A Jewish Folktale

Storytelling Association Singapore

by Karen Lee

The Tale – Tailor

The story is about a tailor who, when given a piece of cloth by a grateful customer, makes a coat for himself from it and wears that coat proudly everywhere. But the coat soon gets worn out. The tailor, then makes a jacket out of the coat and wears it proudly everywhere. But the jacket too wears out. Then the tailor makes a vest out of that jacket, and then a cap out of the vest and then a button from the cap. He wears the button proudly everywhere. But soon the button wears out too. The tailor takes one look at the button and with not much left to make, tells a story about it. He proudly told his story everywhere. And because it was a story, it was never worn out and is still proudly told everywhere.

The Teller – Karen Lee

Karen has told stories to various age groups ranging from 4 to 60 and beyond. She tells stories to different audiences at libraries, schools and community events, catering her stories to her audience needs. She has told stories at local and International festivals. Karen also conducts storytelling workshops for preschool teachers, parents, adults and students eager to use storytelling in various ways such as: storytelling in education, parent-child bonding, incorporating stories for heritage trail guides or tour guides, or to enhance oral communication skills.

‘I was teaching children with learning difficulties and conducting reading programmes for children who struggled with reading in English. Back then, I would read stories to them out of a book. It was at a Storytelling Workshop that I discovered Oral Storytelling. That opened up a whole new world of storytelling. I discovered that the children were more engaged in listening to stories told and they could enjoy the stories, without struggling with reading text. That was the start of my amazing storytelling journey. From there, I moved on to telling stories for different occasions and audiences.

My favourite story is a Jewish folktale about a Tailor. I first heard the story told at the Asian Storytelling Congress in Singapore by Bobby Norfolk. Later, I came across the story again in Hiroko Fujita’s book ‘Stories to Play With’. I liked the message behind the story about being thrifty and not being wasteful. On a personal level, this story appeals to me because my grandfather was a tailor. My grandmother made a blanket out of fabric samples. That blanket itself is a story about being thrifty and creative with limited resources. It is also a story about the love of a grandmother for her grandchild. I love telling this story because I can weave the Jewish folktale together with a personal story about love and resilience.’

The Telling

This story has many layers and works on multiple levels with various audience. The repetition in the story appeals to young children, and the message of being creative and resourceful is clearly understood. On another level, this story is about STORY. Stories have a longevity beyond ourselves. Once told, the story stays in the mind of the listener. That story cajoles the listener to tell it and the listener becomes the storyteller.

I have told this story in English and Mandarin. One of the memorable moments of this storytelling was when I told this story in Mandarin to a group of children of mixed-age groups and ethnicity, and not everyone understood Chinese. However, the children gamely stayed to listen and happily joined in the storytelling, repeating the words and actions.

I was impressed by the children’s ability to understand a story despite the language barrier.

‘Stories can transcend language and age. Stories can be understood and enjoyed simply because it appeals to us as humans.’