I first met Dov Noy in a book—more precisely, in an endnote.
I was putting together a collection of Jewish folktales, browsing through hundreds of stories collected in dozens of anthologies and primary sources. Early on in my research, I came across a bibliographic reference containing a baffling acronym—IFA—followed by a number. Then I encountered it again in the next endnote, and the next, and the one after that. In fact, it popped up repeatedly in most of the newer anthologies of Jewish folktales that I consulted. When I delved deeper I learned that "IFA" stood for the Israel Folktale Archives, which is the most extensive collection of Jewish oral tales in the world. I also discovered that one man was responsible for this unique treasure trove—Dov Noy.
In time I met Jewish storytellers who had mined the IFA for their books. I heard them recite these tales aloud, putting their own special "spin" on them. And I listened to their personal stories about meeting Dov Noy. It became increasingly clear to me that this Israeli professor was an unsung Jewish hero, whose efforts had contributed significantly to safeguarding a Jewish literary legacy no less precious than the holy books revered for centuries by the Jewish people. The only difference was that such oral tales rarely made it into print, so they had not caught the attention of the scholars. Until recent times, these tales had been carried around in the pekels, saddlebags, and aprons of concha, the Jewish rankand-file, as they shlepped across five continents during their 2,000-year exile. And because the transmitters of these oral texts were only simple folk, not venerated rabbis or community leaders, their tales had slipped beneath the radar of "the Tradition." They were not taught in yeshivahs or religious schools, recited around the Sabbath table or at the pulpit, not disseminated in beautifully printed seforim, or prayerbooks, or even in popular haggadot. Unlike the universal currency of normative Judaism, these tales were strictly local coinage, eagerly passed around among Jewish tradespeople, laborers, shopkeepers, and beggars, old and young, literate and unlettered, in the marketplace, at family celebrations, at home, and in coffeeshops. Remarkably, Dov Noy had understood all this when he was only a graduate student of folklore at Indiana University, and he had proceeded to devote his life to rescuing Jewish folktales before they vanished. The first step he took in accomplishing this mission was to found