Tell "Jokes"

Years ago, an Israeli told me a joke that I didn't find funny. One Israeli meets another, and says, "Say, Dudi, how did you like that cafe last week?" Dudi replies, "Oh, it was a blast."

Get it? Get it? Ouch.

Yet I think Jews have always told jokes about the worst things that happen to us. For example, there's that old one about two Jews sitting on a park bench in Berlin, just before WW2, reading newspapers. One looks over at the other and says, "Yankel, why are you reading that paper?! It's Nazi propaganda!" Yankel replies, "Well, in your newspaper, what do you read? You read that the windows of Jewish shops are being broken, Jewish property is being seized, Jews are being worked to death in concentration camps, and no other country wants to let us in. Now what do I read in my newspaper? Jews control the banks, they control the media, they control the government..."

Instead of weeping, we prefer to laugh, I guess. Israelis take the security situation here very seriously-- the recent election results prove that-- but you have to laugh at an absurd world, too. Maybe it's a way to feel in control. An Israeli Soldier's Mother, at her blog, wrote a great post about a "joke" told by her son: http://israelisoldiersmother.blogspot.com/2009/03/circles-and-jokes.html
"What happens when a paratrooper makes a mistake?" he asked me.

I looked at him as he answered, "a paratrooper dies."

"Ouch," I answered, not really liking the joke.

"What happens when artillery makes a mistake?" he continued.

Well, if he was going to follow through and tell me an artillery man dies, I was going to be positively miserable those few days before he entered the army. "I'm not sure I want to know," I answered.

"A paratrooper dies," he said with a grin, knowing what I was thinking.

If you want to understand how Israelis have such normal, happy lives given the world in which we live, you need to look at Israeli jokes. Beneath them is a subtext: that's life. Life here involves some risk, but life also goes on. You just have to balance that dark side by living a little harder, laughing a little louder.

I'm struggling with whether I actually want to post this. This post is a little dark, plus I have a cold and my brain is fuzzy. I still don't consider these jokes funny, exactly, and I think Israelis are more sensitive than Americans realize-- I haven't heard jokes about Sderot, for example. But I'm trying to explain why it is that life here looks so much worse from the outside than it does from inside. Some of my friends in the US see Israel as smoking rubble, when here I'm sitting at my computer on a sunny day with my window open, my neighbor's loud music blasting, birds singing. The biggest decision I need to make today is whether to go grocery shopping. Life feels so normal. You sometimes only get a sense of how the "matzav" (situation) impacts Israelis in things like these bitter jokes. Israelis make the choice to LIVE. To get angry, to argue about politics, to laugh-- and then to go shopping and make Friday Night dinner or go dancing in a club. We live on the blade of that double-meaning of "blast," I guess, and most of the time we choose to celebrate.

My husband just pointed out the irony to me that this post-- about jokes-- is less funny than my others. But maybe that irony captures the contradictions in Israeli life better than anything else.


  1. Hey, great to discover your blog! I've got you in my links now :) The more of us a-typical olim, the better!

  2. Love your blog, Maya!

    I found you through Israellycool. I like to follow the political/military news that Aussie Dave presents. I also follow a few other Israeli/Jewish bloggers like 'Elms in the Yard', and 'Israel Matzav' and 'Treppenwitz'.

    I see your profile lists you as an English teacher living in Kiryat Bialik. Not knowing the location, I googled it -- wow, I think you live a little too close to Lebanon for my tastes -- although it was a "destination" 50-80 years ago.

    Keep up the great writing, and I'd love to see some pictures of the Med! (hint, hint)


  3. Hi Maya,
    To comment on Israel looking worse to the outside than to the inside, a friend once asked me why I wanted to go to Israel. She stated that it was a place that is too dangerous to want to go to. I told her that if another country listened to a radio station that reported nothing but crimes occurring every day in North Carolina, after a while everybody in that country would believe North Carolina is the most dangerous place in the world. That is why Israel looks so dangerous to the outside world.

    I love your blog. It is truly a blessing for me. I learn so much about Israeli life that I think I need to know and can not get from any other source. Please continue the good writing.



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