Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Sign Language

Any casual observer of the Tri-State Area over the last week would assume that we’re heading towards Armageddon. Earthquakes and hurricanes are not common in this area, yet since last Tuesday we felt the ripple effect of a 5.8 in Virginia and got our first taste of a hurricane since Gloria in ’85. Things like that just don’t happen here, and so, sitting here in the wake of two near-miss natural disasters, I can’t help but think that God is trying to tell us something. The question is what?

The basic premise that has been echoed by the hundreds of “biblical scholars” of all religions that have popped out of the woodwork since Irene was announced is that those crazies on the streets with those “THE END IS COMING” signs are right and any second now we’re all going to be wiped off the face of the earth unless we repent for Sin X. Sin X usually turns out to be the subject of a personal vendetta of said “scholar” and he/she was looking for any excuse to rant about it. This holier-than-thou soapbox preaching REALLY pisses me off. When an Orthodox rabbi has the audacity to blame the recent tragedy of Leiby Kletzky’s murder on the legalization of gay marriage in New York, steam starts coming out of my ears. That kind of thing does not sit well with me at all, and to be honest, the fanatical “all ye sinners” approach doesn’t really do it for me anyways, so, moving on.

One of the many traditions of my family’s Shabbat table is that my father will give over the speech that the rabbi of our shul gave earlier that morning, for the sake of my mother and sisters, who do not attend shul. Every now and then, something in it resonates with me and changes the way I think about the topic discussed. What stood out to me this past week was a concept that is pretty famous throughout Judaism and, now that I think about it, many other religions as well: crisis is a sign. If a person is going through a particularly abnormal, difficult time, it may very well be a sign that there is something in their life that needs fixing. The same applies on a communal scale; if the community is suffering (enter: Irene), it is a sign that the community needs to focus inward and figure out what provoked this “wrath of God.” This two line synopsis really doesn’t do the 30 minute speech justice at all, and while it was certainly well thought out and well delivered, I fundamentally disagree with the premise. My personal experiences shed a subtly different light on the concept.

As regular readers of this blog know, I went through a tumultuous period for around two years right after high school comically referred to as “The Dark Ages.” For a long time I was wandering aimlessly through life, doing what I should with no motivation, doing what I shouldn’t because I could. The purposelessness really messed me up, and I suffered educationally, socially, and emotionally. For a long time it bothered me that I didn’t know why I had to go through that. If God was out there, as I believed he was, then what the heck was the purpose of putting me through that if not to punish me for my sins? The whole experience conflicted with my (Judaically inspired) idea of a benevolent God. It took a long time and many connected events before I realized that I needed to hit that rock-bottom before I could make the decision to return to Israel and reach the heights that I did that year. In retrospect, it was worth it.

My philosophy on the issue then, is that I don’t have the arrogance to presume that I know the so-called master plan, but I’ve seen enough of it in my life to know that it exists. So when something out of the ordinary happens to me, I think, “I’m having this experience for a reason, and I might not know what it is now, but things have a way of revealing themselves in time.” Automatically plugging in to self-deprecation or self-promotion in situations of an abnormal or ambiguous nature is precarious. Looking at a situation and trying to shoehorn into it what you, in your limited scope of perception, think to be the meaning behind it, is a dangerous game. Instead, acknowledge that there is certainly a meaning behind it, but understand that you may not know what it is for a very long time. In my experience, that’s a much healthier and more productive way of handling those types of situations, and you avoid the inevitable god-complex perversion that comes with thinking you know the purpose of everything in your life.

I went through some serious medical issues roughly a year and a half ago, and, having experienced my post-high school master plan revelation, I was much more at peace with it than many might be. I knew that somehow it made sense on some metaphysical level and it was happening to me for a reason that I might never know. Life circumstances would prove me right again, serving to strengthen that belief. So when we, as individuals or as a community, are faced with disastrous circumstances, we may not learn the reason for a long, long time, but we should be at peace with that. Maybe we had a hurricane because a terrorist cell was planning on reenacting 9/11 that day but couldn’t because all flights were cancelled. Who knows? All we should know is that it happened for a reason. So when an area that is not prone to natural disasters is struck by two in the same week, it doesn’t mean we’re all sinners, it doesn’t mean that we should prepare for a volcano to spring up and erupt in Times Square next Monday night, and it doesn’t mean it’s the end of the world as we know it. It just means something; what that is has yet to be determined.

