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Beit Hatfutsot delivers a gut-busting exhibition on Jewish humor

Kramer
© Elad Sarig Photography "Seinfeld:" Portrait of Cosmo Kramer, from "The Letter" (Season 3, Episode 21), Oil on canvas, 2000. Courtesy of Ori Segal, the CEO of MUGO

Mayim Bialik, Jerry Seinfeld, Sarah Silverman, Ilana Glazer, Mel Brooks, Woody Allen, Larry David, Groucho Marx...it comes as no secret that, particularly in the media, Jews have earned their reputation as the "comedians of the modern world" – a title that they carry with pride, self-deprecation, and a generous heaping of chutzpah. What you might not have known, though, is that the binding association between Judaism and humor predates primetime television.

 

In fact, we've been walking around with a funny bone to pick since Biblical times. Take stand-up, for instance. Rumor has it that stand-up comedy originated with the Twelve Tribes of Israel. After all, it takes more than determination to deliver a convincing speech; first and foremost, these profits had to captivate their audiences. Also, if there's one thing we base our Torah studies on it's asking questions, the premise for the longest running gag: knock-knock jokes.

 

 

Al Hirschfeld, The Marx Brothers’ Engraving, 2002, Courtesy of Aviva Kempner
© Elad Sarig

 

Humor equally takes center stage at Jewish holidays and gatherings. Whether it's your drunk uncle's dramedic monologue about the pros and cons of matzo on your digestive system after his fourth glass of kosher wine, or your little cousin bringing the whole room to tears after proudly bursting out, "Jesus parted the Red Sea!," as a faith, we are natural comedians.

 

After happening upon a recent survey revealing that 42% of American Jews believe that to be Jewish means to have a good sense of humor, Chief Curator Dr. Orit Shaham Gover alongside curators Asaf Galay and Michal Houminer sought out to uncover some patterns and prospective answers to the origins of Jewish humor. Through their newest multi-room exhibition titled Let There Be Laughter: Jewish Humor Around the World, The Museum of Jewish People at Beit Hatfutsot has explored in great detail why Jews take their jokes so seriously.

As you enter the museum, nestled inside Tel Aviv University, a teaser of Israeli sitcom clips and replicas of local comedic icons on the lamb from Madame Tussauds lure curious museum-goers upstairs. Awaiting them on the second floor: a series of video clips, books, comic strips, posters, and personal objects which once belonged to world-class Jewish comedians.

 

 

Assman's License Plate Autographed by Kenny Kramer, (Episode 107), Courtesy of Ori Segal, the CEO of MUGO
© Elad Sarig

 

While the subject matter of Let There Be Laughter is humorous by nature, the curators injected humor into the space's essence in the physical makeup of each section: a functional slot machine makes a farce of our gambling culture, a terribly accurate recreation of "The Jewish Mother's" kitchen smells of noodle kugel and nostalgia, a glimpse at an Orthodox Barbie Doll offers insight into the "Jewish American Princess" (JAP), and audio clips from Seinfeld, Sarah Silverman, and the Marx brothers fill the interactive space with familiar banter.

 

Jen Taylor Friedman, Tefillin Barbie ,2006, Museum of the Jewish People Collection
© Elad Sarig

 

Above all, this witty exhibition celebrates "the diversity and vitality of Jewish humor, explor[ing] how elements of Jewish joking have remained constant regardless of time, place, and language. Along the way, we’ll have some fun."

"I do not know whether there are many other instances of a people making fun to such a degree of its own character"
–Sigmund Freud

Loosen up those facial muscles, stretch out those abdominals, and prepare for a laugh out loud experience at The Museum of Jewish People, 15 Klausner St, Tel Aviv (on the Tel Aviv University campus). Exhibition is open until 2020.

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