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What Marc Maron’s comedy special taught me about laughter and Tisha B’Av

(JTA) — I’ve been teaching a virtual class on Jewish humor through our partner site, My Jewish Learning. I share classic jokes and bits and then discuss what they say about both the Jews who tell them and the Jewish audiences that enjoy them. 

We have a lot of fun, and I think I’ve made the case for how a classic Jewish joke can be as revealing and meaningful as any other classic Jewish text. But I do wonder if I am complicit in a worldview that sees humor as the sum total of Jewish identity. The Pew Research Center found that 42% of Jewish Americans associate being Jewish with having a sense of humor — twice as many who said the same thing about observing Jewish law. 

Have we all become Tim Whatley, the dentist on “Seinfeld” who Jerry suspects has converted to Judaism just to be able to tell Jewish jokes? 

I am having these doubts on the eve of Tisha B’Av, the annual fast that mourns the destruction of the Temples in Jerusalem and other historical calamities. Leading up to the fast day, observant Jews take on many of the rituals of mourning the dead. It’s a grim period, and I’ve always bristled at a custom that demands I perform grief at the height of summer.  

The unrelenting sadness of the period must have gotten to the sages of the Talmud. They tell the story of the elders who look down on the Temple Mount after it has been ransacked by the Romans, and see a fox scamper out of what had been the Holy of Holies, the inner sanctum of the Temple. They begin weeping, but Rabbi Akiva laughs instead. 

They want to know why he’s laughing, and Akiva explains. On one level, he understands the absurd irony — the cosmic joke — of what they are witnessing: While the Torah says that any non-priest who approaches the Holy of Holies shall die (Numbers 1:51), the fox violates the space unscathed. 

But Akiva is also laughing because the scene of destruction fulfills a prophecy: that Jerusalem won’t be restored to the Jews until after it is reduced to rubble. The other sages are comforted. 

Miriam Zami, in a deep analysis of the story, says Akiva “resists the notion that the only future is a bleak one.” Laughing and recalling God’s promise to restore Jerusalem isan act of healing, protesting Roman power and protesting the notion of a fundamentally meaningless existence.”

That’s the kind of laughter that scholars of Jewish humor have long celebrated: “laughter through tears,” the “laughter of defiance.” As the Yiddish scholar Ruth Wisse wrote in her study of Jewish humor, “Both mystic and comedian aspire to get the better of a world they are powerless to reform.” 

I worry, though, that humor can offer an undeserved escape from grim reality — perhaps healthy in small doses, but delusional when it becomes a way of being in the world. When we celebrate the genius of Jewish humor are we mocking those who suffered without its comforts? To paraphrase the German philosopher Theodor Adorno, is making comedy after Auschwitz barbaric?

Like Akiva’s buddies, however, I found some comfort in the latest HBO special by veteran comedian Marc Maron. Now 59, Maron has long been a “comic’s comic” but found wider fame in recent years on the strength of a popular podcast and his roles in the Netflix series “GLOW” and his eponymous sitcom on IFC. His style is dyspeptic and confessional, and Jewish to a degree that seems to surprise even him: “There’s part of me that just wants to keep poking the Jew thing,” he says at one point in the new special.

“From Bleak to Dark” is Maron’s first special since the death, in 2020, of his partner, the filmmaker Lynn Shelton. He is one of a number of comedians who have been exploring their personal grief in their comedy; as New York Times critic Jason Zinoman pointed out in a recent essay, “These new shows illustrate how grief, precisely because it’s usually handled with solemnity, jargon and unsaid thoughts, is ripe territory for stand-up.”

The very first words of Maron’s special would fit right into the key text of the Tisha B’Av liturgy, known as “Lamentations“: “I don’t want to be negative,” he says, “but I don’t think anything’s ever gonna get better ever again. I don’t want to bum anybody out but I think this is pretty much the way it’s gonna be for however long it takes us to polish this planet off.”

He’s talking about global warming, but he eventually shifts to talking about Shelton’s death. At first he wonders how he can discuss his loss on stage,tims and then imagines a sad one-man show called “Marc Maron: Kaddish, A Prayer for the Dead,” and even chants the opening words of the prayer

But Maron is not one to take comfort in Jewish ritual. “I’m not religious. I’m Jewish,” he explains, as if the second sentence makes the first one self-evident.

