It is with great sadness that JBS acknowledges the passing of one of our founders and inspiration, Kenneth Schwartz. Kenny was always a happy, positive and supportive friend who worked alongside us to encourage discussion and raise awareness about issues within the Jewish community. An activist and supporter for many causes, Kenny was intelligent, articulate and passionate, but more than all else he was kind and considerate. He will be missed as a colleague and friend. May his family find comfort among the mourners of Jerusalem.
 
The Jokes of Oppression: The Humor of Soviet Jews by David A. Harris & Izrail Rabinovich
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The Jokes of Oppression is a "joke book" and not an analysis of the role humor played in the Soviet Jewish experience. As such, it is a fast and enjoyable read, with some of the humor bittersweet and much of it recognizable as Jewish humor, transcending the Soviet Union and touching on the sensibilities Jews have from their common history. In this way the book is as relevant and important as it was when it was first published in 1988.

There is the humor, black as it is, specific to the Soviet (and perhaps European) Jewish experience:

Haim was walking down an Odessa street when he ran into his old friend Abram.
"Haim," said Abram, looking down at his friend's feet, "it looks as if you have lost one shoe."
"Not at all," responded Haim. "In fact, it's quite the opposite. I found one."

or

Question: What do Jews and endangered species have in common?
Answer: For the moment, neither can be killed.

or

Ivan walks into a shop.
"You don't have any meat, do you?" Ivan asks Haim the shop owner.
"This is a fish shop," replied Haim. "Here we have no fish. Next door, at the butcher, they have no meat."

There is also the universal Jewish humor:

Two friends meet:
"Chaim, how are you today"? asks one
"Worse than yesterday, better than tomorrow," replies Chaim.

or

An East German, a West German and a Jew are sitting on an airplane. God comes to them and gives each one the chance to make a wish.

"That there should only be a world without fascism," says the East German.
"That there should only be a world without communism," says the West German.
"Excuse me, God, but will those two wishes be fulfilled?' asks the Jew
"Yes, indeed," replies God
"In that case, God," says the Jew, "a cup of tea would be nice."

or

Two strangers, both Jews, are standing on a bus. One signs loudly.
The other turns to him and says, "you're telling me?"

And then there are expressions of pride:

Question: What's a one hundred year war?
Answer: A six day war fought by non-Israelis.

or

The Soviet generals are in a strategy session discussing the risk posed by the huge Chinese army.
"Numbers alone do not determine success in a war," claimed one general, "after all, look at the Jews. They beat the Arabs and they were outnumbered 100-1."
"True," responded another general, "but as concerns the Chinese, do you think we have enough Jews?"

With thousands of jokes - some of which cause a chuckle, some of which cause a shake of the head (as the truth behind the humor resonates) - this book is both a lesson in the hardships endured by the Jews of the Soviet Union and a tribute to their perseverance and courage as they ultimately triumphed.

The book, perhaps foreseeing the mass emigration of Jews upon the collapse of the Soviet Union, ends with:

Question: Why are there no more Jewish jokes in the Soviet Union?
Answer: Because Rabinovich, Haimovich, and Shapiro have all emigrated.

Is it any wonder why humor is such a central element of the Jewish condition? From Groucho Marx to Jerry Seinfeld, humor has certainly been a part of the American Jewish experience. But what about Jewish communities in other countries, especially those countries where anti-Semitism is still widespread or even government sanctioned?
The Jews of the Soviet Union relied on humor as a way to help cope with the institutionalized persecution they were subject to daily. They used this humor to emphasize the hypocrisy, poke fun at those in power, and maintain their identities. Although the Soviet Union disintegrated and the Jews of the Soviet Union were able to escape the persecution, the legacy of their humor remains as a testimony to their humanity and a record of their good humor in the face of unspeakable hardships and cruelty.

The Jokes of Oppression is a "joke book" and not an analysis of the role humor played in the Soviet Jewish experience. As such, it is a fast and enjoyable read, with some of the humor bittersweet and much of it recognizable as Jewish humor, transcending the Soviet Union and touching on the sensibilities Jews have from their common history. In this way the book is as relevant and important as it was when it was first published in 1988.

There is the humor, black as it is, specific to the Soviet (and perhaps European) Jewish experience:

Haim was walking down an Odessa street when he ran into his old friend Abram.
"Haim," said Abram, looking down at his friend's feet, "it looks as if you have lost one shoe."
"Not at all," responded Haim. "In fact, it's quite the opposite. I found one."

or

Question: What do Jews and endangered species have in common?
Answer: For the moment, neither can be killed.

or

Ivan walks into a shop.
"You don't have any meat, do you?" Ivan asks Haim the shop owner.
"This is a fish shop," replied Haim. "Here we have no fish. Next door, at the butcher, they have no meat."

There is also the universal Jewish humor:

Two friends meet:
"Chaim, how are you today"? asks one
"Worse than yesterday, better than tomorrow," replies Chaim.

or

An East German, a West German and a Jew are sitting on an airplane. God comes to them and gives each one the chance to make a wish.

"That there should only be a world without fascism," says the East German.
"That there should only be a world without communism," says the West German.
"Excuse me, God, but will those two wishes be fulfilled?' asks the Jew
"Yes, indeed," replies God
"In that case, God," says the Jew, "a cup of tea would be nice."

or

Two strangers, both Jews, are standing on a bus. One signs loudly.
The other turns to him and says, "you're telling me?"

And then there are expressions of pride:

Question: What's a one hundred year war?
Answer: A six day war fought by non-Israelis.

or

The Soviet generals are in a strategy session discussing the risk posed by the huge Chinese army.
"Numbers alone do not determine success in a war," claimed one general, "after all, look at the Jews. They beat the Arabs and they were outnumbered 100-1."
"True," responded another general, "but as concerns the Chinese, do you think we have enough Jews?"

With thousands of jokes - some of which cause a chuckle, some of which cause a shake of the head (as the truth behind the humor resonates) - this book is both a lesson in the hardships endured by the Jews of the Soviet Union and a tribute to their perseverance and courage as they ultimately triumphed.

The book, perhaps foreseeing the mass emigration of Jews upon the collapse of the Soviet Union, ends with:

Question: Why are there no more Jewish jokes in the Soviet Union?
Answer: Because Rabinovich, Haimovich, and Shapiro have all emigrated.

Buy Now at Amazon.com