The Infidel and Other Jokes

My coworker sent us all the link to the trailer for The Infidel, a new comedy by Anglo-Jewish writer David Baddiel. The film, which premiered in London last night, stars the British Iranian comedian Omid Djalili as a Muslim cab driver from the East End who discovers that he was adopted and that his birth family was Jewish. (Djalili is not Muslim; he’s Baha’i, but has played a lot of both Jewish and Muslim characters.)  It also features Richard Schiff from The West Wing, playing a Jewish friend of the main character, and Archie Panjabi, who was the older sister in the film Bend It Like Beckham.

The film looks funny and it’s certainly relevant to some of the people who come to our site–we get a lot of children and grandchildren of interfaith families who find out they are Jewish. (You also might want to look at Aliza Hausman’s great profile of Sadia Shepherd, a real person who was raised in an interfaith Muslim-Christian household and found out as an adult that she was also Jewish.)

I do share some of the ambivalence that Shazia Merza, a Muslim comedian who acted as a script consultant, expressed in David Baddiel’s last video blog about the making of the film.

You know, you always worry when you’re making jokes about a particular religion that hasn’t got a history of comedy. Jews have got a history of comedy and making jokes, and people have heard these jokes before, and they’ll relate to them, or they’ll find them funny, but with the Muslim jokes, you know, we haven’t had a history of comedy…

She then proceeds to tell what I thought was a pretty funny, feminist joke.

Baddiel sponsored a contest called Which Religion is Funniest? in order to have some stand-up at the movie premiere. Eh. I don’t know, perhaps it’s not the easiest subject for comedy It is a true pleasure to see what Yasmeen Khan calls “a small but vibrant interfaith comedy scene” in Britain, in  her article about the movie for The New Statesman–Jewish and Muslim comedians working together to puncture stereotypes and deflate bias. Whether or not The Infidel makes its way to the US, let’s hope that spirit of collaboration comes here, too.

Tis the Season for Articles about Interfaith Families

It’s been hard to keep up with our Google feed, because during December nearly every publication wants to cover the story of interfaith families dealing with Christmas and Hanukkah. For example, Mindy Pollak-Fusi had a piece in the Boston Globe, Merry Happy, about how she and her husband and their children from previous marriages negotiate the various holidays. The Hartford Courant ran a story about Playing with a Dreidel Under the Christmas Tree, which featured a more syncretistic approach to the two holidays. Braiden Rex-Johnson took an even more blending approach in his Seattle Times piece, providing a special non-kosher menu of foods for a blended holiday. I mean, really, is it just my perspective as a Northeasterner that your Jewish relatives might be annoyed if you went out of your way to serve “Christmas kugel” with roast pork loin? Maybe.

My favorite piece so far was Paul Rudnick’s Holly or Challah? in the New Yorker. I find Paul Rudnick really funny. It’s a list of 12 tips; number 10 is:

10. Never refer to Hanukkah as “their Christmas,” “Merry Wannabe,” or “the Goldberg variation.”

Well, yeah, and that was the least potentially offensive one. I’m sure that I find this funny precisely because I’ve read so many of these articles!

Your favorite will probably be the piece on non-Jewish chefs in interfaith marriages in the New York Times because it has recipes. (True, they are recipes for things like latkes with beets in them, more evidence of the bewildering beet fad among foodies. But who knows? Real chefs created the recipes so they ought to taste good, and there’s no pork loin involved.)

It’s All In the Delivery

So there’s this famous joke about this guy who goes to visit his dad in a nursing home and everyone is getting up and shouting numbers. They get up and say, for example, “27!” and everyone cracks up. The dad explains that they’ve all heard the jokes so many times that they don’t have to tell them anymore. They just refer to them by the numbers. So the guy gets up and says “73!” but no one laughs. His dad says, “It’s all in the delivery.”

Tonight I found out about a new web project, Old Jews Telling Jokes.  It’s just what it sounds like: there will be 20 videos of Jewish people who are over 60, telling their best old jokes. Three of the videos are up so far.

You can tell that the guy who came up with the idea, Sam Hoffman, is in the movie business. I’m guessing he’s the same Sam Hoffman who worked on all these movies in the Internet Movie Database. I’m very happy about this project, because it captures something in Jewish culture that I don’t want to lose.

Jewish Mourning in Mexico–A Comedy?

I’ve been meaning for some time to write about my Twitter pal, Rabbi Joshua Kullock, the rabbi of Guadalajara, Mexico. He blogs at Kol Ha-Kehila. If you are looking for Spanish-language resources to share information about Judaism with Spanish-speaking extended family, Rabbi Kullock does a regular online class on the prophet Amos in Spanish, and you can watch the class after it as aired as a recording, though you have to register. (I’m posting this now in part because I finally registered and figured out how to listen to it.)