Then again, I’m about to post two hours before I normally even start writing. What’s the phrase? When hell freezes over?

Okay, maybe the world is ending.

Song of the Day: Parallels – As I Lay Dying

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Quake!

As those of you currently residing in the New York area are aware, a 5.8 magnitude earthquake occurred in Virginia yesterday, tremors of which were felt locally. I myself was sitting in my kitchen when I noticed the chandelier in the next room begin to sway from side to side and I thought I was suffering from a dizzy spell. If the quake had occurred a day earlier, it would have affected my life much more dramatically, as I was in Virginia with my family exploring Civil War battlefields at the time (yes, nerd families are the best) during our drive back from Florida exactly 24 hours earlier.

This summer was quite interesting. We took a family road trip through the east coast, from Long Island to the south of Florida, stopping here and there to get a taste of local life. I saw more of the United States than I ever expected and spent a lovely Shabbat in Savannah, Georgia during which I tasted the spiciest cholent I ever tried. (Surprisingly, there were no grits in this southern brand of cholent.)

The week I spent as a nomad with my family was freeing, even though the close quarters threatened to drive us all bonkers after a while. Roaming the earth from place to place, exploring different customs seems like a fascinating life. As someone with the attention span of a squirrel on speed, a new environment every few months would be enough fuel to keep me operating at full speed for a long time. This isn’t the most practical of existences, I am aware, so perhaps I’ll resort to traveling the world only during my vacations.

All I know is that I need to get out of the “island of Jewish dysfunction” that is New York. Earthquakes are known to symbolize wake up calls. It is rather fitting that this little quake happened the day after I came home from living a wanderers’ life for a week. A miniature natural disaster reminded me that sometimes, one is not born in the place they truly belong; they must pick themselves up to find it.

The question is, where the heck would I go?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Summer of Self-Esteem

Okay, ready to get a little heavy-handed?

This has been a summer of many changes (most summers are like that). I say “has been” even though at the moment of this article’s publication it is merely the middle of August. I’ve got a few weeks left for summer to turn my life upside down all over again.

And yet I have the feeling that my chance for changes has passed. Maybe that’s because I can see the start of my first “real” job looming around the corner. Maybe it’s because all my friends who went away for the summer have come back. Maybe because I finally realized that I’m not going to take a class, get in shape, or have a torrid, chaste, Orthodox love affair this year.



I don’t know why I expect these things of the summertime in New York City. It’s that magical time of year when the movies are outdoors and free, when people have enough time to stroll through air conditioned museums or the sun-baked zoo. If they’re still in school in any form, people put their lives on hold for a bit.

People who are usually up all night studying suddenly have a moment to sit on a park bench and breathe. Those who spend their time with clubs and activities find they can lounge about like the lazy bums they’re not.  Coffee comes iced.

For me, the month of August is just a longer extension of that time of day called the gloaming. Yes, you can call it dusk or twilight, but I’d prefer to avoid any association with certain vampire-driven melodramas for the moment. Besides, no word seems to capture that mournful mood quite as well as “gloaming”. It has “loaming” and “gloomy” in there all at once.  

The gloaming used to be my favorite time of day. The end of the long afternoon, when the sun looks down at us as if to say, ok kids, you can stay up for five more minutes. August is pretty much like that. You can see the dark of the year up ahead. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are looming on the horizon (darn it, we’ve got to think about our conscience again?).





It’s summer’s last hurrah. What’s so different about this year that suddenly, I don’t especially care to enjoy the gloaming of the summer? Maybe it’s because this year, the three weeks fell a little later than usual.

That sounds dumb, but let me explain.

The three weeks stretching from 17 Tammuz to 9 Av are the most mournful days of the Jewish calendar, where an inordinate number of tragedies and disasters have historically plagued us. But to us modern New Yorkers (those who keep anything to do with the three weeks, anyway), it’s that inconvenient time where it stops being our New York summer. No public shows to attend, no more late nights in the park, enjoying the Jazz. No summer blockbusters. We have to stop being entertained, and look for ways to entertain ourselves. No concerts, no Broadway shows, no giant Imax screens.

And usually, these three weeks fall earlier, during the month of July, maybe at the end of June (like they did last year). So when they culminate with that mother-of-all inconvenient days, Tisha B’Av, we can get up the next day and still see a whole month ahead to get our summers back and do all the things we didn’t get a chance to do.

