Can Jews Keep Their Sense of Humor?

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As much as combating hatred of Jews is an extremely serious business, maintaining our sense of humor as we engage in this fight is an equally serious business.

It’s not just because laughter helps us maintain our humanity, which is quite important. Laughter is also a source of power.

None of this seems to be obvious. After all, how can anything laughing about it be? this serious? Isn’t the purpose of laughter to give us a whimsical break from the drudgery of reality? And who wants to laugh at the things that threaten us? Isn’t this kind of frivolity dangerous?

So where does laughter get its power?

In the case of the Jews, comedy has a long and rich history. Perhaps no ethnic group has been so equipped, willing, and eager to make America laugh as the Jews. I have often argued that the Jewish comics did more than any other Jewish group to bond with our fellow Americans.

Funny people are generally more sympathetic and popular, especially those who can make fun of themselves. Jewish comics have been making fun of themselves and others for over a century, with an incredibly wide diversity of humor, from vaudeville to borscht belt to political and social satire, humor. observation and big laughs at all quite trivial.

The old cliché that laughter is the best medicine has always contained a deliciously human idea: it’s really, really good to laugh. The Jews were brilliant at milking this drug.

But in today’s ultra-serious and dark times, laughter can trigger a twinge of guilt. Who feels good to crack when everything around us cracks? Who wants to laugh when we have to fight against the existential danger of climate change or the multiple threats to our democracy or a nasty virus or the evil of anti-Semitism?

The haters against the Jews would like nothing better than to take away our history, to define us on their terms, to plunge us into a mud fight. Nothing would make them happier than seeing the Jews lose their sense of humor. We must, of course, avoid this trap.

And yet, one way or another, from time immemorial, Jews have found the time and the audacity to laugh. Beyond the organic truth that laughter helps us cope with the pains of reality, Jews also understood the connection between humor and empowerment.

As Monica Osborne writes in her deep dive into this week’s cover story, “Making a joke about something dark or something we’re aware of puts us in a position to own the story, rather than allowing to the history of owning us. “

Laughter helped Jews take ownership of our history. I’m sure our comics never had this abstract goal in mind, but over the decades millions of hours of Jewish comedy have allowed Jews to make their story their own. All those laughs add up.

The haters against the Jews would like nothing better than to take our history away from us, to define us on their terms, to plunge us into a mud fight. Nothing would make them happier than seeing the Jews lose their sense of humor. We must, of course, avoid this trap.

The confidence of owning our history while making America laugh has helped us build a stronghold of affection that no haters can break. It’s no coincidence that despite the eruptions of hatred for Jews and Israel that we’ve seen in recent years, according to the latest Pew survey, Jews remain the most popular religious group in America.

We can put this condition in jeopardy if we turn into a serious, berating bunch and downplay our weird gene.

Humor is a unique weapon that charms and disarms. It conveys strength and confidence. He can ridicule our enemies. And Jewish comics, those heroes blessed in our endless fight against hate, are really good at that.

Even in an age when wide-ranging, right-thinking crowds try to silence the comics, lest the comics offend bad groups, Jews must continue to make America laugh. This is especially necessary when millions of Americans still feel the isolation and mental strain of a staggering pandemic.

We also need to lead the way by showing how to take a joke. Not all Jewish jokes have to revert to the “anti-Semitic tropes” of the Nazi era. When we go shpilkes every time, all we do is look weak. If the comics are to play on the stereotype that Jews are successful, my instinct is to think, “Hmm, when it comes to stereotypes, is this one so bad? And how will whining help? “

By all means, let’s continue to fight the haters against Jews with all that is at our disposal, condemn them and challenge them, push back against hate speech, but let’s not lose our sense of humor in the process.

Humor is a unique weapon that charms and disarms. It conveys strength and confidence. He can ridicule our enemies. And Jewish comics, these blessed heroes in our endless fight against hate, are really good at that.


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