I thought of Rabbi Kullock when I saw this crazy movie trailer. This is the second movie trailer I’ve seen about a shivah, the Jewish traditional week of mourning after a funeral–but this one is a comedy. Continue reading

General Hospital celebrates the holidays!

I admit it, I watch daytime TV.  I have been watching General Hospital since the 5th grade.  No, I am not going to tell you how long ago that was…

I have been looking for an opportunity to link my General Hospital habit to something Jewish. Finally, it happened last week!   It was both good and bad.

I was tickled to see a scene in which the character of Bernie, the mob lawyer,  speaks to his colleague about how Hanukkah is the celebration of light and symbolizes faith over tyranny.  I even related to his discussion of how he takes comfort in Hanukkah. Even though he is separated from his family, he takes solace in knowing that everyone would be lighting the menorah that night. He encourages his non-Jewish colleague to seek out common traditions with her partner so they could truly enjoy the holidays together.  This entire scene seemed to put the holiday season into perspective.  Continue reading

Because He’s Jon Stewart

Many on the internet are so filled with glee about this Jon Stewart/Stephen Colbert Hanukkah song that they are making comparisons with Adam Sandler. Here it is, hope you think it’s funny. If not, at least you were among the first to find it on the internet:

Very naughty

I do not know how things have come to this pass, but somehow, I have figured out an excuse two very good reasons to embed a Monty Python video on my work blog:

1. Monty Python has just announced their own Youtube channel. They are going to post all of their own material. So this is based on BREAKING NEWS, people!

2. Monty Python created one of the best-known stories about a young man growing up in an (admittedly dysfunctional) interfaith family, Life of Brian. Of course, Life of Brian is also, to many many people, one of the most offensive movies of all time. That’s why I’m going to post the embedded video under a cut. Beware of the blasphemy, bad language and blasphemous bad language. I am serious–this movie offended Christians and Jews alike.

My first-year college roommate, raised Catholic, was very upset when she saw this movie. She thought she was an ex-Catholic, but people hang on to things from their religious upbringing longer than they think. I had sent her to see it and had to apologize.

(Goodness, the Wikipedia article about the movie says that there was an oratorio based on the movie called Not the Messiah. Be still my geeky heart.)

I saw Life of Brian when it came out in Jerusalem in 1981. I was on a teen program in Israel that taught Jewish history, so I got every joke. My two geeky girlfriends from the program and I laughed louder than anyone else in the audience. I think the Israelis knew the history but couldn’t hear through the accents. Or maybe they were just offended and didn’t think it was funny. Not like my later experience of seeing Yellow Submarine in Tel Aviv in 1994, with everyone around me singing all the songs.

Anyway, this isn’t my favorite scene from the film, but the Pythons haven’t posted the most apposite one. (You know, the one with the line about being a Red Sea pedestrian? Oh well.) Here it is below the cut. Continue reading

Happy Purim

Purim is a silly holiday.

 It’s a deeply spiritually meaningful Jewish holiday, don’t get me wrong, but it’s a holiday whose observance involves a lot of being silly. For example, we have Purim Torah, a sort of high level satirical joking. (Or sometimes not really so high level.) Then there are Purim costumes, which in some communities are very silly indeed. Purimspiel at Congregation Beth Israel in North Adams, Mass. Purim plays (also called purimspielen) were some of the first Jewish theater, and to this day there are opportunities for members of Jewish communities to mock each other and the current political situation as they retell the story of the Book of Esther. There are Purim carnivals for children in costume. There are special Purim foods, like hamantashen, the jam-filled pastries that we North American Jews of Eastern European extraction make for this holiday, and, well, alcoholic beverages. (No, alcohol is not mandatory. I’ve been to more than one Purim party where people claim to be drinking when they are really holding cups of alcohol while telling jokes. You should never feel pressure to drink. Or to laugh.)

It’s the perfect holiday for this blog, because:

1. It’s a holiday about a Jewish woman who entered an interfaith marriage, preserved her identity and saved the Jewish people. Enough said.

2. On the internet, no one knows whether you’re wearing a Purim costume. (No, I’m not. For one thing, it’s not Purim yet. Also, I’m at work. In addition, I don’t even wear a costume at the megillah reading. Those are my real nose and glasses.)

3. If you haven’t seen this funny video, you should. Continue reading

Ronna and Beverly

Have you read You’ll Do A Little Better Next Time: A Guide to Marriage and Remarriage for Jewish Singles? No? Never heard of it? It’s written by Beverly Ginsburg and Ronna Glickman, two Massachusetts-based Jewish mothers. Watch this video (courtesy of Jewcy) to see them harass an intermarried record store clerk. “We’ll talk you through the divorce,” they tell him.

Full disclosure: Ronna and Beverly are fictional. For more of their exploits, visit ronnaandbeverly.com.