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  • Jerry Seinfeld, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and Michael Richards at the celebration for the release of the Seinfeld DVD at the Rainbow Room, New York, November 17, 2004 | Photo: Shutterstock
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Joke’s On Us

Kay Wilson - 9 June 2021

During these times of Corona, jokes, one-liners, memes and hilarious Zoom lectures are flooding Israeli social media and they are doing so with such success that two researchers, Dafna Lemish and Nelly Elias decided to investigate what is it about this particular humour that is making it catch on.

Dafna Lemish – Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, USA

Nelly Elias – Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Israel

Jewish people are well-known for the famous gallows humor that has accompanied us throughout inquisitions, pogroms, wars, terrorism and even – somewhat controversially – the Holocaust. But the wave of this humour is so surprising, successful and unstoppable, that the women decided it was worth studying.

“Humour is a tool for coping, and the humour rising from the maneuvering of family life under the restrictions and confinement of the virus is therefore not surprising”

Although the vast material available for research includes the public frenzy following a perceived shortage of toilet paper, rising obesity and the absurdity of celebrating Jewish holidays on Zoom, the women decided to focus on the “joys” of parenthood.

Humour is a tool for coping, and the humour rising from the maneuvering of family life under the restrictions and confinement of the virus is therefore not surprising. But much of this humor has transgressed into “holy” ground and in doing so is even breaking taboos in Israel, so much so that the common expression that ’children are a blessing’ has become a minefield of jokes.

Israel is well-known for being a very child-centered society where little ones are thought of as deserving to have their every need pampered and against whom never a sharp word should be spoken. No one would ever have joked about children or that bond between parents until now.

According to many of the parents interviewed for the research, humor serves as a relief. It helps poor old Pa and Ma reflect on their own feelings and thoughts and keeps them sane during what seems like an impossible time.

Among the most popular jokes are the likes of parents who are begging the rest of the general public not to “make” any more children. With a large dose of irony, they implore others to see that restraint is a national responsibility. Once on a pedestal and immune to even a word of disapproval, according to these exhausted parents, it is none other than children, who are making life “unbearable.”

One joke that caught on and raised a good laugh in many a neighborhood, was when some mischievous parents hung large signs on the balconies of their apartment which said, “children for sale.” Other parents have sworn to put all their family duties aside and devote their entire livelihood and time to come up with a vaccine.

With daycare facilities being so expensive in Israel, many families greatly rely on the assistance of grandparents while the parents are at work. Due to the lockdown and the need to keep the grandparents at a distance, an onslaught of jokes has arisen. These are mostly aimed at the once-doting grandmothers, now charged by their very own kids for “avoiding responsibility.”

“The big screen is famous for these comedians who have brought laughter to the world…”

One very viral meme focused on Disney’s The Lion King. It pictures the young Simba lion cub and his father looking longingly at the lioness on the horizon. A speech bubble coming from the papa reads, “that’s your grandma running away. She knows we need a babysitter.”

Even though most of these new Corona  jokes naturally have an Israeli element to them, according to the research, they have rang a bell with audiences world-wide. For decades Jewish people have been an agent of much needed in the world. The big screen is famous for these comedians who have brought laughter to the world, from Marx Brothers, Seinfeld, Jackie Mason, Mel Brooks to Sasha Baron Cohen. Humor is medicinal. It reminds our adversaries (including Corona) that if we can laugh at them, we have beaten them. Humor helps overcome anxieties and distress and in  these times of darkness, the people of Israel are creating a little light relief as one way of fulfilling the commission of being a Light to the Nations.

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