Scottish International Storytelling Festival: The Ruby Tree

Yiddish tales with Shonaleigh

From the remote Scottish Highlands to the town squares of Aleppo, the villages of Jordan to the gardens of Iran, the Scottish International Storytelling Festival unites storytellers from a rich variety of backgrounds and cultures. One such storyteller is Shonaleigh, a drut’syla from the Yiddish tradition.

Dating back hundreds of years to an era when women were not allowed to read or write, the tradition of the drut’syla is a largely female one. Stories were passed down from grandmother to granddaughter, multiplying and evolving as they moved across the generations.

Shonaleigh began learning stories from her grandmother, a Holocaust survivor, at the age of 4. She now holds some 4,000 stories in her head. Each overlaps with another, forming an enormous network of tales. One story can quickly become two in drut’syla tradition, giving each performance a spontaneous quality. No memorised lines here – as Shonaleigh says, “If I stood up in a shul and recited a story, I’d be laughed out the door!”

When the roots of another story start to appear, the drut’syla will say “but that’s another story” – to which the audience would traditionally reply, “for another time”. However, if even one person in the crowd asks to hear this new story, the drut’syla is required to tell it. The crowd’s interaction sometimes borders on heckling, something that’s in fact seen as the height of politeness: “It shows you’re interested and engaged in the story, that you’re paying attention.”

With her Edinburgh audience, Shonaleigh will be sharing the tale of The Ruby Tree, one of five tales in the Gem Cycle of Jewish stories. It’s a tale of lost generations enfolded in a ‘wonder tale’, a means of helping people cope with the hardships they were going through, such as loss, oppression or exile.

It’s a particularly fitting tale for this year’s Storytelling Festival, tying in with both the Stories Without Borders theme and with our current Tree of Life project, an exploration of tree lore from around the world. Read more at

Shonaleigh will also be leading a workshop on ‘word dancing’ and how storytelling can help individuals or communities in conflict, drawing on work she’s done with the European Court of Human Rights. Read more about these workshops in our The Ties that Bind blog.

The Ruby Tree takes place at the Scottish Storytelling Centre, 6pm on Thursday 29 October. Book tickets

The Ties that Bind – Word Dancing with Shonaleigh takes place at the Scottish Storytelling Centre, 2pm on Thursday 29 October. Book tickets


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