Author of "Embracing Auschwitz" and "Mensch•Marks: Life Lessons of a Human Rabbi - Wisdom for Untethered Times." Winner of the Rockower Award, the highest honor in Jewish journalism and 2019 Religion News Association Award for Excellence in Commentary. Musings of a rabbi, journalist, father, husband, poodle-owner, Red Sox fan and self-proclaimed mensch, taken from essays, columns, sermons and thin air. Writes regularly in the New York Jewish Week and Times of Israel.
Thursday, November 16, 2023
In This Moment: An Idea for Thanksgiving - Jewish Humor!
Please note: Although this crisis is far from over - for Israel, diaspora Jewry and the civilized world - this daily newsletter will be shifting back to a less frequent distribution schedule as of this issue. I've been sending it out almost daily since the day of the attack (even though it was a holiday), with three concurrent goals: to help people keep up to the frenetic pace of events, to calmly sort fact from fiction and to forge deeper connections between American Jews and Israel, as well as within our own community. Many who have felt so isolated and helpless have told me that "In This Moment" has played role in reducing that isolation. I appreciate your feedback. You can scroll back through prior issues here.
Also, please note that I will continue submitting pieces to my Substack page on a regular basis and I invite you to subscribe. Over the coming weeks, as we count down toward my becoming emeritus, my plan is to begin phasing out most of my regular TBE communications such as the Shabbat-O-Gram and In This Moment. So Substack will be the best way to keep up with my reflections. Get your free subscription at: https://rabbijoshuahammerman.substack.com/. Shortly, a paid subscription option will be made available too (by popular demand :), but the free option will remain. For personal correspondences, of course, my TBE email and phone extension will remain active.
The first weekly Shabbat-O-Gram was sent out in the mid '90s, when most of us had no idea how much the World Wide Web was about to change our lives. But until last month, the only prolonged period of daily publication for the Shabbat-O-Gram came during the early months of the pandemic. When times are so uncertain, we need all the consistency we can get. It is hoped that these emails have provided that calming voice - and may they not be needed so much as we move forward.
So please pray that you don't hear from me again before Thanksgiving. If you do, it will probably not be good news.
May we all be fortunate to see a more peaceful world in the days and weeks ahead.
Rabbi Joshua Hammerman
An Idea for Thanksgiving:
Laugh a Little!
If you don't think Jews can laugh at anything, check out this Israeli sketch from one of my favorite shows, "Ha-Yehudim Ba-im" (The Jews are Coming)
Next week, when your family sits down for Thanksgiving dinner (is it really next week already???), let's make this year different from all other years.
Because of the war in Israel and antisemitism at home, Jews have been living in a time warp since Simhat Torah. And with Thanksgiving early this year due to the quirky arithmetic of the calendar, it only exacerbates our disorientation. Let's take advantage of that by not gearing up for political battle in the typical way.
In all other years, we've had the obligatory fights around the table, with family members taking on the roles of Archie and Meathead, or Alex P. Keaton and his '60s folks,or just about everyone on TV right now and their Trumpy cousin. It's time for Jews to sit back and cool it for a year. I'd say it's time for everyone else to as well, but Jews are my peeps, so I'll stick to the kinfolk.
We've all been through too much for this to be politics as usual at the dinner table, Let's just be glad to be together, first and foremost. Secondly, let's think of those who can't be with their families, whether because of military service or if they have been victimized by violence, here, in Israel, Gaza or anywhere.
The wounds are too raw for banter, but some good natured humor could be helpful. It's the Jewish way to laugh in the face of tragedy. One might say that this week's entire portion of Toldot is meant to be a farce. Seriously, I can hear the Benny Hill music the whole way through, from the fights in Rebecca's womb to the birthright scene to Jacob with the hairy arms. I've got to think tht these stories were initially intended to be told after knocking back a a few pints.
So I have a suggestion. Rather than filling the time from the soup to the pie with political banter, tell some jokes.
Two Jews sat in a coffeehouse, discussing the fate of their people.
“How miserable is our history,” said one. “Pogroms, plagues, discrimination, Hitler, Neo-Nazis…Sometimes I think we’d be better off if we’d never been born.” “Sure,” said his friend. “But who has that much luck — maybe one in 50,000?”
Didn't like that one? How about this:
In a small village in Poland, a terrifying rumor was spreading: A Christian girl had been found murdered. Fearing retaliation, the Jewish community gathered in the shul to plan whatever defensive actions were possible under the circumstances. Just as the emergency meeting was being called to order, in ran the president of the synagogue, out of breath and all excited. “Brothers,” he cried out, “I have wonderful news! The murdered girl is Jewish!”
No good? Those are official, Grade A Jewish jokes. But, OK, you win. Here's a joke from "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel." In fact, here's a whole page of them. Go to town! And remember, it's OK to laugh at your table. It's what Jews do (especially if the food makes you gassy)
Midge: Me, personally, I was never great at gift-giving. Maybe it’s because I never got to celebrate Christmas. I got Hanukkah. Doesn’t exactly prepare you the same way. For Christmas, a gentile would get a bike as a reminder that their parents love them. For Hanukkah, we would get socks as a reminder that we were persecuted.
And since Hanukkah is coming, and this week's portion introduces Jacob, how about some words on Hanukkah from Jacob himself!
"Gaza = Auschwitz" (Mosaic)Around the world, Israel's prosecution of the war in Gaza is leading its critics to compare it to Nazi Germany, and the territory governed by Hamas since 2006 as concentration camp. The history of the Holocaust is thus inverted, and deployed as an ideological weapon against the very state that exists to ensure that it can never happen again.
From November 17-18, join Jewish Federations across North America, ADL, AJC, and Jews everywhere for a Shabbat of Unity. All Jews are asked to light a memorial candle in honor of those who were murdered in Israel and those who have sacrificed their lives fighting for the Jewish State. We also suggest that you light an extra pair of Shabbat candles, that you recite prayers for Israel and the hostages, and that you end Shabbat by reciting Psalm 121.
Don't forget the next installment of our series on human dignity, with a focus on Isaac, the visionary whose eyes failed him.