Humor at the Table
April 15, 2022
Let’s just say that humor and being a “funny-man” are not my greatest qualities. My girls begin rolling their eyes the moment they think I’m about to try to say something funny. My “dad jokes” make me laugh more than my audience, which only adds to the poor timing of the punchline. In other words, I would not have made it as a humorist in the Borscht Belt where so many Jewish comedians and comediennes built careers and laid a foundation of humor that has been expanded upon for generations.
That being said, how could I not take this moment to share my favorite Passover joke with you. As a young British child growing up in Wales, this joke checked off all the necessary boxes… oh, and dads please use this one sparingly, and to the rest of the family members, consider this your notice…
The Queen approaches her soon-to-be knighted honorees. The invitees have been prepared that they are to kneel in front of her and recite a sentence in Latin when she taps them on their shoulders with her sword. However, one of the honored guests is a British Jew who panics in the excitement of the moment and forgets the Latin phrase. Suddenly, not knowing what to do next the Jew recites the only phrase he knows in a foreign language:
“Mah nishtanah halaylah hazeh mi’kol halaylot.”
Confused, the Queen turns to her advisor and asks, “Why is this knight different from all other knights?”
But, seriously folks, the real reason I shared the joke is that as a Jewish educator I have not only been an honored guest at many Seders over the years, I have also been asked to lead them for both our immediate family as well as for the community. And the last two years notwithstanding, when leading a virtual Seder during a pandemic was easily the challenge of all challenges, and when the option to not have a Seder was actually not an option at all, humor was the critical ingredient to help the matzah go down.
Passover is the retelling of our people’s master story. It is the annual reminder of our obligation to pass on our history from generation to generation “…as a commandment for [us] and for [our] children forever.” (Exodus 12:24)
Tonight, Jews across the world will gather to commemorate the most celebrated Jewish holiday of the year. Some will be with family, some with friends, and some with guests whom they have not yet met. The conversations will be vibrant, emotional, passionate, and will even endure moments of attempted humor. What the research clearly shows is that almost all the Seders, no matter how long, traditional, progressive they might be, will contain moments of the “maggid” section (the retelling of our master story). It is during this section that many conversations this year will veer to the plight of the Ukrainian refugees escaping a land of oppression and hardship. They will include discussions of the Jewish Russians outnumbering the Ukrainians making Aliyah (immigration to Israel) because they too hope for a better future. Some Seder tables will even have a beet, the suggested symbol honoring the memory of today’s refugees and our “uprooted” ancestors throughout history.
No matter how you celebrate the Seders, we invite the community to join us next week for “An Evening of Jewish Humor” in partnership with Congregation Agudas Achim as the next program in our Stronger Together initiative, 7:00 pm, Tuesday, April 19. Although not officially part of the Borscht Belt, it will be our united attempt to raise our local spirits and keep things in perspective as our ancestors have done for generations.
As a people commanded in this week’s holiday to pass our master story from generation to generation, we are also a people who have found the medium of humor as a respite for turning anguish, challenge, and a history of pain and suffering into hope. That being said, we hope you will join us next Tuesday for an evening that will be so much fun you definitely won’t want to Pass-over because we are…
Shabbat shalom and zissen Pesach!