“He carved the turkey mit out me! He carved the turkey mit out me! Vhat kind of brother does that! Vhat kind of brother carves a turkey without the eldest brother at the table?”
A classic funny/sad line from the 1990 movie Avalon, written by Barry Levinson, who shares his family history in so many of his creative works while bringing us to nod our heads and chuckle in familiar reverie.
How many grandparents, aunts and uncles of today are half as funny as the ones we looked up to as little kids? We may not have understood at the moment why some relatives laughed and the others shried but there were those moments of spoken words and acts that confused some, infuriated some and made others laugh when it seemed inappropriate!
But for some crazy unexplainable reasons, we got the message. Maybe not clear and logical, but we got it, for Jewish humor is not geared toward logic.
During the days of oppression and poverty in a Russian shtetl, one village had a rumor going around: a Christian girl was found murdered near their village. Fearing a pogrom, and very scared, the Jews gathered at the synagogue. Suddenly, the rabbi came running in and cried, “Wonderful news! The murdered girl was Jewish!”
Our Jewish humor goes back to our beginnings and sufferings that at some point some wise rebbe must have told his tattelehs that it was alright to laugh at an unsuitable happening IN ORDER TO GET THROUGH IT! Joan Rivers once said that humor is what takes us from one place to another, for without laughing at life and ourselves, we wouldn’t or couldn’t make it to the next day. How else do we explain Mel Brooks making Hitler movies? Inappropriate, but showing us the absurdity of life! Comic relief, like chicken soup, is good for the soul!
A Jewish man lies on his deathbed, surrounded by his children. “Ahhhh,” he says, “I can smell your mother’s brisket, how I would love to taste it one last time before I die.” So one of his sons hurries down to the kitchen but he returns empty-handed.
“Sorry, papa. She says it’s for the shiva.”
Some rabbis agree that starting serious Talmudic studies should begin with a joke. Why? Our sages analyze that if we begin important learning with a light-hearted moment it opens the mind to accept new ideas and concepts more easily, vs, starting with a bad joke or serious statement that can lead to a closed mind and bad attitude towards new thoughts. Think of public speaker, your boss or politicians who begin a talk with a joke! Ultimately, by beginning with levity, the mind can be raised to new heights.
Is Jewish humor nature or nurture? Probably a bit of both as Judaism is known for self-examination and self-effacement (Henny Youngman). Realizing that we are small compared to the Almighty, and that we cooked up sarcasm (Don Rickles), sprinkled in a teaspoon of cynicism plus cups of neurosis (Richard Lewis) and gallons of chutzpah (Mel Brooks) and then scents of oy-gevalt! and we have a recipe for Jews being funny!!
George Burns. Groucho Marx. Jack Benny. Sid Caesar. Milton Berle. Tottie Fields. Buddy Hackett. Carl Reiner. Alan King. Gilda Radner. Woody Allen. Joan Rivers. Billy Crystal. David Brenner. Jerry Seinfeld. Adam Sandler.
One common thread that made these comics so funny is they all knew where they came from, they heard all the stories from their parents and grandparents who came from Eastern Europe and Russia and were connected by the shtetl mentality. They shared their original roots and captured the essence of every Yiddish speaking elder and played its haimish humor to audiences who “got it!”
Interestingly, the newer Jewish comics of the 21 Century don’t get it and can’t translate to those of us who laugh at what the old country humor brings us. Hence, Billy Crystal and Josh Gad’s cable TV show, The Comedians, was not renewed for a second season. The show was about two Jewish comedians from different eras not being able to connect and translate their brand of humor. It was a show about their real life relationship! They just didn’t get each other!
The rate of Jewish intermarriage is a serious problem. Scientists estimate unless something can be done to stop intermarriage, in 100 years, the Jewish people will be reduced to a race of gorgeous blondes!
So the real question—Jews always have more questions than answers, put 10 Jews in a room and you have 30 answers—how do we share this treasure chest of humor with our grandchildren? Answer! Speak to them in their language! Here is a guide on how to TEXT with your grandkids:
-ATD – At the Doctor’s
-BFF – Best Friends Funeral
-BTW – Bring the Wheelchair
-BYOT – Bring Your Own Teeth
-CBM – Covered by Medicare
-CUATSC – See You at the Senior Center
-DWI – Driving While Incontinent
-FWBB – Friend with Beta Blockers
-FWIW – Forgot Where I Was
-FYI – Found Your Insulin
-GGPBL – Gotta Go, Pacemaker Battery Low
-GHA – Got Heartburn Again
-HGBM – Had Good Bowel Movement
-IMHO – Is My Hearing-Aid On?
-LMDO – Laughing My Dentures Out
-LOL – Living on Lipitor
-LWO – Lawrence Welk’s On
-OMMR – On My Massage Recliner
-OMSG – Oh My! Sorry, Gas
-ROFL – Rolling on the Floor Laughing…Can’t get Up!
-TTYL – Talk to You Louder
-WAITT – Who Am I Talking To?
-WTFA – Wet the Furniture Again…..
-WTP – Where’s the Prunes
-WWNO – Walker Wheels Need Oil
-GGLKI – Gotta Go, Laxative Kicking In
And be assured that as a Baby Boomer and texting with your peers and grandkids, they will know just how cool you are!!
Please share these quips of reality with your grandchildren and they will get everything they ever need to know about you, where you’ve come from, your heritage and Jewish humor! Enjoy!
-The only good advice that your Jewish mother ever gave you was: “Go! You might meet somebody!”
-You grew up thinking it was normal for someone to shout “Are you okay?” through the bathroom door when you were in there longer than 3 minutes.
-Your family dog responded to commands in Yiddish.
-Every Sunday morning your father went to the neighborhood deli for whitefish, lox (nova if you were rich!), herring, corned beef, roast beef, coleslaw, potato salad, a 1/2-dozen huge barrel pickles which you reached into the brine for, a dozen assorted bagels, cream cheese and rye bread (sliced while he waited).
-After that huge meal, every Sunday afternoon was spent visiting your grandparents and/or other relatives. Then you had to sit through a brisket dinner made by your grandmother or old aunt who could barely see or hear.
-You experienced the phenomenon of 50 people fitting into a 10-foot-wide dining room hitting each other with plastic plates trying to get to a deli tray.
-You had at least one female relative who penciled on eyebrows which were always asymmetrical.
-You thought pasta was stuff used exclusively for Kugel and kasha with bowties.
-You were as tall as your grandmother by the age of seven.
-You were as tall as your grandfather by age seven and a half.
-You never knew anyone whose last name didn’t end in one of 5 standard suffixes: berg, baum, man, stein and witz.
-You were surprised to discover that wine doesn’t always taste like cranberry sauce.
-You can now look at gefilte fish and not turn green.
-When your mother smacked you really hard, she continued to make you feel bad for hurting her hand.
-You can understand Yiddish but you can’t speak it and knew when THEY were speaking it, it was some big secret you weren’t suppose to know.
-You know how to pronounce numerous Yiddish words and use them correctly in context, yet you don’t know exactly what they mean.
My Bubbe always said in times of sadness: “You mourn, you cry, you start to eat again and then you begin to laugh.”
As a Baby Boomer Bubbe who still feels 18 but has four grand kids to prove this is the 21 Century, Sandra writes to leave a legacy for the next generations. Her belief that these precious kids need to know their cultural and family’s past in order for them to live their future is all the muse she needs!
She has a Master’s Degree in Psychology and Cross Cultural studies, has written a family history, personal memoir and is completing her first novel.
Her grandmother’s journey to America and life is her source for her deep belief and love for Judaism.