This year, Tisha B’Av fell well into August, so when it left, it took summer with it. Good bye, class I never took, track I never ran, boy I never stood around awkwardly, blushing.

It’s time to think about class and work again, the big scary future.

But before you all call the emo police on me, I have to say that while part of me mourns the loss of those attitude-changing summers filled with fun and experience, I’m also sort of grateful for the more grown-up version I found this year.

True, I haven’t had any romantic moments in Central Park or the East Village like last year. Okay, I haven’t buckled down and emerged with a completed art project like the year before. Fine, I didn’t go to Prague or Rome or Venice. But in some ways, I faced real life in a way I never have before.

I got a job. A real, yearlong one. I got an apartment in the city, moved in, bonded with my roommates, and spent my fast day dragging around Ikea bookshelves. I spent two weeks babysitting toddlers and changing diapers. I learned some lessons about people and their nature that I never wanted to know. I got disillusioned about a lot of things.




But oddly, and unlike some of those other summers, I emerged feeling…well… good about myself.  I faced some scary things this summer. Not horror and violence scary, but change scary. I realized that the people I spend my time with may not always be there for me when I need them... but that I can still deal with it on my own. I learned that (despite my concave biceps) if need be, I can rearrange an entire living room. I can deal with dead birds on the fire escape and 90 degree weather sans a/c. I can make rent (if only barely).



This may sound utterly ordinary, but it’s a big step on the maturity ladder, I think. Especially when you reach your goal and then have that horrifying moment of wondering whether you made a big mistake. Most of all, I learned to accept stupid situations that are not my fault. You know what I mean, when you show up to a costume party dressed as an over-sized rabbit only to see that the venue was changed to be black-tie, and that nobody bothered to tell you.


Well, that, but in more realistic scenarios. This is when we are challenged in that weakest of spots, our self-esteem.

I feel like having self-esteem is a little like falling in love. It’s a beautiful thing, and when you get it, it could be because of hard work and self-examination, but it could not be by your merit at all (some do get that natural born charm and dumb luck others so covet). Once you have a little of it, bucketfuls more seem to appear out of nowhere (when it rains, it floods your basement). The two are forever caught in the realm of self-fulfilling prophecy, sometimes overlapping. How many times have we been told that all it takes to get noticed is a little confidence? But then, don't we gain that confidence when someone takes notice of us?





When you lack love or self-esteem, you can’t help envying those who seem to be rolling in it. While you have it, you may not realize what a blessing it is. But even if you do, it can be easily broken by someone whose actions are out of your control. And when that happens, the rebuilding process often takes longer than you’d like to admit.




And worst of all, you have a tendency to blame yourself.

I hate to say it, but I’ve found that sometimes nasty disillusionment (which is less like love and more like accidentally getting the hot and cold knobs confused in the shower) is the key to gaining back that self-esteem. Sure, it was nice to see life as this wide-open sky, just waiting for us to fly out into the blue yonder, and our apartment as self-cleaning. And we loved to picture our friends as incredible people who were more interesting, more cheerful, more confident than we are, as people who would drag us up out of our personal depths.

But it’s those moments when we notice that life as a sky isn’t clear and blue, but stormy, and that the people we love are flawed… the time we notice that no matter what we did differently, nothing would have changed… the second we see that we must depend on ourselves, that we feel we’ve earned some self-esteem.

And maybe that’s where the similarities between self-esteem and love end. Heck, I don’t know. I’ve only just begun to build a little of that confidence. I’ve still got a lifetime of living with it to see if it does me any good. But I’m hoping, and optimistic, that it will… if only because for once, I’m not mourning the end of August, but looking forward to the start of September.  To the start of Tishrei.  To the New Year. This one’s going to be different than the last, just like this summer was a whole new type of summer. I can’t wait to see what it brings. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Judge Not, Lest You Be Judged