As for comedy, he says, “I’m a guy who talks about his life. So I wasn’t clear how that was gonna go. How am I going to talk about [Shelton]? You know, is that ever going to happen? Is there a way to bring humor to that?” 

There is, and it came to him on the night the doctors took Shelton off of life support. At first, he is not sure he wants to be there, but his friends convince him that he would regret it if he didn’t say goodbye. “So I walk in there and really see her and she’s gone,” he relates. “And I was able to touch her forehead and tell her I love her and cry for a few minutes.” And then, because he is at heart a comedian, he thinks of a joke: As he walks away from her hospital bed, he thinks, “Selfie?” 

“When I wrote that joke, or when I came up with it, it made me feel so happy,” he says. 

Maron knows he is not the only person in the theater, or watching at home, who is grieving, and his words are solace for them as much as for himself. In another famous Talmud story about laughter, Elijah the Prophet and a Rabbi Baroka come across two men in the marketplace. The two explain that they are jesters. “When we see a person who is sad, we cheer him up,” they explain. “Likewise, when we see two people quarreling, we try to make peace between them.” 

Says Elijah, “These two have a share in the World to Come,” which is a prophet’s way of saying they have a free pass to Heaven. 

I don’t know if Maron knows the passage, or the one about Akiva, but his special feels like essential viewing on the eve of Tisha B’Av, when Jews are asked to hold onto hope and embrace life despite a tragic history.

“I find that humor that comes from real darkness is really the best because it disarms it,” he explains. “It’s elevating the spirit. It’s why I got into comedy, because I’ve watched comics and they would take things that were complicated or horrifying and simplify them and sort of make you see them in a different way and have a laugh. And I think it’s a beautiful thing and necessary.”

And then, because he is a comedian and Jew, he can’t resist a joke: “I believe there were probably some hilarious people in Auschwitz.”

The post What Marc Maron’s comedy special taught me about laughter and Tisha B’Av appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Jordan Reaffirms Commitment to Peace With Israel After Iran Attack, Says Ending Treaty Would Hurt Palestinians

Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Al Safadi attends a press conference after a meeting on the Gaza situation in the government’s representation facility in Oslo, Norway, Dec. 15, 2023. Photo: NTB/Stian Lysberg Solum via REUTERS

Senior Jordanian officials recently reaffirmed the country’s commitment to maintaining peace with Israel, despite protests erupting across Jordan against their treaty amid the ongoing war in Gaza.

Pro-Hamas protesters have been actively campaigning to end the Israel-Jordan peace treaty, which the two countries signed in 1994 to end the state of war that had existed between them for decades and establish diplomatic relations. The treaty followed the signing of the Oslo Accords, a historic agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.

However, Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Al-Safadi said on Sunday that the peace deal was best for not only his country but also the Palestinians.

“The treaty actualized all our rights and served our interests. Revoking it would not be in Jordan’s or the Palestinians’ interest,” Al-Safadi told Jordan’s official news channel Al-Mamlaka in remarks flagged by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI). “If we thought even for a moment that revoking it would be in the interest of Jordan or of the Palestinians, we would have done so without hesitation.”

Revoking the peace treaty, he continued, would “harm both Jordan and Palestine and greatly limit our ability to continue fulfilling our main and primary role in providing aid to the Palestinian people … The peace treaty is a source of strength for us and allows us to continue our role of aiding the Palestinian people while protecting our interests.”

Al-Safadi’s comments came one day after Jordan — along with the US, Britain, and France — helped Israel repel an unprecedented direct attack by Iran against the Israeli homeland. Iran fired over 300 drones and missiles at the Jewish state, nearly all of which were shot out of the air. Only one injury was reported in Israel.

The chief diplomat’s defense of the peace treaty also came amid the ongoing Israel-Hamas war in Gaza, which has fueled anti-Israel animus across Jordan. Thousands of protesters have been routinely gathering for weeks to lambast Israel, express solidarity with Hamas, and call for an end to the peace treaty. Al-Safadi addressed such opposition in his comments.

