I'm Not So Funny Anymore
is one of my favorite jokes that I'm telling here for the last time:
an old Jew, converts to Christianity. On the morning after his conversion,
he awakens, puts on tefillin and commences his morning prayers.
His wife says, "Meyer, what are you doing? Don't you remember
that you converted?" To which Meyer smacks his forehed and
says Goyische kop!" Roughly translated the punchline means:
"Gentile thinking!" Meyer blames his memory lapse on the
fact that he has become Christian and thus stupid.
years I told such jokes and thought them harmless fun. Ethnic humor
often employs negative stereotypes (the dumb Pol, the drunken Irishman,
the lazy black) for quick, recognizable response. But since I was
telling the jokes exclusively in the =company of other liberal-minded
Jews, where was the harm?
harm was - and I'm a few decades late in getting this - that a joke
that puts down one group while seeming to elevate another not only
disparages the former but can also reveal an arrogance and insecurity
in the "elevated". And not just in the immediately vicinity.
Humore, like gossip, is an arrow that can land anywhere. Especially
in this time of the Internet. And, like loshan hara, it's a gift
that keeps hurting.
positive stereotypes can be destructive. In 1890, anti-Semities
used the myth that German Jews possessed superior intelligence and
were thus over-represented in areas like law and medicine as an
argument to revoke professional privileges.
of us have memories of parents and grandparents who told jokes about
"the other" at a time when laughter was their only weapon.
Some of that humor still exists today. An old Jewish woman is dying.
She says to her son, "Quick, go get a priest. I want to convert."
"But why?" says her son. "Better one of them should
go," his mother explains," than one of us.
mabe. But hurtful, probably, if you happen to be "one of them".
Jewish Renewal, one of our affirmations is "we will ourselves
treat with respect and open-mindedness those who belong to other
peoples and walk other paths than our own." In our own havurah,
there are members who are not Jewish, others who are converts with
loyalty to families and friends who practice other faiths. And,
on the level of simple decency, ridiculing another is not a trait
we would wish to pass on to our children.
that is innocent or self-directed can show humanity and humility.
It can reveal one's shining soul. But punchlinessthat are put-downs
expose the darker side of a peson and a people.
when it comes to laughs that wound, my personal promise it let the
joke stop here. But did you hear the one about the three non-affiliated
squirrels who go into a bar.....?
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