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  • Jewish Jokes

    Posted on February 20th, 2013 Ruth Abusch-Magder 2 comments

    Jews have long used humor to cope with difficulty. At Purim time the Jewish jokes are especially apt. Here are a few to get you started. We hope you will share some of  your favorites with us! Please post your offerings in the comments section below!


    Winning the Race

    Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion decided to field a rowing team. Unfortunately, they lose race after race. Even though they practice and practice for hours everyday, they never manage to come in any better than dead last.

    Finally, the team decides to send Morris Fishbein, its captain, to spy on Harvard, the perennial championship team.
    So Morris schlepps off to Cambridge and hides in the bushes next to the Charles River, where he carefully watches the Harvard team at its daily practices. After a week, Morris returns to HUC-JIR.
    “Well, I figured out their secret”, he announces.
    “What? Tell us! Tell us!” his teammates shout.
    “We should have only one guy yelling. The other eight should row.”
    -Paul Kipnes

    Purim Comes Calling

    Knock knock.

    Who’s there?


    Esther who?

    The Esther bunny!


    Knock knock.

    Who’s there?

    Vashti! Vashti who?

    Vashti dishes and I’ll give you a hamantaschen!


    Knock knock.

    Who’s there?

    Haman Haman who?

    Haman whatcha doing tomorrow, it’s Purim!


    Knock knock

    Who’s there?


    Orange who?

    Orange you glad it’s Purim?!

    -Phyllis Sommer


    So Long

    The difference between Jews and non Jews at a party? Non Jews leave without saying goodbye, Jews say goodbye and never leave. – Eric Siroka

    A woman goes to the post office to buy stamps for her Chanukah cards.
    She says to the clerk “May I have 50 Chanukah stamps please.”

    “What denomination?” says the clerk.

    The woman says “Oy vey, my god, has it come to this? Okay, give me 6
    Orthodox, 12 Conservative and 32 Reform!”

    -Josh C. Perlman

    Out and About

    What does a waiter say to a table of Jewish women? “Is anything all right?” -David Young


    Sermon Survey

    I first heard from one of my favorite professors, Chanan Brichto, of very blessed memory: A congregant comes up to her rabbi at the Oneg Shabbat and says: “Rabbi that was the worst sermon I ever heard. You insulted our intelligence and rambled on and on.” A congregant who overheard then approaches the rabbi and says: “Oh don’t listen to her. She has no mind of her own! She just repeats what everyone else is saying.”               -Stephen Fuchs


    Moishe Goldberg was heading out of the Synagogue one day, and as
    always Rabbi Mendel was standing at
    the door, shaking hands as the congregation departed. The rabbi
    grabbed Moishe by the hand, pulled him aside and whispered these words
    at him: “You need to join the Army of God!”

    Moishe replied: “I’m already in the Army of God, Rabbi.”

    The rabbi questioned: “How come I don’t see you except for Rosh
    Hashanah and Yom Kippur?”

    Moishe whispered back: “I’m in the secret service.”

    -Josh C. Perlman

    It Is No Bother

    Once a rabbi was speaking and a baby started to cry. His embarrassed Mother hastened to remove him. The rabbi called out to her. “Please, you don’t need to take him out. He wasn’t bothering me.” The woman answered, “Rabbi I wasn’t taking him out because he was bothering you. I am taking him out because you were bothering him!” –Stephen Fuchs

    The Blessing Of Shabbat


    What do you get from bad chicken on Friday night? ……..


    -Elisa Koppel


    Parking Spot

    Moishe is driving in NYC . He’s late for a meeting, he’s looking for a
    parking place, and can’t find one. In desperation, he turns towards
    heaven and says: “Lord, if you find me a parking place, I promise that
    I’ll follow all of your commandments and live my life as an exemplary
    Jew. ”

    Miraculously, a place opens up just in front of him.

    He turns his face up to heaven and says, “Never mind, I just found one!”

    -Josh C. Perlman


    Adam and Eve on the Bus

    A devoutly religious Israeli man is sitting on a bus when a scantily clad
    secular Israeli woman takes the seat next to him. Saying nothing, he reaches
    into his bag, pulls out an apple and places it in front of her.

    “What’s this?” asked the woman.

    The man replied, “In the Garden of Eden, after Eve ate the apple she had to
    wear clothes!”

    The next day, this scene repeated itself as the same woman took a seat next
    to the same man. This time it was her turn to pull an apple from her bag and
    place it in front of him.

    “What’s this?” asked the man.

