Meditation on a Russian Proverb in Israel

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Cultural History
Jewish Studies
Near and Middle Eastern Studies
Oral History
Slavic Languages and Societies
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My father spoke in proverbs, but for many years I did not notice. Only after I completed my graduate studies in folklore and began teaching, did I become aware of the idioms in his conversation. Without being a religious person he interlaced his anecdotes and narratives with proverbs, biblical verses, and parables from the talmuds. I began to pay attention. A few years later, when I visited my parents in Israel, my father, who was a construction worker, told me that in retirement he tried to make a business deal but failed. Yet in spite of his naiveté in such matters, he came through that experience unscathed. "The Lord protects the simple [minded]" (Psalms 116:6). He concluded his story with a touch of self-irony, and then explained, "why 'the simple [minded]'? Because smart people can take care of themselves." When my mother's health declined, he tended to her at home, and at the same time struggled to maintain his regular busy schedule of volunteer activities in several local organizations. Not one to complain openly, he wrote me in a letter the following parable, hardly realizing its history. "A Jew has complained before God about his share of troubles. He complained so much until God got tired of him and showed him the troubles other people in the world had, and told him to select out of these any trouble that would suit him best. After observing all these afflictions the Jew chose his own old troubles—at least with those, he felt, he was familiar."1

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