As our personal token of sincere gratitude to our loyal followers and, perhaps more salubriously, as a rest break from our customarily sober and, [hopefully], thought-provoking posts, we have decided to furnish this brief, selected and [reliably] funny, sample of the unique ethnic genre of Ashkenazi-Jewish humor. For readers, unfamiliar with this comic category, the distinctive feature, in addition to its hilarity, is the eternal, and often subtle, message or wry observation on human failings. We have reserved the best, two full-length anecdotes for last after the following prerequisite sampling of the genre:
A sick, and dying old man in a hospital ward, emotionally requests of his deathbed visitor: “Before I go, I would love to have just a little last taste of Mama’s Brisket”. The visitor rushes to the telephone to call home. He comes back to the dying patient with the response: “they said they are saving the brisket for the shiva. [ trans.- his memorial service].
A high school student rushes home and proudly announces to his mother that he was awarded the role of the husband, in the school play. The mother angrily responded, “Go back and tell them that you want a speaking part.”
A German, a Frenchman and a Jew walk into a bar. The German says: “I am tired and would like a cold glass of beer.” The Frenchman says: “I am tired, I would like a glass of wine”. The Jew says I, too, am tired, I hope I don’t have diabetes.”
A woman goes into a local bakery and asks the proprietor:” How much are the bialys?” The baker replies:” They are fourteen dollars for a dozen”. The woman testily responds: “But the bakery around the corner only charges ten dollars a dozen”. The baker then angrily, days: “Then why don’t you buy them at that bakery? Woman’s response: “They are out of bialys.” Baker: “When I am out of bialys, my price is also ten dollars.”
And now my promised favorites. Please take note of their practical teachings:
A grandma brings her beloved little granddaughter, Annie, to the seashore, places the beach blanket close to the edge of the water, and hands Annie, her little yellow pail and shovel. While Annie happily plays, Grandma leisurely settles down on her beach chair, in the bright sunshine and blue sky. to leisurely read her copy of the day’s Jewish Morning Journal. All of a sudden, the sky turns ominously dark, a strong wind begins to blow, and a great, menacing wave suddenly appears and tragically, sweeps the grandchild [still holding her pail and shovel] out into the roiling surf. Grandma jumps up wildly screaming, and, agonizingly and immediately, and prays to God for help. Miraculously, within seconds, the terrible wind dies down, the sky again turns blue, and a small, frothy, nurturing wave gently wafts Annie back to her previous spot, onshore, incredibly, still in possession of her yellow pail and shovel. The Grandmother, still tearful and panting from her previous shock and hysteria, sobbing with enormous relief, and emotionally cries out, denks [thank] God, denks to God, then looks down at the child and then up again, toward the heavens and bitterly complains, “She had a hat!”
[The obvious moral: know when you are ahead]
The second anecdotal offering has a self-evident message:
The somber scene is set at a funeral parlor. The deceased is a male Selwin Bloom, age, 99. Bloom had been known, for decades, to be possessed of low character, guile, and as, in general, a shameless person; traits pragmatically useful in New York’s Garment Center and no doubt responsible for his success in the business. The funeral parlor is crowded with a great assemblage of past associates from the garment center with which decedent had dealings during his more than forty years of business.
The recently ordained Rabbi, conducting the funeral service is young, somewhat inexperienced, but admirably idealistic. After reciting the traditional psalms relevant to funerial occasions, he announced to the large assembly of mourners: I would like some of you who knew Mr. Bloom, to come up to the reader’s podium, and say a few kind things about Bloom’s past life; I, myself, was not acquainted with him and have never favored generically worded and impersonal eulogies.
Not one of the hat-wearing gray-haired attendees stirred. The disappointed young, idealistic Rabbi fervently repeated the identical request, two more times and still, not one person stirred. Finally, the young Rabbi emotionally and impatiently shouted: This is impossible, there are so many people here who were acquainted with Mr. Bloom, that [warningly], if no one is willing to come up to the front and just say, just a few nice things about him, we will all just sit here, and I will not conduct the balance of the funeral service… maybe just one good thing.
After the passage of two minutes of silence, an aged, gnarly, white bearded man in the rear of the hall, slowly rose to hobble slowly to the front, all the while, audibly, muttering the rabbi’s remembered request, “Vun good ting, only vun good ting.” He finally and painstakingly, reached the podium, turned slowly around, and in compliance with the Rabbi’s request, raised his right hand and said out loud: “O.K, vun good ting…. his brudder vas worse!”
We hope that you enjoyed this small, tart aperitif of classic Yiddish humor and easily discerned the implicit messages. They are funnier and more effective when orally presented.