    The woman replied, “In the Garden of Eden after Adam ate the apple, he had
    to work for a living!”

    -Rachel Gurevitz

  • Trees, Roots and Spirituality: Tu B’shvat Torah

    Posted on January 17th, 2012 Ruth Abusch-Magder No comments

    An elm on our street the morning after Hurricane Ike


    On February 8th, 2012 we will celebrate Tu B’shvat. This week Talmudist, Rabbi Judith Abrams of Maqom shares some personal and textual teachings about this holiday.


    This past year, Texas suffered through an extreme drought.  Roads melted and cracked and water mains fractured under the stress.  But perhaps the worst of the drought was what it did to the trees.  Thousands and thousands of them died and now the city workers go through our neighborhoods marking trees that are definitively dead with spray paint so crews will know which trees to cut down.  We all understand why these elms, pines, magnolia and others need to be cut down:  they need to come down in an orderly way or they will fall down and cut off power and traffic.  But still, we see those sprayed painted markings and fell a sense of loss.  

    The “tree deaths” aren’t randomly distributed.  We found this out during Hurricane Ike in 2008.  Elms, which have a very shallow root system, were simply blown over because their ratio of canopy to roots was too small.

    The Same Tree a Few Days Later

    You can see the shallow ball of roots that tipped up as the elm fell, uprooting the sidewalk.

    Interestingly enough, we have a live oak tree in our front yard and it scarcely lost any foliage at all:  some leaves and twigs blew off but that was about it.  That oak’s roots go down about 20 feet and the tree itself is probably only 30 feet high.

    During the drought, I worried about the elms, but not about the oak.  I knew the oak’s roots would be able to reach downward toward the water table.

    The lesson, I’m sure, is clear.  What is it, who is it, that survives?  The one with the deepest root system.  Those who composed the Torah, and those who wrote rabbinic literature knew how much wisdom we can gain from observing trees.  Important events happen with trees (e.g., the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the terebinths of Mamre, Genesis 12:6).  The menorah in the Tabernacle is a stylized almond tree.  Trees are not to be cut down in a war (Deuteronomy 20:19), nor are permitted to exploit trees while they are still saplings (i.e., the rules in tractate Orlah).  They can even teach us some interpersonal lessons, as it is said, “A person should always be gentle as the reed and never unyielding as the cedar (B. Taanit 20a).”

    So with all this as background, how might we best celebrate Tu Bishvat this year? We could Study one tree and its place in the local ecology.  We could make a plan to make a “local lulav” of branches in the fall and mentally mark four trees for that purpose.  For example, if you live in Vermont, you might include maple leaves and apples in your “local lulav.”  And, of course, plant trees here and in Israel.

    See the trees everywhere you look, for they are there…even where you might least expect them to be.  If you look closely at what a scribe did to this Torah scroll, you can tell that he saw the trees and plants everywhere, everywhere


  • Violence and Joy: Purim Unmasked

    Posted on March 14th, 2011 Ruth Abusch-Magder No comments

    by Ruth Abusch-Magder

    The story of Purim tells of a people, about to be annihilated but rescued from the brink by the wiles of a beautiful Jewish woman. Most popular tellings leave it at that. But this back story only sets the stage for the final celebration. The feast of Purim, as we are told in the unvarnished biblical version, commemorates the victory in battle of the Jews over armed forces set into motion to kill the Jews. At the end of the story, not only is the villain hanged for his crimes, but his ten sons not obviously guilty are hanged too. Recalling this military victory, Jews do what armies have always done at the conclusion of battle, gather together, gorge on food and drink, trash talk the enemy and glorify their own actions.

    Repulsive? I certainly hope so.

    It seems to me that part of the strength of Purim lies in its attempts to confront violence. The Italian rabbi and later Professor of Hebrew Bible, Moshe David Cassuto, identified the theme of physical survival as the central theme of the Purim holiday. In crafting the story of Hanukkah, the rabbis of old pasted over the story of the violent Maccabean Revolt against the Greeks with the story of the occupation and retaking of the spiritual home of God in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. In Cassuto’s eyes, the rabbinic version of Hanukkah tells the story of spiritual survival. But with Purim there is no white wash, the biblical telling is unvarnished and gritty, frightening and unsavory. And whereas the rituals of Hanukkah are glad to gloss over the killings and conflicts that were part of the historical Maccabean revolt, the rituals of Purim demand that we engage with both the challenges and joys of survival.

