Updated: Nov 16, 2019
I’m glad I’m a Jew. Not because I’m deeply religious or because I come from a proud people with a rich heritage, but because I think Jews are funny. (Sometimes intentionally and sometimes not.) Also because I think Jews are cool. Our philosophy can basically be boiled down to the motto, “live and let live”. We don’t impose our religious beliefs on others (not like some religions I could mention). Although, we do enjoy expressing our opinions often and loudly.
When I was growing up, practically all the funniest people were Jewish; filmmakers like Mel Brooks, Woody Allen, Neil Simon and comedians like Lenny Bruce, Don Rickles and Joan Rivers, just to name a few. In 1978, Time Magazine estimated that 80% of professional American comics were Jewish. And that didn’t even include my Uncle Morty.
Not only did we set new standards for comedy, but I always liked the fact that we love to laugh at ourselves. Sigmund Freud (not one of history’s funniest Jews) noted that Jewish humor was unique in that it’s primarily derived from mocking the in-group (Jews) rather than the other groups (Gentiles). Here is an example of one of my favorite jokes by one of my favorite comedians:
Jackie Mason: It is easy to tell the difference between Jews and Gentiles. After the show, all the Gentiles are saying, “Have a drink? Want a drink? Let’s have a drink!” While all the Jews are saying, “Have you eaten yet? Want a piece of cake? Let’s have cake!”
The other thing I like about Jewish humor is that its themes are derived from anti-authoritarian positions dating back to the Roman empire, where theological satire became a traditional way of clandestinely opposing Christianization. So our jokes are rooted in subversive rebellion. Centuries ago, we were making fun of a ruling class that was too stupid to even know we were making fun of them. Kind of like the racists who were fans of Archie Bunker and the Republicans who were fans of The Colbert Report.
Even our language is funny sounding and uniquely expressive. A lot of our words crossed over into the American lexicon decades ago and are still around today. Words like; oy, yenta, nosh, nebbish, tushie, drek, mashugana, chutzpah, klutz, putz, plotz, schmooze, schtick, schvitz, schmeer, schlong and schmuck. Go ahead, just try to read all those words out loud with a straight face.
There’s even something about the word “Jew” that sounds funny. Calling someone “Jewish” sounds sweet like, “He’s such a nice Jewish boy” (I hear that a lot). But calling someone a “Jew” like,
“He's such a Jew” (I hear that a lot, too) sounds derogatory. Or it sounds like somebody sneezing. Whenever I hear someone say “a Jew”, I either feel insulted or I have to stop myself from saying, “Bless you."
Admittedly, Jewish food can be challenging. Some of it is wonderful and delicious like latkes, kugel, knishes, stuffed cabbage, babka, bagels and rugalach. But others are a much more acquired taste like borsht, schmaltz, chopped liver, gefilte fish, pickled herring, hamantashen and calves foot jelly. It can take years of being force fed these delicacies as a child before even a good Jew can grow-up and say, “Yeah, that’s gross. I’m not eating that anymore.”
The only thing Jews love more than eating in restaurants is fighting over the check afterwards. I have seen my parents argue with friends over who’s paying, long after the bill has been paid, all the way into the parking lot where I expected a wrestling match to break out. But as much as we love to eat, we hate to admit how much we’ve eaten. Here’s a typical Jew at dinner time, “I’m starving. I haven’t eaten all day. Except for that half a grapefruit I had for breakfast. And some crackers. I had a few crackers. And a half a tuna sandwich. But I didn’t eat the whole thing. And a piece of Danish. It was delicious. I couldn’t resist. And I might have had some kasha varnishkas. I can’t remember. But I’m starving! Let’s eat already!”
Of course, I would be remiss not to distinguish between Orthodox and Reform Jews. Stereotypically speaking, Orthodox Jews reject the temptations of modern life, take the Torah literally and wear a lot of really heavy clothes even on hot summer days. Reform Jews embrace the ways of the western world, only go to Temple to please their mothers and like to dress for less. Likewise, I must distinguish between American Jews and Israeli Jews. They are two completely different species. American Jews tend to be more intellectual and liberal, but less religious, athletic or handy around the house. Israeli Jews tend to believe deeply in God and Trump, they don't have to hire other people to fix things and they can kick the shit out of the rest of us.
As I said, these are stereotypes. But stereotypes, like clichés, have their uses. There’s a lot of truth in them, they can create a bond between people who relate to them and, when used properly, they can be very funny. So if you find yourself being offended by my use of stereotypes then I suggest you get the schtick out of your ass and lighten up a little.
The only thing I don’t like about being Jewish is the pessimistic outlook most of us have towards life. We are not inherently an optimistic people and we can find the negative in almost anything. Oh sure, good things happen to us and we experience joy just like anyone else. Except, in the back of our minds, we always know it isn’t going to last. We are always waiting for the other shoe to drop. We may be fine today, but we know someday something terrible is going to happen and eventually we will suffer and die. Everyone knows this, but we never forget it. That’s why we are usually more heavily insured than Kim Kardashian’s butt (which is insured for 21 million, btw, and worth every penny of it).
That fact was just an excuse to put this picture in.
This may come from our roots in slavery and the persecution that we have endured for thousands of years. We never got over the holocaust. Not that we’re seeking reparations or anything but, as we like to say, “never forget.” That’s why nothing makes us angrier than a holocaust denier. (I’m looking at you Mel Gibson’s father.) It seems that through-out history there have always been those who hated and wanted to wipe-out the Jews. And I’m not exactly sure why. I know we can be annoying sometimes when we complain so much and the way we always demand to speak to the manager. And maybe we did take all the best jobs on Wall Street (some people blame us for the last recession) and in Hollywood (a lot of people never forgave us us forYentl). But even anti-Semites will come to us when they need a good accountant or lawyer. For the most part, we are a very tolerant people and we don’t want to be a bother to anyone. All we want is a homeland of our own, the right to worship freely, and a decent delicatessen to eat in.
Even though I am proud of my Jewish heritage, I have to confess that I enjoy Christmas as much as the next goy. Sure, we have Hannukah, but that’s like comparing Marilyn Monroe to Totie Fields. I can’t help it. I love Christmas music (there are only like three good Hannukah songs and they’re all by Adam Sandler), I love Christmas movies (not the pedestrian ones they run endlessly on The Hallmark Channel but the classics like A Christmas Story and Scrooged), and I love that the season of good will and festive parties lasts a whole month long (not just eight days of lame games and crappy presents). My affinity for the holiday season has caused me problems with the rest of my tribe and I have been accused of being a closet goy.
But let me assure you that I am a very typical, funny, middle class, fiscally responsible, bar mitzvahed, agnostic, over eating, anti-authoritarian, anxiety ridden, stereotypical all-American Jew. And proud of it!