The Scatterbrained Man from Azar's Village
Written by: Lea Goldberg
Illustrated by: Natalie Waksman Shenker
The story of the scatterbrained man has been told to Israeli children for almost eighty years. It has numerous versions, and is a wonderful example of a literary piece that does not fail to entertain despite having been written many years ago. The illustrations by Natalie Waksman Shenker depict scenes from Israel in its early days, adding a nostalgic air to a story generations of children have enjoyed.
Hebrew Children's Literature
Our children are growing up at a time when Hebrew books of every sort, for every age, are in abundance. Since Zionism began over one hundred years ago, intellectuals and educators have made tremendous efforts to create a Hebrew culture for children, in order to raise and educate them to speak the language. The story of the scatterbrained man was adapted by Lea Goldberg from a story written in Russian by Samuil Marshak, as she regarded the translation of literary masterpieces into Hebrew a task of national importance. Together with Avraham Shlonsky, Nathan Alterman, and others, Goldberg translated a selection of books from world literature into Hebrew in an effort to broaden cultural horizons in Israel.
Where is Azar's Village?
The story of the scatterbrained man from Azar's village (in Hebrew the title rhymes: Hamefuzar Mikfar Azar) began in 1939 as a comic strip published in the children's newspaper Davar Liyladim, then called The Scatterbrained Man from Mount Hor (which again rhymes in Hebrew: Hamefuzar Mehor Hahar). Some months later, Lea Goldberg published a serial rhyming tale in the same newspaper about Elazar the scatterbrained man from Azar's Village (Elazar Hamefuzar Mikfar Azar). They say that a delegation of Azar's Village inhabitants was subsequently sent to meet with the poetess and convince her to remove the name of their town from the title for fear it will be mocked and ridiculed. When Goldberg compiled the story of the scatterbrained man in a book in 1943, she chose to change the title from The Scatterbrained Man from Mount Hor to The Scatterbrained Man from Azar's Village.
If you were to look for the town now, you would not be able to find it; Azar's Village has since become an integral part of the City of Ramat Gan, and is only remembered thanks to Goldberg's scatterbrained man.
Lea Goldberg (1911–1970), born in Kaunas, Lithuania, was a poetess, authoress, translator, professor, and editor, while also heading the Comparative Literature Department at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. At the age of 23 she had completed her PhD on Semitic Linguistics in Germany, and upon immigrating to Israel in 1935, began to publish her writings, and soon became a well-loved and well-known poetess. Her publications, and among them her children's stories and poems (Apartment to Rent [Dira Lehaskir], Magic Hat [Kova Ksamim], What do the Does do? [Ma Osot HaAyalot?], and many more) have become invaluable gems of Israeli literature. In 1970 she was awarded the Israel Prize for Literature; however, having unfortunately passed away two months prior to the ceremony, her mother received it on her behalf.
Proposed Family Activities
- Perhaps you would like to look at the illustrations together, and search for differences between then and now. What did the iron look like in the past? Were trains and buses similar to the ones we have now? And what is the bus driver holding? You could try looking for the rooster throughout the book. What is it doing on each page?
- You may enjoy reading the rhyming tale several times, and asking your child to join in for the refrain:
"הִנֵּה כָּךְ הוּא הַמְפֻזָּר, הַמְפֻזָּר מִכְּפַר אֲזַ"ר!"
You could also learn to recite some of the poem off by heart, letting the illustrations remind you of the words.
- Were you told the story of the scatterbrained man (or a similar tale, whether by Samuil Marshak or another author) when you were growing up? Do you have another version of the story at home? You may enjoy reminiscing together, sharing memories with your child, and comparing both illustrations and stories.
- What do you find funny? Perhaps you would like to look for all the things the scatterbrained man does wrong in the illustrations, and act some of them out.
- You may enjoy coming up with an additional part of the story, and acting it out. What do you think happened to the scatterbrained man from Azar's Village as he continued to sit in the stationary railroad car on his way to Jerusalem?
- We all behave like scatterbrains sometimes! You may want to share memories of silly things you had done when your mind had wandered, or occasions on which you were particularly confused, and make each other laugh.
- Do you know any other book by Lea Goldberg? You may want to look for and read more of her stories and poems together, such as Where is Pluto (Ayeh Pluto?), Apartment to Rent (Dira Lehaskir), and the collection of poems entitled What do the Does do? (Ma Osot HaAyalot?
Enjoy reading and discussing the book together!