Laughing Until We Cry (Thanks, Pew Survey on #JewishAmerica!)

Why Is Sense of Humor So Essential to Our Identity?

Funny Man: Woody Allen is part of a long tradition of Jewish humor.
Getty Images
Funny Man: Woody Allen is part of a long tradition of Jewish humor.

By Leonard Fein

Published November 01, 2013, issue of November 08, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 2)

Medium: Two elderly Jews are sitting on a park bench when a group of scantily clad females jogs past them. One says, “Remember when we used to chase after girls like that?” His friend: “Of course I do. I just can’t remember why.”

Light: “Oh, do I have for you a bargain.” “What’s the bargain?” “I can let you have a full-grown elephant for just two hundred dollars.” “Are you insane? I live in a fourth floor walk-up. What am I going to do with an elephant?” “Two hundred dollars, it’s a bargain.” “Bargain, shmargin, I have no room for and no use for an elephant. So the answer is ‘no’. “You are a tough customer. What if I sweeten the offer? Two elephants, just $300.” “Now you’re talking! Sold.”

And so forth, a virtually endless stream of jokes, some self-deprecating, some other-deprecating, all in all a coping mechanism of no small significance. Truth to tell, I am somewhat surprised than only 42% of us list a sense of humor as essential. My father used to complain that many of the jokes we tell do not hinge on the characters being Jewish, and he was right. But by making them Jewish we make them intimate, we lay personal claim to them. And some of them capture enduring truths.

I mean to say, intending no offense, that when you’ve remembered the Holocaust, then what? Sackcloth and ashes? But that is not our way. We rise the next morning, and maybe even rise up. We build a new home for our people, we search out new and then newer ways of doing Jewish. And yes, we work for justice and equality, we try to be gracious to the stranger, we search for meaning, we sing a song – and tell a joke.

Contact Leonard Fein at feedback@forward.com


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • What do you think?
  • "To everyone who is reading this article and saying, “Yes, but… Hamas,” I would ask you to just stop with the “buts.” Take a single moment and allow yourself to feel this tremendous loss. Lay down your arms and grieve for the children of Gaza."
  • Professor Dan Markel, 41 years old, was found shot and killed in his Tallahassee home on Friday. Jay Michaelson can't explain the death, just grieve for it.
  • Employees complained that the food they received to end the daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan was not enough (no non-kosher food is allowed in the plant). The next day, they were dismissed.
  • Why are peace activists getting beat up in Tel Aviv? http://jd.fo/s4YsG
  • Backstreet's...not back.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.