Jewish jokes: wits and giggles
An author’s press release leads to unexpected wits and giggles
A press release for my new book, Buddha in a Teacup, was loosed upon the nation. A response came from a Jewish publication. “Is the author Jewish? If so, we would like a review copy.”
“Funny you should mention it,” is what popped into my head when I heard this question about my ethnicity.
Jewish jokes are funnier told than written, because Jewish accents are often funnier than the jokes. Indeed, for non-Jews, Jewish jokes (as opposed to anti-Jewish jokes) aren’t particularly funny, because they reference behavior most non-Jews know nothing about.
For instance: A teacher asks her second graders to tell about their summers. A boy stands and says, “I’m Mike Jones. I went scuba diving and found a bird’s nest.” A girl stands and says, “I’m Fiona Parker. We went to Yosemite and I saw a bear.” Another boy stands and says, “My name is Jaime Goldberg. I pledged 10 dollars.”
When my mother’s mother told this joke, she began to laugh midway through, yet never disrupted the narrative flow. No easy feat.
So … over drinks, two Jewish guys reveal they gave their sons the same graduation present: a trip to Israel to find their Jewish roots. Lo and behold, while traveling in Israel, both sons became Christians. Outraged, the guys rush to the synagogue and demand an explanation from God. Thunder rumbles and God’s voice intones, “Funny you should mention it.”
My grandmother Goody was born in the Detroit ghetto—the Jewish one—in 1900. Her father, a cantor, earned a pittance preparing boys for bar mitzvah. Her mother kept a grocery store and was the family breadwinner. Goody was formally known as Gertrude, an Anglicized Golda.
My Jewish grandfather was known by his nickname Casey, and more formally Myron. Whenever I pressed him to tell me his Jewish name, he would rattle off Yiddish that sent Goody into gales of laughter.
Until I was 12, I didn’t know Goody and Casey were Jewish. I thought my mother was a Winton who married a Walton, only to find out that Goody and Casey changed their name from Weinstein to Winton during the Depression so, as Casey put it, “someone would give me work so we could eat.”
Twice in her childhood in Los Angeles, my mother was stoned by other children when they discovered she was Jewish. Thereafter, she hid all traces of her Jewishness, married a non-Jew, and became overtly anti-Semitic—an ironic disguise, since my father’s parents disowned him for marrying a Jew.
So … I’m 12 years old at a party at Goody and Casey’s. Goody deposits me beside a Jewish matron and says, “My grandson, Todd,” and hurries away.
The matron pinches my cheek. “What a good-looking Jewish boy.”
“Only I’m not Jewish. I’m Unitarian.”
“You’re Avis’ boy. You’re Jewish.”
I shake my head. “Not Jewish.”
To which she replies, “They would have burned you.”
Baffled, I ask my father for an explanation. “In Hitler’s Germany, and according to Jewish law, anyone with a Jewish mother was Jewish. So you would have been a Jew in Nazi Germany, sent to a concentration camp and probably killed.”
“Mom is Jewish?” I ask, stunned.
“No,” says my father. “She is of Jewish origin. There’s a difference.”
For the next 28 years, when asked if I was Jewish (and I was often asked), I replied, “I am of Jewish origin on my mother’s side.”
So … there’s this priest in the booth, a slow day in the confession business, when in comes an old guy who kneels at the little window and says, “Bless me father, for I have sinned. I’m 80 years old. I’ve been married for 60 years and never once cheated on my wife. Yesterday, I met a gorgeous woman. We went to her apartment and had fantastic sex all day long.”
The priest considers this sin and asks, “How long since your last confession?”
“Oh, I’ve never confessed.”
“You’re a Catholic and you’ve never confessed?”
“I’m not Catholic. I’m Jewish.”
“You’re Jewish? Why are you telling me?”
“Telling you? I’m telling everybody.”
But seriously, folks, when I was 40, my life in ruins, I entered therapy. Four months into the process, I’m face down on the floor of the consulting room, shaking uncontrollably. I have no conscious understanding of why I’m so terrified, but I’m absolutely scared to death. My therapist touches the center of my back and says, “Right there. What’s that?”
And I shout, “I’m Jewish!”
And I know with every fiber of my being that storm troopers are going to kick down the door and drag me to my death. I don’t imagine this. I don’t think it. I know they will kill me because I violated the great taboo and revealed that I am Jewish. This taboo was implanted in me in my mother’s womb and amplified every day of my childhood, though it was unknown to my conscious mind.
To further conceal this terrible truth, I was commanded (through emotional osmosis) to never stand out and never succeed in a big way, lest my origins be discovered and death would quickly follow. This was the programming of my psyche—hard-wired.
“Is the author Jewish? If so, we would like a review copy.”
Now for a mohel (pronounced moil) joke.
A mohel performs the circumcisions that Jewish boys undergo eight days after birth. Imagine my tiny grandmother laughing until she cries as she tells this joke.
So … in the front window of the mohel’s shop is a grandfather clock. A guy from out of town sees the grandfather clock, enters the shop, and says, “I vant you should fix my vatch.”
“I don’t fix vatches,” says the mohel. “I’m a mohel.”
“You’re a mohel? So vuts vid the clock in the front vindow?”
The mohel shrugs. “If you vas a mohel, vut would you have in the front vindow?”