Haunting tale promised in Haworth from the last Jewish storyteller


A Centuries-old tale will be told by the last storyteller of her kind in Haworth this month.

Shonaleigh Cumbers will relate the story of the Ruby Tree during an event organised by the Worth Valley Storytelling Guild.

Jewish yarn-spinner Shonaleigh will be the guest at a special edition of the guild’s Haworth Open Storytelling Circle on March 16.

Shonaleigh is regarded as the last in a traditional line of Jewish storytellers.

She is a drut’syla, a storyteller who traditionally learned her craft from her grandmother.

The tradition all but died out in the middle of the 20th century and Shonaleigh is, as far as is known, the last of her tradition.

The drut’syla tradition is passed from grandmother to granddaughter and consists of 12 interwoven cycles, each containing several hundred tales.

The Ruby Tree is one of these tales, beginning with the yearning of a king and queen for a child.

There is only one way to fulfil this wish: the king must pluck a fruit from the strange and wonderful Ruby Tree, planted by Elijah himself and guarded by a shape-shifting witch.

Storytelling Guild chairman Adam Sargent said: “This haunting story has been preserved in Jewish tradition for centuries, carrying echoes of Rapunzel, Snow White and the Twelve Brothers.

“Our tales may travel, but the themes within them cross cultures, and wherever they go, they speak to us of our longings and failings, the hopes of generations yet to be born, and the triumph of the human spirit.”

Adam said the WorthValley Storytelling Guild was privileged to host a performance by Shonaleigh.

He said: “The tradition she represents is an intangible heritage and very well may be lost.

“This is a rare opportunity to see a performance of a true master of her craft, and the story cycle Shonaleigh will be drawing on, The Ruby Tree, will provide the start of the storytelling.

“Where it ends will depend on the audience themselves.”

Shonaleigh’s performance will be filmed by John Sargent in preparation for a crowdfunding campaign to be organised jointly between the Storytelling Guild and John’s Image Studio.

The hoped-for result will be a documentary DVD of the life, work and tradition of Shonaleigh Cumbers, entitled The Last Drut’syla.

Haworth Open Storytelling Circle will be held in the back room of the Old Hall Inn in Haworth on March 16 from 8pm. Entrance is free, and a hat will be passed round to help offset Shonaleigh’s travel expenses.

E-mail adam@thestorytellingguild.org.uk for further details of the performance, and visit thelastdrutsyla.co.uk for information about the DVD project.

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