APPENDIX A-2. Jewish Humor By Seymour Perlin

Have you ever thought of a Jewish joke? What makes a joke Jewish? A definition of a joke is a short story with a surprise humorous ending.

Recently my speech therapist asked me to bring in and tell her a Jewish joke. After I had her hear the joke, she told me she didn't get it. I couldn't figure out whether this was my fault or her fault - or maybe it was just the joke. Here is the joke I told her:

The newly wealthy Bernsteins went on a vacation to England. While they were in London, they decided to hire a butler and bring him back home with them to their mansion in Westchester.

One Sunday morning they invited Mr. and Mrs. Cohen over for breakfast. As Mr. Bernstein left the house to go get some fresh bagels, he asked the butler to set the table for four. When Mr. Bernstein returned home he noticed that the table was set for six, so he asked the butler, "Why is the table set for six?" The butler replied, "While you were out the Cohens called and said they were bringing the Knishes."

I thought it was a good joke, but obviously my speech therapist (who is Jewish) didn't get it, so she asked me to tell the joke to ten people before my next appointment and then tell her the same joke when I came back. So I went and told the joke to ten different people. Some got it right away, others took longer. I never did figure out why - but when I went back to my speech therapist I told it again, and this time she got it. I would have tried telling it to an English butler, but I don't know any.

In a related story, several years ago we received a Channukah card. It read "Greetings from the Wisemans - Seymour, Irving and Harry." We thought it was funny. That year we had a guest from Brazil - a graduate student who was studying at Cornell Medical School. One night we took her to look at Christmas lights in New City. We visited a cul de sac in which all the houses were decorated except one, which was dark. My wife commented, "This must be where the Wisemans live." My son laughed, but our guest, who is Catholic, did not understand why my wife and son thought this was funny. My son tried to explain, but she just did not get the joke.

The following represent three kinds of Jewish jokes: The first has a Jewish theme and makes you think about what happens after the punch line. In the second and third, the punch line says it all. The last has a universal theme.

In the year 1900 a man walked into a stable and asked about hiring a horse and buggy for three days. The manager told him that he had a horse to rent, but nobody wanted it. When the man asked why, the manager replied that some Jewish woman had originally owned the horse, and she had trained the horse to only start moving when she said "Thank God", and to stop only when she said "Oy Vey".

"I'm Jewish," the man said, "I'll take the horse." The man got in the buggy and started on his way, using an old road map to guide him. As he went over a hill he saw that there was no longer a bridge over the chasm up ahead. In a panic he yelled at the horse to stop. "Halt!" he shouted, but the horse kept going. "Oh no," he said to himself, "What is going to happen to my wife and children if I die here? Oy Vey!" Immediately the horse stopped, right at the very edge of the canyon. The man sat back in the buggy, wiping the perspiration from his forehead. "Wow, that was close, luckily the horse stopped in time," he said in relief. "Thank God!"

Here's another one: Two old men are sitting on a bench in their fancy retirement community in Florida. Sol asks Ben "What did you do before you retired?" Ben answers, "I started with a men's clothing shop and built the business into the finest department store in town. One day there was a fire and it destroyed everything. Since I was too old to begin again, I took the insurance money and retired - and here I am."

Then Ben asks Sol "So, what did you do before you were here?" Sol replies, "I had a hardware store downtown. It was the finest hardware store in the city. One Friday evening after closing time it started raining. The rain continued for the entire weekend, and the store flooded. On Monday morning I came in to discover that my entire inventory had been ruined. Like you, I was too old to start again, so I took the insurance money and retired down here to Florida."

Ben, looking impressed, asks Sol "So tell me, how do you start a flood?"

Here is a third example: Moses and God are flying over Israel at dawn. God says, "What's that green patch I see down there?" Moses says, "That's a golf course - people play a game called golf there." Intrigued, God asks how they play the game, and Moses explains "You have to get a little ball into a little hole in fewer strokes than your opponent. Let's go down and try a few holes, so you will learn how to play." God agrees, and tells Moses "You go first."

Moses hits the ball close to the hole. Then God hits the ball and it lands short. But just as the ball stops rolling a rabbit picks it up, takes it in his mouth, and starts sprinting toward the hole. He gets about halfway there when an eagle swoops down, picks up the rabbit and flies high up into the air. All of a sudden, out of nowhere, a bolt of lightning strikes the eagle. Startled, the eagle drops the rabbit. The rabbit plunges to the ground like a rock - lands right on the green. The ball falls out of the rabbit's mouth, bounces twice and plops into the hole.

Moses turns to God and asks, "So nu, do you want to play golf, or do you just want to fool around?"

Then there is the one about the ninety-year-old caddy. One afternoon a young man went to a golf course to play a round of golf. The manager told him that there was only one caddy left - a ninety year old man. The young golfer asked whether the caddy would be able to see the ball. "Ask him yourself," the manager said. When asked, the old man said that he had been working there for seventy years and still had an eye like an eagle and could see the ball just fine.

The young golfer teed off for his first hole. He asked the caddy to watch the ball; since the caddy had told him he had an eye like an eagle. The ball veered off to the left of the green. The golfer asked the caddy "Did you see it?" and the caddy replied, "Yes, I saw exactly where it went." The golfer asked, "Are you sure you saw where the ball went?" The caddy reassured him that he had seen the ball, and reminded the young man, "I have an eye like an eagle!" When they approached where the ball had landed the golfer asked "OK, so where is the ball?" The ninety-year-old caddy replied, "I forgot."

The topic of the previous joke is universal - age and remembering. All people can relate to this subject - every race, color and religion. At every adult age people know someone who is forgetful - a parent, grandparent or even themselves.

The best jokes can only be told when your listeners know as much about the topic as you do, and of course when you are with congenial friends.