Mishugas: Leave them laughing

By Linda Kaufman

In his thoroughly researched book, The Gift of the Jews, author Thomas Cahill did not, in my opinion, give enough attention to a particular gift Jewish people have lavished on the world – their sense of humor.

So much of what we Americans laugh at has been given us by a long list of Jewish writers and comedians who have been sharing their quirky views of life since the mid 20th century. Think Woody Allen, Larry David, Joan Rivers, Goldie Hawn, Neil Simon. Not to mention Mel Brooks and Jerry Seinfeld.

There is no comedy like Jewish comedy.  Just recently I joined a Facebook group called Jewish Humor. So far there are 124-thousand members who gather daily to read each other’s Jewish jokes and stories.

It seems that modern Jewish humor arrived with the millions of Jews who emigrated from Eastern Europe between the 1880s and the early 1920s. It was the anecdotal humor of Ashkenazi Jews. But European Jewish humor first developed during the Holy Roman Empire as theological satire was a way of secretly opposing Christianity. But no question it matured in the shtetls of Russia and Eastern Europe.

Jewish humor is unique in that it mainly mocks the in-group rather than the “other.” How many funny stories have you heard about the Jewish mother or the over-the-top Bar Mitzvah? But have you heard any jokes about the Protestant mother or the Catholic baptism? I think not.

Since my interest is musical theater, I cannot help but share these titles as they appeared on the Facebook page. It’s Broadway with a Jewish slant. My Fair Latkes, The King and Oy, Katz, How to Succeed in Business Without Selling Retail, West Side Maury, Bye, Bye Bernie and the newest – In the Golan Heights.

Sometimes humor and chutzpah team up to make for offbeat possibilities. My older daughter’s research revealed we are related to Harry Weinberg. You never heard of him? Well, I understand. He changed his name in 1920 to Harry Winston early on in his career as the “King of Diamonds.” He inspired the song “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” in the 1953 film “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” and owned the Hope Diamond for a decade before donating it to the Smithsonian Institute.

My plan is to go into the Harry Winston Salon in Beverly Hills and ask for the “cousins’ discount.” That ought to get a laugh.


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