So here I am, sitting in my bed at 9:30 on a Wednesday night, just starting to write my post. Natch. However, the difference between now and all those other times is that now I’m in a fantastically good mood. I just finished my last day of class, so summer school is over. I have two finals in the next few days that I’m very well prepared for, so there’s that. I’m about to head into an awesome weekend. In Waves, Trivium’s new album, just hit the shelves yesterday and I’m blasting it so loud that the walls of my currently empty-except-for-me house are shaking. Awesome music effectively serves as my ultimate muse. Speaking of which, I’m really happy the last few weeks were not my posting responsibility because I find that I write better with background music, and that’s a no-no during the three weeks. Conveniently, the posting schedule gave me the day right after Tisha B’Av, so music is once again allowed. That in and of itself should be enough of a reason to launch into another music post, but I’m actually thinking more along the lines of the Tisha B’Av side of this than the music side. You see, now that it’s passed, I can avoid thinking about my favorite pastime (i.e. fasting) until October when Tzom Gedaliyah and Yom Kippur roll around, a fact that is contributing significantly to my good mood. But, of course, when you’re trying desperately not to think about something, that’s all you end up thinking about. So now that I’m thinking about fasting and Tisha B’Av, I’m going to run with that and return to a favorite topic of mine, the quick-to-judge nature of the worldwide Jewish community. With any luck, I’ll come out of the other side of this in as good a mood as I was when I started…

This story begins, as do most things these days, with Facebook.

Before fasts and holidays, people tend to post inspirational or comforting statuses and notes. Mine was about how Tisha B’Av last year saved my life, but a good friend of mine put something up with a decidedly different angle, and I quote:

“Tisha B'Av, in my opinion, is not a day where we mourn the destruction of the Temple. It is a day where we mourn the failure of solidarity and [our] intolerance [of] each other.” –Jonathan Heller

Bingo! My thoughts exactly. Aside from the fact that I totally agree with the overall theme (i.e. why the heck can’t we all just get along despite our differences), if you take a second to actually analyze the situation, it’s even historically accurate. What’s the reason given by just about everyone for the destruction of the Second Temple? Baseless hatred. There you go. I’d imagine it manifested itself in the same ways as it does these days, except it’s probably easier to stone a guy driving on Shabbat if he’s riding a horse-and-buggy as opposed to a Lambo. I know, I know, it’s an extreme example and I keep using it, but it’s completely accurate and it conveys my point in stunning clarity. People are too quick to judge based on appearances and jump to conclusions based on circumstantial evidence. As I mentioned when I brought this up last month, what if that guy was driving on Shabbat to save someone’s life? It’s hard to always think that way, but the importance of doing so is unparalleled.

A colleague of mine told me a parable recently that illustrates this point perfectly in a few lines: There was once a chassid who was running after his rabbi who was leaving town on a horse on Shabbat. The chassid was chasing him down, yelling and crying. What was he yelling? “Rebbi, please don’t leave me! I still have so much to learn from you!”

I don’t think I need to explain that story; the message pretty self-evident. Also, I don’t think I could put it any better than Heller did up there, and to try to would be to repeat myself. There are only so many times I can say the same thing and keep it interesting, and given that I have a tendency to get long winded when I get on a roll, I think I’ll stop right here. I hope we can all be a little more cognizant of this idea, as were never going to get our third chance at the Temple until we can all look past our individual differences and accept each other for who we are: brothers and sisters in a small tribe that need to support each other as much as we can.

Now excuse me while I go continue with my good mood :)


Song of the Day: In Waves – Trivium

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Face of Farce: Jewish Humor in American Film

There’s an old Yiddish joke I recently heard for the first time. I think it’s absolutely hilarious, but only one other person I know finds it even remotely funny, and believe me, I’ve tried it out on more people than I like to admit. It goes as follows:

“What is purple, whistles, and hangs on a wall?”

“I don’t know. What?”

A herring.”

 “But a herring isn’t purple.”

 “So? Paint it purple.”

“But a herring doesn’t hang on a wall.”

So hang it on a wall.”

“But a herring doesn’t whistle.”

 “Nu? For one little technicality you ruin my joke?”

I know, I know. It’s an example of what my sister calls “Kvetch humor,” or a joke that revolves around whiny people being petty. Honestly, I like to think of it as working around obvious problems to try to make a fit, albeit an unnatural one, but maybe that’s stretching it a little. And now that you’ve all had a good groan, it’s time to get to my post here.

My relationship with Jewish jokes is as love-hate as the stereotypical marriage said humor often depicts. As with all types of comedy, I believe the Jewish kind has its hits and misses. Some examples make me laugh with familiarity, while others make me cringe in a sort of defensive shame. What can I do, it’s targeting an ethnicity, and one I’m rather invested in. Naturally, there are situations when its very use is offensive and inappropriate.

