Jewish Humor - Does Israel make it different?
By Al Kustanowitz
In all the press coverage of Israel as a center of conflict in the Middle East, one very important characteristic of this colorful and friendly country that’s not often reported is the role of humor in everyday life.
This aspect is sorely lacking in the columns of newspapers around the world, but all it takes is a visit to Jerusalem or Tel Aviv, a reading of the local papers, or watching Israeli television to see the fun that Israelis are having in their activities. This is true among religious and secular communities. It may not be as readily apparent in the religious or Haredi worlds, but living among them will reveal that even in the most serious halls of study and prayer, smiles and laughter are often lurking just below the surface.
Since 2009 I have published a blog called Jewish Humor Central. In it I’ve posted more than 1,800 video clips relating to Jewish humor around the world in all of its forms. And there are many forms.
More than 350 of these posts are specifically related to humor that has a connection to the land and people of Israel. They include jokes, funny TV commercials, parody, satire, improv, standup comedy, music videos for Chanukah and other holidays, and unbelievable but true reports of funny and unusual happenings that could occur only in Israel.
Not all humor in Israel is laugh out loud funny, but that’s also the case everywhere else in the world. Some anecdotes, news items, and jokes are hilarious, and some bring a grin, chuckle, laugh, guffaw, or just a warm feeling that's likely to produce a knowing smile and some Yiddishe nachas.
I selected the best of the bunch, some 120 blog posts with associated video clips, and published a book about them called Israel is a Funny Country. With links to more than six hours of Internet video, it explores the multifaceted nature of humor in Israel, some of which is intentional and some of which is unintentional. Either way, the quirks of Israeli life contribute to making that life interesting and fulfilling.
In the pages of this volume, I take a look at humorous slices of Israeli life, unusual stories about food, simchas as they can only be celebrated in Israel, endearing aspects of Israeli culture, a look at the growing phenomenon of flash mobs, and a glimpse of a few unusual Israeli sports.
My objective in writing the book and sharing these anecdotes and video clips is to give readers and viewers a new and different insight into life in Israel, and encourage them to join in the fun by planning a visit to the land flowing with milk and honey.
FUNNY HAPPENINGS IN ISRAEL
Here are just a few examples of funny happenings in Israel that are not widely reported worldwide, but that appeared in Jewish Humor Central.
Mermaid Spotted Off Haifa Coast; $1 Million Reward Offered
A mermaid was reported in Kiryat Yam, a suburb of Haifa. A local resident insisted that it came ashore and touched him. The story was reported by Israel21c.
Kojak the Camel Gets Tied Up in Jerusalem Bureaucracy
Kojak, the kissing camel of Jerusalem, got tied up in Jerusalem bureaucracy when the municipality insisted that he apply for a business permit.
FUNNY ISRAELI TV COMMERCIALS
Israeli TV Commercials, whether for food and drink, or to encourage tourism, can also be funny with special appeal to the Jewish viewer.
Israel Ministry of Tourism: History is Everywhere
A tourist is shocked when David and Goliath make an appearance in modern Jerusalem.
Neviot Flavored Water: How Michelangelo Sculpted David
ISRAELI HUMOR AND JEWISH HUMOR: ARE THEY THE SAME?
What we think of as Jewish humor in the USA and Israeli humor are quite different.
While most of the old great comedians in America were Jewish, there is very little Jewish content in their performances. Jack Benny, George Burns, Danny Kaye, Alan King, Shelley Berman, Victor Borge, Henny Youngman, Sid Caesar, and Milton Berle were obviously Jewish, but their jokes, sketches, and routines were largely devoid of any ethnic or religious content. Even Myron Cohen, with his strong Yiddish accent, told jokes that were more universal than sectarian.
Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks also projected a strong Jewishness but it did not dominate their work, even when they were writing sketches for Sid Caesar. Sure, their 2000 year old man skits were filled with Jewish sensibilities, and there were short recognizable (and funny) Jewish lines in some of their movies, but only Jackie Mason stands out as the quintessential Jewish stand-up comedian.
Younger comedians, such as Jerry Seinfeld and Billy Crystal, follow the same pattern of general humor with a faint Jewish inflection.
Israeli humor, however, is very, very Jewish through and through. And it’s different in many ways. Most American Jewish humor takes the form of jokes, and often racy ones, that are repeated endlessly wherever Jews gather, whether at social functions or in the synagogue. Much of Israeli humor is in the form of TV skits, and lots of parody of politicians and the political process. This may be funny to Israelis, but to visitors, and especially those not fluent in Hebrew and the day to day activities of these politicians, it has no impact.
The Israeli humor that makes non-Israelis laugh is generally presented by olim from America and other countries such as Benji Lovitt, Deb Kaye, Yisrael Campbell, and Molly Livingstone who recount their battles with the Israeli bureaucracy, their struggles to learn Hebrew and hold their own in a new culture where direct and sometimes rough talk and behavior is considered normal, and where political correctness is virtually unheard of.
Al Kustanowitz founded Jewish Humor Central in 2009, to bring a daily dose of fun and merriment to readers who would otherwise start the day reading news that is often drab, dreary, and depressing. A long-term devotee of Jewish humor, Al has been collecting it even before there was an Internet. For the last 25 years he has been editor and publisher of The Kustanowitz Kronikle, originally a family newsletter that went public when the Purim editions became too popular to keep private. Now they're all available as a book, The Kustanowitz Kronikle: 25 Years of Purim Parody. In 2012, Al wrote a series of seven interactive books with the series title Jewish Humor on Your Desktop. Israel is a Funny Country, now in an expanded second edition, is one of the books in the series. For more information visit www.jewishhumorprograms.com or send an email by clicking HERE.