70 Hungarian postcards to the 70-year-old Israel

The Jewish joke 

By Sándor Silló - 2018-04-01

Translated from the Hungarian original: Bea Sara Goll

For the sake of humor, I wanted to start with a joke, but for the sake of those who make two bites at a cherry (they bite off half and sell the other), the word should be fine-tuned: the malicious, envious humor of anti-Semites at the expense of Jews, their successes and tragedies is called Jewish jokes.


But this is not about that, but about the Jewish wit that had helped this people during the successes, difficulties and tragedies, with a moment of refreshing serenity, with a wry, sometimes bitter, optimism. I do not claim that this is a purely Hungarian invention or import article, but that the humor of East-European Jewry has fueled for example the European cabaret and other humorous genres, that’s for sure.


And the humor of the nascent Israel: Dosh, Zeev, Kishon ... a long line.


But now, the joke I wanted to start with. I heard it 25 years ago when I first came here. We were shooting a movie. Our leader, who survived the Shoa and fought in Israel's patriotic wars, welcomed us at Ben Gurion: “Did you bring a joke? A Jewish joke from Pest?” I admit that I could barely breathe in this poignant moment ...”What are you staring at? Here you are permitted!” Well, then I will say, ”Which is the most optimistic people in the world? Well, the Jews! They do not know how big the boy will become, but they already cut some of it off.”


Since my aliyah, the vatikim [the old-timers] are always helping me out with a joke if I don’t understand something. In fact, I am already so far as to be happy to solve the problems of new-comers myself, in oral and written terms.


So why would not there be a joke about the 70th birthday? I suspect it isn’t quite new, but it was retailored by the public.


The old Kohn dies and the Heavenly Judge questions him: "Have you always paid your tax, honestly?”  “Well, that was ...” “Enough! Have you always been faithful to your wife?” “Yes, but ...” “Enough! Well you are not a typical guilty one, but we still can’t let you go to Heaven. Here, take the stairs down ...” Then below, Kohn finds doors: Swahili, Malay, Inuit, Jew. That's it! He enters and finds irrigated, cultivated lands, forests, factories. There are people catching the sun on the beach, with skyscrapers in the background. He stops a passerby.  “Tell me if I'm in the right place? Is this hell?” “Well, it was, 70 years ago...”

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