“We respect Jordanian public opinion,” he said. “Back in 1994, when [the treaty] was signed, it protected our interests. We regained all our occupied lands, and the treaty enshrined Jordan’s special role in administrating the places holy to Islam and to Christianity in Jerusalem. Were it not for this role, there would have been a vacuum, and Israel would have exploited this to impose its own sovereignty and administration on the holy places rather than granting them to the Palestinians.”

Al-Safadi wasn’t the only official to recently articulate Jordan’s commitment to the peace treaty amid calls to revoke it and mass anti-Israel protests over the Gaza war.

Jordan’s government spokesman, Muhannad Mubaidin, told Sky News Arabia late last month that Hamas was inciting the Jordanian people against their leadership. The Palestinian terrorist group and its supporters in Jordan, he said, were trying “to force Jordan to choose different options,” but “peace is our strategic choice and the peace treaty [with Israel] is what allows us to fulfill our role of easing the pressures on the people in the West Bank.”

MEMRI was first to report Mubaidin’s comments in English.

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US Stops UN From Recognizing a Palestinian State Through Membership

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres speaks to members of the Security Council during a meeting to address the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question, at UN headquarters in New York City, New York, US, April 18, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

The United States on Thursday effectively stopped the United Nations from recognizing a Palestinian state by casting a veto in the Security Council to deny the Palestinian Authority full membership of the world body.

The United States says an independent Palestinian state should be established through direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority and not through UN action.

It vetoed a draft resolution that recommended to the 193-member UN General Assembly that “the State of Palestine be admitted to membership of the United Nations.” Britain and Switzerland abstained, while the remaining 12 council members voted yes.

The Palestinians are currently a non-member observer state, a recognition that was granted by the UN General Assembly in 2012. But an application to become a full UN member needs to be approved by the Security Council and then at least two-thirds of the General Assembly.

The Palestinian push for full UN membership comes six months into a war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, and as Israel is expanding settlements in the West Bank.

“Recent escalations make it even more important to support good-faith efforts to find lasting peace between Israel and a fully independent, viable, and sovereign Palestinian state,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the council earlier on Thursday.

“Failure to make progress towards a two-state solution will only increase volatility and risk for hundreds of millions of people across the region, who will continue to live under the constant threat of violence,” he said.

Israel‘s UN Ambassador Gilad Erdan said Palestinians failed to meet the criteria to become a full UN member, which he outlined as: a permanent population, defined territory, government, and capacity to enter relations with other states.

“Who is the council voting to ‘recognize’ and give full membership status to? Hamas in Gaza? The Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Nablus? Who?” Erdan asked the Security Council earlier on Thursday.

He said granting full UN membership to Palestinians “will have zero positive impact for any party, that will cause only destruction for years to come, and harm any chance for future dialogue.”

The Palestinian Authority, headed by President Mahmoud Abbas, exercises limited self-rule in the West Bank. Hamas ousted the Palestinian Authority from power in Gaza in 2007.

Ziad Abu Amr, special envoy of Abbas, earlier asked the US: “How could this damage the prospects of peace between Palestinians and Israelis? How could this recognition and this membership harm international peace and security?”

“Those who are trying to disrupt and hinder the adoption of such a resolution … are not helping the prospects of peace between Palestinians and Israelis and the prospects for peace in the Middle East in general,” he told the Security Council.

Abu Amr said full Palestinian UN membership was not an alternative for serious political negotiations to implement a two-state solution and resolve pending issues, adding: “However, this resolution will grant hope to the Palestinian people hope for a decent life within an independent state.”

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The value of Jews to Canada today: What would the cost be if the community packed up and left?

Jonathan L. Milevsky is an author and educator. Raphi Zaionz is the founder of mygoals Inc. Both live in Toronto, for the moment. (The latter’s children either have left or are planning to leave Canada.) Towards the end of the film Schindler’s List, there’s a scene in which the famous non-Jewish philanthropist, who saved over […]

The post The value of Jews to Canada today: What would the cost be if the community packed up and left? appeared first on The Canadian Jewish News.

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