ. The names of Jordan, Bethlehem, and Jerusalem, though often changed due to the phenomenon of folk etymology, have been perceived by Ukrainians as closely related to and equally sacred with purely Ukrainian ones like Kyiv and Dnipro.
The second part, Folklore from Ukraine in Israel, is subdivided into three essays. The first of them deals with the image of Oleksa Dovbush, a Ukrainian national hero from the 18th century, and his relation to the founder of a Hasidic movement, Ba'al Shem Tov as it is reflected in the Jewish and Ukrainian folklore sources. This relation seems mysterious, while the attitudes of Ukrainians and Jews towards Dovbush differ dramatically.
The personal narratives and legends about hidden/buried treasures and supernatural phenomena in caves constitute the second essay. The narratives are no less interesting than the narrator - a recent Jewish immigrant from Odessa. The author analyzes those narratives along with their Internet-found versions as a living tradition imported to Israel from Ukraine.
In the third essay, the author compares and analyzes the cross-cultural folklore materials like personal narratives, children's games, jocular verses, and jokes about Ukrainian Chornobyl' - a symbol of nuclear disaster since 1986. The author also provides a typological resemblance between the Chornobyl' black humor and American Middletown's disaster jokes originated after the nuclear explosion of 1979.
The third part of the monograph, Formation of the New Ukrainian Diaspora in Israel, is devoted to the question of the present and future of such Diaspora. Methodologically, the author combines numerous personal interviews with the immigrants from Ukraine and participant observation of the functioning of Ukrainian language and culture in Israel. Fialkova concludes that the Ukrainian cultural Diaspora trends, though present and interesting, are not strong enough to endure without special investments from outside.
As an immigrant from Kyiv (Ukraine) to Haifa (Israel) herself, Fialkova had the advantage of the first-hand experience with the questions she was researching. This enabled her to produce a well balanced, both scholarly and politically, monograph, and address a very interesting contemporary topic of immigration and cultural identity change or retention with all sincerity and objectivity. This monograph will be an interesting and useful reading for folklorists, ethnologists, linguists, as well as for the wider interested audience in both Ukraine and Israel.
© S. Kukharenko