    One of the four ritual obligations at Purim is to read Megillat Ester, the scroll of Ester. We are obligated to listen to the whole story, start to finish. Despite what one might think from sitting in a contemporary synagogue with noisemakers, we are obligated to hear every word of the story. We cannot gloss over the challenging parts. We need to pay attention to the frivolity of the King, his excess of food and drink, and it’s consequences for those in his immediate family and those over whom he reigns. The Jewish people are both the victim and the beneficiaries of the King’s tendency to indulge. His lack of involvement allows for his advisor Haman to pursue a personal vendetta against the Jews. But his fondness for food and drink (and beautiful ladies) draws him to Ester’s feast where he is persuaded to save the Jews. We learn by watching Haman, how single-minded evil and anger can lead to your own undoing. Listening closely, we come to understand that physical survival is fraught with challenges. For Hadas, who becomes Ester, surviving means giving up her name and her community, going into hiding and being sexually compromised. And while Mordechai is able to escape with little physical harm, he has to give up his ability to protect his ward. While he does survive, he has to rely on the largess and protection of others to do so.

    According to many biblical scholars, the story is a farce. It cannot be reconciled with historical facts and even as a literary telling it has elements of the ridiculous. It would be easy to distance ourselves from this story, to minimize its meaning. Yet our customs demand that we engage with text actively. After reading this story for a second time, the customs of Purim dictate that we ourselves engage in excessive eating and drinking. Having read of the folly of the King, aware of the dangers that can ensue from such gluttony we emulate his behavior. If Ahashverosh was a fool, we dare not think ourselves much better. We too are capable, even eager, of entering into self absorbed indulgence.

    And whereas on Shabbat or Passover the drinking is directly tied to ritual acts, every cup with a blessing of its own, the instructions on Purim are to drink until one cannot distinguish between Mordechai and Haman. The rabbis quibble over how much this really means but the metaphoric measure is instructive, no matter the real amount. Immoderate drinking blurs the distinction between good and evil, right and wrong that emerges from a straight forward reading of the scroll of Ester.

    Ultimately, we ourselves are not so far from the folly, or the evil, or the violence. From a physiological point of view, we may see in the Purim story, the multiple aspects of our own personalities. We each have the capacity to be wise like Mordechai, to conceal elements of our true selves like Ester, and to be fools like Achashverosh. Even the darkest elements of Haman lurk inside. We have the potential to be destructive to ourselves and those closest to us. And there are times that each of us must come to realize that the line between our inner Haman and our inner Mordechai is not as clear as we might hope it to be.

    For two thousand years, the Jewish people as a people were always at the mercy of the host communities in which they found themselves situated. Often they were not permitted to take up arms even in self defense. The holiday of Purim allowed Jews to imagine for a day that they were empowered, able to control their own physical destiny. Yet even as Jews engaged in imaginative play with the ideas of physical power and violence, the story of Purim reminded them of the potential dangers of being powerful. As we enter into celebration of victory we are reminded that the hero is not all that distinct from the villain.

    It is not surprising then that Purim is a carnival holiday. Confronting the seamier side of ourselves, whether individually or as a collective, is never easy. The masquerade, the satire, the silliness, all allow us to get closer to that which is difficult to look in the face. Just as Halloween allows us to confront our fears about that which lurks in the darkness of the fall nights and comforts us with a lighthearted pranks so that we may both experience and survive fear, Purim too allows us safe entrance into the darkness of our own and national psyche.

    The fun and the frivolity are not meant to be unfettered. In addition to the obligation to listen to the story of Ester and have a large meal, we are also exhorted to give gifts of food and make donations to the poor. In the midst of our self indulgence and internal focus, we are commanded to open our pantries and share of our own riches both with our friends and with those in need.

    The conception of Purim as a children’s holiday overlooks the deeper challenges concealed in the story. Children see black and white, good and evil. Given healthy homes and basic necessities, children imagine fairytale endings where everyone gets along. Emotional and moral development opens us to see a more complex landscape, where happiness is an ongoing construction living side by side with difficult choices and disappointment. Even adults, can be uncomfortable with embracing this textured understanding of reality. The Purim story and customs are a lighter context and means to remember that power and folly often go hand in hand, and the lines between those who are wise and those who are evil, those who win and those who lose are often blurry indeed. Nonetheless, the customs of mishloach manot and gifts to the poor remind us that while physical survival might demand self sacrifice and even a willingness to turn to violence being single minded is never enough. Ultimately, whether we celebrate Haman or Mordechai we must reach into our own stores to share with and care for others. Living in a world where power often goes hand in had with destruction, I am left wishing that Purim might come more than once a year.

