I know that’s a lofty title but it’s what’s on my mind after spending over five hours at the Museum of the Jewish People, formerly known as the Diaspora Museum in Tel Aviv. It’s been completely renovated into a modern, experiential museum and I highly recommend it if you’re going to be in Tel Aviv.
As you walk into the museum, there’s a small scale reproduction of a beautiful wooden synagogue from Zabludow Poland, or as my grandmother called her hometown, Zabludova. I’ve seen it before, but somehow, this time, I found it very moving. I tried to imagine my grandmother as a child in the late 1800’s, living in this town and going to this synagogue. How could it be that I never asked her about her childhood? How could it be she never talked to me about her childhood with her parents and twelve siblings, living in Zabludova? I’ll never know.
Among a number of interesting and compelling exhibits, I found the one on Jewish humor especially thought provoking. It covered Jewish humor through the ages and across the globe, including a hysterical video montage of Russian, Sephardic, Ethiopian, Ashenazi, and Egyptian Israeli stand-up comics. A few reactions. Why is humor so prominent in Jewish life and culture? Being Jewish has never been easy in this world- we’re a distinct and historically oppressed minority. Perhaps making fun of one’s culture, family, and religion provides an escape valve to lighten the burden. For instance, there was a video of an American comedian talking about how grateful he is that Jews don’t have Christmas trees as a religious tradition. Why? Because there’d be a lengthy Talmudic tractate on who can cut the tree down, how to do it humanely, when to do it, etc. Very funny, but also reflective of Jewish Christmas tree envy.
One disturbing aspect of the exhibit was the theme of making fun of Jewish mothers across centuries and cultures. What’s the difference between a rottweiler and a Jewish mother? The rottweiler eventually lets go. Come on! In spite of second class citizenship in much of Jewish life, Jewish mothers have always been a powerful force as the transmitters of culture, values, and traditions in the family. We don’t hear jokes about Jewish fathers, except in relation to overbearing Jewish mothers. What do you think? Despite my discomfort, I have to confess that my sisters and I often say our paternal grandmother had a post-doc in Jewish guilt. Oy.
In a section on the distasteful strand of Jewish princess jokes, this appeared and I loved it. Barbie with tefillin, carrying a Talmud volume. This is for you Nomi!
One more thing I love about being in Israel. We decided we wanted burgers for dinner and all we had to do was walk around the corner from our apartment to a terrific kosher hamburger restaurant. Lovely.