June 12, 2019


THE HEALING POWER OF JOKES: Jews understand why humor really is the best medicine (Alter Yisrael Shimon Feuerman, June 12, 2019, The Tablet)

When my father was 50, he was run over by a drunk driver. He was very badly damaged, literally upgerisen--sliced apart--and he was brought to the Hospital for Joint Diseases in Manhattan for seven months to put him back together.

When his friends came to visit, they would see him with one leg in a Hoffmann device and the other suspended from the ceiling, like in the cartoons. What did they do? They would regale him with jokes. "You know what's Zionism?" they would ask. "It's when two rich Jews get together to send a third one to Israel." Or this: "The only thing two Jews can agree on is how much their friend should give to charity. Afterward they would ask, "Reb Chaim, does it hurt?" He would say, "Only when I laugh." For some reason he thought this was funny and he pumped and squeezed his beautiful eyelids in laughter until he would cry.

When a man is bashed up bad, a modern hospital provides a plethora of doctors--and specialists. There were the orthopedic surgeons, the plastic surgeons, the neurologists, the urologists, the infectious disease people. They moved in caravans, these medical nomads, and traipsed through his room at all hours of the day and night. I frequently slept at his side, so I saw this firsthand.

The doctors were very fine fellows, Jews of the assimilated sort. They lived uptown and in Westchester, but they hailed from the Bronx, like him--they had gone to De Witt Clinton High School or Bronx Science or some other such place. But I noticed something. When they came to examine him, they would tell jokes, too, and these jokes were of a Jewish sort. They usually had to do with a rabbi, a wonderworker caught in a compromising position, or they were about the foibles of Jewish men and the various deals that human beings make with their gods. One of his doctors, a man of generous nature and a great mind, a plastic surgeon named Lester Silver, would kibitz his way through the examination, often he made reference to arcane Talmudic minutiae, strange Halakhic rulings and the like, throwing in an occasional Yiddish word.

One of the doctors told this joke: A rabbi needs to break away from his shul. Finally, he takes a plane to Paris and checks into the Ritz and lives it up. The next day, after a stroll in Paris, he sits down for lunch in a fancy restaurant and orders suckling pig with a big juicy apple in its pisk. The rabbi's mouth waters as the waiter brings it to the table. Suddenly, the shul president and his cohorts appear. "Rabbi, Rabbi what are you doing here? Have you betrayed us?" they ask, pointing to the pig. The rabbi shrugs and says, "Will you look at how these silly Frenchies potchke up a baked apple?"

These Jewish doctors, buttoned up, credentialed to the hilt, couldn't stop themselves from kibitzing. The chief of orthopedic surgery--the late Herman Robbins--began a 13-hour surgery with my father, bone saw in hand, by saying to all staff present, "Nu, rabbi, lomir makhen hamotzi?" (Shall we make the blessing over bread?) My father remembered hearing this verbatim, even though he was under deep anesthesia.

The cultural dependence of comedy is one of the things that make it anathema to The Left.

Posted by at June 12, 2019 3:57 AM