But I’m not talking about anti-Semites making snide comments, a pun at a funeral, or a race joke gone too far. What’s to ponder there? I’m speaking more about that sort of mark of Judaism, at least in American media. It’s been pointed out before by various people that a seemingly inordinate number of Jews go into show business, or more specifically, comedy. 

(Note: This post specifically addresses Jewish Humor in modern American film, not literature or the original Yiddish works, which are rich and amazing in their own way, but I don't know nearly enough about to discuss here.)

We’ve got the greats, like the Marx Brothers, the Three Stooges, Jackie Mason, Jerry Seinfeld, Gilda Radner… the list goes on and on. Then there are the token Jewish characters on TV shows like The Big Bang Theory, Friends, and The Simpsons. It seems that the Jewish relationship to humor is natural and deep-rooted.

And yet, if we watch these shows without any real knowledge or experience with Jewish culture, a rather nasty stereotype emerges. Heck, a visitor to Earth learning about mankind through these TV shows would assume there were only three kinds of Jews in the world.

The well-meaning, but ultimately clueless authority figure (see below, the Rabbi in ‘Radio Days’):


The overbearing mother (see The Big Bang Theory, Friends, The Nanny, Dharma and Greg, every single show, comic, or movie to feature a Jewish mother):


The nebbish nerd/hypochondriac who still lives with said overbearing mother (see The Big Bang Theory, Scrubs, any Woody Allen movie):


All of these are Kvetchers/complainers and neurotic. In fact, these stereotypes are so widespread one has to wonder whether the nebbishes and rabbis all marry each others’ mothers, since apparently all Jewish females are lox-eating, spanx-wearing mamas in their sixties.

Sometimes I wonder whether the repetition of the old jokes and characters of our culture have helped or hurt us in the eyes of the world. Have they made us more accessible? Sympathetic? Or have they just made us look like a bunch of whiny buffoons and Disney sidekicks? 


Like any good joke, I believe the reaction depends on how well (and with what intention) you tell it. 

Let’s compare two greats of the genre, shall we? Contemporaries, who have been lauded by critics and audiences alike…and leave aside their personal lives and career bests and worsts. Let’s have a look at Allen Konigsberg and Melvin Kaminsky, better known as Woody Allen and Mel Brooks.

Oh, Woody. Never has there been a writer I so long to both laud and slap upside the head. If you’ve never seen a Woody Allen movie, I recommend you do so, and soon. Just make sure it’s one of the “good ones,” and that you aren’t too defensive about your Jewishness. You see, Woody Allen is the stereotypical nebbish case, a little guy with a stammer and thick glasses, the ugly duckling surrounded by tall, beautiful, New York WASPS. His humor ranges from gross and lowbrow to intellectual and refined (I strongly favor the latter), and his writing, when it’s good, is top notch.

If only, if only, he weren’t so...well, Jewish. Woody Allen has the seemingly uncontrollable tendency to bring up his background in embarrassing and needlessly cruel ways, in places where it doesn’t belong. It’s like he just wants the world to know that yes, he was born this way, but only because he didn’t have a say in it. Take, for example, an otherwise good movie called ‘Radio Days,’ a nostalgic look back at New York City in the 1940s, the world in which Allen Konigsberg grew up. A Jewish mother catches her young son listening to the radio, and worries about the effect it will have on his studies. So off she drags him to the rabbi, who instantly asks, “Have you been hitting him?”

Unabashed, the woman replies, “Yes, but it hasn’t helped.”

“So hit him harder.”

And an exchange ensues, which I assume is supposed to be funny, in which the rabbi and these parents argue over who can hit the kid harder. This exchange left me wide-eyed with confusion and revulsion, but not surprise. In most of his films, Woody Allen’s biographical character is one to be pitied, intelligent in spite of his background, and yet somehow, always notably full of sexual stamina (you read that right. I wonder if he wants to prove anything).  





So why do I bother with his movies at all? Well, it’s because he’s produced some excellent stuff, mostly when he’s behind the camera, and especially when he doesn’t make any mention of Judaism at all (see “Midnight in Paris”).