  • Changing the Date for Hannuka: Bad Idea or Opportunity?

    Posted on November 22nd, 2010 Ruth Abusch-Magder No comments

    This week the New York Times ran several articles in the Style section that were of interest to the Jewish world. Rabbi Rachel Gurevitz of Congregation B’nai Israel in Connecticut  commented on one of them for her congregational blog, and she shares her thought with us as well.

    This weekend, ‘Time-Shifting Holidays’, written by Bruce Feiler caught my eye. Feiler confesses that, having brought the family together for Thanksgiving, which they celebrate a day late, they then conclude ’…the following day when we celebrate all eight nights of Hanukkah in one madcap afternoon.’

    Feiler acknowledges that he has heard the disapproval of a Rabbi who critiques this pragmatic decision because it makes the family dining room the hub of Jewish life instead of Jewish community in the wider sense.  Toward the end of the article, the Rabbi gets to speak again, this time somewhat acknowledging the good intentions of bringing a seasonal Jewish festival into the home at a time when the extended family is present to share the celebration, but encouraging the individual elements of that family to seek out a community where they can also celebrate at the appointed time back in their various home towns.  I rather like that answer (although I might not have been so begrudging in the way I would put it).

    But it seems to me that there is much of importance that is left unsaid.  That a Jewish family wants to take advantage of the hard-to-find opportunities to be together to acknowledge and celebrate the Jewish in their lives is important and admirable.  Jewish organizations and community professionals can be thinking of resources that we might provide to help families make these festival celebrations meaningful in their home settings.  For those who live far from a synagogue community, there are other models of creating Jewish community with non-family members (the chavurah – a smaller, less structured gathering of families from a geographical area – being the most obvious model), and there is value in doing so.

    What struck me about Feiler’s piece, and the other piece in the New York Times that highlighted the use of technology to facilitate bar and bat mitzvah training without the need to be part of a Jewish community is how little was conveyed about the purpose of being part of a larger Jewish community.

    Too often I hear critiques of the kind expressed in these articles where the argument ‘but you are separating yourself from the community’ is presented as a fait a complis – it is assumed that everyone knows what that means and that those who make an active choice not to join a community are either woefully ignorant about the centrality of community in Judaism or are intentionally choosing a scaled-down, privatized (and implied is often ‘selfish’) version of what our faith has to offer.

    I assume neither of these things.  I think that articles like these provide wonderful opportunities for synagogue communities and Jewish professionals to think more deeply about what makes being part of a Jewish community meaningful in the lives of Jewish families and individuals.  And then to think about how to get better at conveying this meaning to those who haven’t ‘drunk the Kool-aid’ yet.  That’s not just those who are not yet affiliated with our communities, but also those who are affiliated but have done so with the narrow agenda of giving their children a Jewish education through to the end of middle school and who haven’t been adequately exposed to the far greater potential that exists for their entire family in engaging with the community in a more holistic way – one that will continue to be meaningful when their children have grown up and left home.

    How we do that is not something easily conveyed in a brief, sound-bite blog answer.  Its something that is experienced more than described, so the first step is about getting better at sharing the experience, so that others will want to have that experience too.  Congregants who have fallen in love with celebrating, doing social action, comforting, learning, and sharing life’s transitional moments (birth, weddings, bar mitzvah, funerals of loved ones etc.) in the context of community are some of the best ambassadors of meaningful Jewish community life.  I love seeing members of our congregation post something on their Facebook about their anticipation of a community event, or sharing the pleasure of having just returned from one; if I’m seeing it on their wall, then so are all their other Facebook friends.  When that leads to a trail of comments and ‘likes’, the feel good of Jewish community life can become infectious.

    I recently heard about a wonderful email sent out by one person to a group of others about our Young Families Chavurah – a great opportunity to start experiencing meaningful Jewish community life while our children are still very young, which meets at our congregation every Shabbat morning.  This young mother hadn’t had an opportunity to attend with her children since the program started, but she’d heard such great things about it that she was looking forward to her first opportunity to do so, and hoped other families would join her family in tasting this experience for themselves.  There is no flyer and no email that the professional staff of our synagogue could have created to better convey the potential of participating in the chavurah than this one mother’s email to her peers.

    We’ve still got plenty of work to do in our congregation, but one of the things we’ve learned is the importance of putting the structures and means of communication in place so that everyone in our community can access community living, and be a part of sharing that experience with others.  This blog is just a little slice of communicating that message and, if you’re looking for your way in to the experience of being a part of a vibrant, Jewish community, I hope we can help you find the gateway that is right for you.