Hebrew University professor discusses Israeli folklore
The different languages used on road signs across Israel indicate bias against Arabic-speaking citizens, said Galit Hasan-Rokem, a professor form Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Hasan-Rokem, who teaches Jewish history and folklore, discussed the ethnic involvement of Jewish traditions yesterday in a lecture entitled “New Forms of Ethnic Traditions: Israel in the 21st Century,” held at the Douglass Campus Center.
The Allen and Joan Bildner Center for the Study of Jewish Life invited Hasan-Rokem to be one of two visiting scholars for the first year they are offering the program.
Hasan-Rokem said her colleague conducted a study of signs across Israel and found the Hebrew translation was more prominent than the Arabic translation in most signs, even in Arabic areas.
She showed four signs and other examples of how the Arabic version was dominated by the Hebrew, such as the spelling of “Caesarea.”
“In this case, they changed the Arabic to sound like Hebrew phonetics,” she said.
One sign was vandalized, the Arabic translation of the place painted over with black graffiti.
She said four different entities, including the government, can decide what to put on a sign, and sometimes administrative levels interfered with the proper balance of languages on a sign.
When local counsels design the layout, she said, they tended to give both languages equal treatment.
She also reviewed her research on Georgian proverbs. With a fellow researcher hailing from the country of Georgia, she interviewed different subjects about traditional proverbs and the passing of proverbs from one generation to another.
“They have a saying … ‘The earlier human is a bridge for a later one,’” she said. “It was the first proverb for us and it felt symbolic. … It means the experience of later generations will help the young.”
She similarly shared her experience with her colleague about research, while he passed the knowledge of Georgian tradition onto her.
Georgians immigrating to Israel in the 1970s faced criticism and suspicion, she said. She showed a TV program from the era portraying some of the stereotyping immigrants face for not being in the country long enough.
Judaism is well known for relying on traditions, she said. She played the beginning of “Tradition,” a song from “Fiddler on the Roof,” to demonstrate the importance of that element in the Jewish heritage.
Hasan-Rokem said she saw traditions being integrated throughout Israeli culture. One example is henna on brides, which began in North Africa and Arabic ethnic groups.
She displayed several pictures of brides throughout the years, from Morocco, to Spain, to present-day Israel.
Today’s picture incorporated the traditional dress of the bride from the past, she said, but the event was far more informal and the couple invited many non-Arabic friends.
Yael Zerubavel, director of the Bildner Center, pointed out that Israeli culture can also blend languages when two groups have strong interaction.
Hasan-Rokem agreed saying many Hebrew words have an Arabic origin. Hebrew works into other languages too, such as English.
Zerubavel met Hasan-Rokem while studying folklore at the University of Pennsylvania. She said Hasan-Rokem was an intellectual with a mastery of literature and languages.
She went to talk to some Hebrew classes, and Zerubavel later heard from the instructor how wonderful the students thought she was, she said.
Hasan-Rokem, who was born in Helsinki, Finland, has taught at Hebrew University since 1978 and has published two books, she said.
Hasan-Rokem teaches students about the importance of studying the daily life of Israelis.
“Her lecture is selective, but it gives the opportunity to see what you do not see in the headlines,” she said.
Israel Bartal, a professor at Hebrew University, is another visiting scholar to the University who was in attendance for Hasan-Rokem’s lecture. Bartal said this was his last year as a professor, so he decided to spend it at Rutgers, which he first visited 12 years ago. He previously taught a class on the history of zionism at the University.
As a professor of history, he often studies the melting pot of Israeli culture.
“She [Hasan-Roken] gave a brief, but accurate, depiction of cultural change in Israel in the past 30 years,” he said.