In Featured at HBT, Our Virtual Mishkan, Reflections: Rabbi Zachary Goodman

Resilience Through Laughter

An elderly Jewish man faints at a dinner party and is rushed upstairs to the guest bedroom. The host fetches him some water and tucks him into bed and says, “Mr. Schwartzman, are you comfortable?” Schwartzman replies, “I make a living…!”

The beauty of classic Jewish humour is that we’ve heard all the jokes a thousand times and they never get old. Each joker puts their own spin on it, and even though we know the punch line, we still get a kick out of them! This Monday night, as a part of Holy Blossom Mitzvah Week, the Luke Sklar Mental Health Initiative hosted an event titled, “Holy Blossom Folks Telling Jokes”.  Keeping in mind the mitzvah of Refuat HaNefesh- the healing of our souls, and in an effort to release a little tension in the face of this pandemic, this committee brought the community together for a much-needed laugh!

Comedy is filled with a plethora of Jewish faces and characters. From Groucho Marx to Joan Rivers, Lenny Bruce to Gilna Radner, Mel Brooks, Gene Wilder, or Sarah Silverman, the list goes on and on… What is it about “Jewish Joking”, that is has become a well-known and much loved cultural phenomenon?

One answer comes from Professor Avner Ziv, who has written extensively on the subject of humour. Ziv chairs the Department of Education Sciences at Tel Aviv University and has also chaired a number international conferences on humour. In his essay, “Humor as a Social Corrective”, Ziv writes:

“Stories of this sort are told when a group or nation finds itself under oppression without any means of fighting back. In such cases, humor is an instrument of self-respect and the spirit of freedom. The French philosopher Penjon has written, “Laughter is nothing but an expression of the freedom which we experience or long for. Always and everywhere, laughter is the echo of freedom.”[1]

This speaks to our people’s connection to comedy throughout our challenging history. Perhaps, it also addresses the difficulty of this unique moment as well. While it would not be correct to equate quarantine to the oppression of any people in world history, it is more than natural to experience the weight of being locked down and away from society as being overbearing and repressive. It is in these perplexing moments when it is important to remember that the Jewish people have always exhibited our resilience through laughter. As Rabbi Jonathon Sacks recently wrote in a D’var on Parshat Vayikra in the age of the Corona virus pandemic, “What we can laugh at does not hold us in captive fear. What we can laugh about, we can survive!”

Whether on stage, in films, a Zoom call during Mitzvah Week, or simply around the Shabbat dinner table, we can always make space for laughter. This week, we hope you will laugh around our virtual Shabbat dinner tables! As Holy Blossom Mitzvah Week continues, consider joining us following services on Friday evening for “Shabbat Dining Rooms”! At approximately 7:15 pm, we will gather together for Shabbat blessings and then break off into smaller groups to connect our dining rooms together. This is an opportunity to share a Shabbat meal with someone in the community you may or may not know! Perhaps you will share a few good laughs as well!


Register Here:


Though we cannot guarantee you will be seated together, please encourage your friends and family to register as well! Don’t forget to keep sending us your Mitzvah Week experiences by taking a selfie, a screenshot, or a short video, and sending it to [email protected] with a short explanation, so we can put together a slide-show for Havdallah, and feature your contributions throughout the week on social media. If you post on Social Media, tag Holy Blossom Temple, and use #hbtmitzvahweek

Keep Smiling,

Rabbi Zachary Goodman


[1] Ziv, Avner. “Humor as a Social Corrective.” Writing and Reading Across the Curriculum 3rd ed. Laurence Behrens and Leonard J. Rosen, eds. Glenview, IL: Scott, Foresman and Company, 1988. 356-60.


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