On to Mel Brooks. If Woody Allen has his highbrow moments… well, Brooks doesn’t. His work revolves around film parodies and body-function humor, often with gratuitous mention of certain anatomical areas. But where Allen prefers the company of the rich, Fifth Avenue crowd, Brooks surrounds himself with his fellow Jews. Some of his best works star the likes of Gene Wilder, Marty Feldman, and Madeline Kahn, all comic greats of the Hebrew Nation. And where Woody’s Jew-jokes are often spiteful, Mel’s seem to ring with a genuine affection. When the wise Rabbi Tuckerman in Robin Hood, Men in Tights exclaims “Let’s bless things ‘til we get feshnickered!”, we don’t feel guilty laughing about it. And while he also takes every occasion to take at a stab at his background, he’s also an equal-opportunity offender. Brooks isn’t pointing out Jewish ridiculousness, just ridiculousness in general.

In both cases, I believe the directors do their best Jew-humor when it’s subtle, that is, not labeled as “Jewish”. Take, for example, the opening scenes of Allen’s Annie Hall and Brooks’ Young Frankenstein. 

In the former, a worried-looking Allen looks directly at the camera and summarizes his life in two old jokes:

Two elderly women are at a Catskill mountain resort, and one says, "Boy, the food at this place is really terrible." The other one says, "Yeah, I know; and such small portions." Well, that's essentially how I feel about life - full of loneliness, and misery, and suffering, and unhappiness, and it's all over much too quickly.”

 “The other important joke…is usually attributed to Groucho Marx; but, I think it appears originally in Freud's "Wit and Its Relation to the Unconscious,"…"I would never want to belong to any club that would have someone like me for a member." That's the key joke of my adult life, in terms of my relationships…” 

 There’s something to be said for the great use of these two clearly Jewish jokes to illustrate a broad topic, without actually screaming from the rooftops that this is the Jewish experience.

In Young Frankenstein, the film opens on a college biology classroom, where Dr. Frederick Frankenstein, the infamous scientist’s great-grandson (played by the incomparable Gene Wilder), is discussing the central nervous system. A student raises his hand and addresses the doctor as “Dr. Frankenstein.” Frederick turns from the blackboard and, with a wild-eyed look of revulsion only Mr. Wilder can pull off, hisses:



Something about the defensiveness of the remark speaks volumes about the minds who came up with it. A man who wishes only to be judged for his own work, and not that of his ancestry, is so bogged-down and jaded that he cannot stand to even share a pronunciation with that well-known relative. If that one sentence doesn’t echo the new-immigrant in America experience, I don’t know what does. Not a single character in Young Frankenstein is labeled "Jewish," and yet it drips with the flavor of Jewish humor (a result, no doubt, of both writers and most of the actors being members of the tribe).

I’d make that a rule of thumb: when in doubt, the flavor of Jewish humor goes a lot farther than the stereotypes and the direct finger-pointing. Some of my favorite bits of Jewish humor in comedy come from decidedly non-Jewish characters and sources. Futurama’s resident giant lobster, Dr. Zoidberg is a paragon of Jewish nebbishness, despite literally being treif (“Friends! I finally found a new shell! It looks just like my old one, and it was in the same dumpster, but THIS one had a live raccoon in it!”). The old man in the barbershop of Eddie Murphy’s Coming to America closes the film with one of the most fabulously terrible bits of Kvetch humor I’ve ever heard.

But my favorite bit of pure Jewish comedy gold must come from William Goldman’s The Princess Bride, where the fairy tale characters end up at the home of the mystic Miracle Max, played in layers of makeup by Billy Crystal. Miracle Max and his wife Valerie have only one short scene, and yet display one of the most impressive old-married-couple arguments in all of film. (Watch that link. Really.)



Gold. In my opinion, it just doesn’t get better than this.

But as for Jewish humor on the whole, what can I say? On the one hand, I genuinely love that we are a group known for its humor (there are far worse things to be known for, after all). But on the other, I sometimes flinch at how that humor is used, and at the way we Jews are viewed because of it. This misuse or negative spin used to disturb me so much that I couldn’t even sit through Blazing Saddles. It took me years to appreciate Jewish humor for what it is, a legacy of using laughter to get through some of the more difficult parts of reality. 

It’s kind of a grown-up version of what our parents taught us in Kindergarten: if your classmates are teasing you, you can sit and cry (which will only encourage them), or you can laugh with them and shut them up good.  And when your history is as sad and scary as ours and it seems like people hate you for no good reason, your choices are limited. You can become depressed, removed, and bitter, or you can try to laugh at the absurdity and hope for, someday, a miracle. 


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