This summer I visited Philadelphia’s National Museum of American Jewish History. Some of the floors were devoted to a single theme. For example, there was a floor devoted to “Chasing Dreams,” which celebrated baseball and the many fans, players, and characters from minority groups who helped shape our American story. And there was a floor devoted to Jews as immigrants coming to America. Each exhibit was great, but the museum director has to be a putz for neglecting to devote a floor to classic insults by Jews.
To be fair, I, myself, didn’t come up with this idea until last night when I happened to be listening to Bob Dylan’s “Theme Time Radio” show. Bob happened to have Tom Waits as a guest and here’s what he had to say:
Hi, Bob. It’s Tom. Here’s a little morsel of information. The Jewish people have always had a penchant for colorful cursing. Here are some of the most famous Jewish curses:
May God call the tune and may your enemies play the music.
May you lose your faith and marry a pious woman.
May all your teeth fall out but one which should remain for a toothache.
May you grow like an onion with your head in the ground and your feet in the air.
May you have a good long sleep, dreaming only of your troubles.
May you be the proof that man can endure anything.
May your wife eat matzohs in bed and may you roll all night in the crumbs.
It was upon hearing this, that I first came up with this great idea for a separate floor at the museum.
A Separate Museum Floor Devoted to Classic Insults By Jews
For your consideration, here are some ideas for this museum addition. There could be several sections on the floor. Of course, one of them would have to be devoted to the great insults that spilled forth from the many comedians who performed during the heyday of the Borscht Belt.
For those not familiar with the term, “Borscht Belt,” it refers to the mostly defunct summer resorts of the Catskill Mountains that would cater to many of their guests who happened to be Jewish. The word, “borscht” refers to one of the traditional Jewish items found on their menus (sour cream and beets).
The long list of the Borscht Belt stars include Woody Allen, Jack Benny, Billy Crystal, Rodney Dangerfield, Henny Youngman, Jerry Lewis, Don Rickles, Joan Rivers and Jerry Stiller. Some of these stars specialized in insulting themselves.
Perhaps the greatest of all within this group was Rodney Dangerfield who continually complained about getting no respect:
“My doctor said I was in terrible shape. I told him, ‘I want a second opinion.’ He said, ‘All right, you’re ugly too!'”
Some specialized in insulting their spouses:
“My wife dresses to kill. She cooks the same way.” (Henny Youngman)
And, for some, their favorite schtick was insulting hecklers in the audience:
“Hey George, the ocean called and they’re running out of shrimp.”
The great sage of Chelm went out for a walk with his trusted young assistant, Shlermo, by his side. Suddenly it began to pour.
“Quick,” said Shlermo, “open your umbrella. You’re getting soaked.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” exclaimed the great sage, “it wouldn’t do any good. My umbrella has more holes than a sieve.”
“Then why did you bring it?”
“I didn’t think it would rain!”
Well, there you have it, just a few ideas from off of the top of my head for a museum floor devoted to classic insults by Jews. It would be great!
Now, at this point, I’m imagining that some of my readers might be scratching their heads, wondering why I would want to support any idea that might encourage people to insult anyone. So let’s take a moment to look at this issue.
What Possible Value Could There Be To Having a Section In A Museum Devoted To Insults?
If done well, this section could delve into the more serious issues surrounding the nature of insults as used in our society. For example, as I pointed out in an earlier post titled THE ART OF PLAYFUL TEASING, insults are used in a playful game called teasing. You are judged in part on the quality of your insults and also how well you keep your cool on being insulted.
Even the most mature people may like to play the teasing game, for they enjoy the duel of wits and the occasional humorous comeback.
Mature people are distinguished from immature people by their lack of desire to hurt somebody in this game. Their empathy helps them to realize that the smiles and the lighthearted tone they try to set throughout the game sometimes mask real tensions. Thus, they keep their senses tuned to the subtleties of the repartee, and know when to back off when things begin to get too serious.
Less mature people, partly because of their lower levels of empathy, may think that the more awful they can make someone feel during this game, the better they are at it. When the criticizers have themselves been humiliated by other immature people, they may come to be even more motivated to humiliate others as a way to take out their own pain on others.
Another serious issue that a well done exhibit on insults could present is whether or not it makes sense to insult all of the members of a group because of some awful acts carried out by some members of the group. For example, I have heard some Jews making comments designed to be insulting to all Palestinians because of the terrorist acts of some Palestinians. Is this wise?
In answering this question, I think mature Jews would remain mindful that there are some Jews who, like some Palestinians, have carried out some horrendous acts. How would Jews like it if some non-Jewish groups put down all Jews because of the few who carried out those horrendous acts? “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” I think is the proper rule to apply in such cases.
And yet another issue that could be insightfully addressed in the context of an “Insults by Jews” exhibit is whether it makes sense to insult individuals who actually have done something we view as bad. Does it make sense, for example, to call a Palestinian who supports terrorist acts insulting names? Would this just fuel the fires of hatred? Are there better ways to seek to promote a peaceful, fair settlement to a conflict spanning generations?
So, there you have it, my post for this week. I hope that in addition to a few laughs you found within it some food for thought.
Until next time, may you find some ways to bring a little peace into this cockeyed crazy world of ours.
Some people will enjoy reading this blog by beginning with the first post and then moving forward to the next more recent one; then to the next one; and so on. This permits readers to catch up on some ideas that were presented earlier and to move through all of the ideas in a systematic fashion to develop their emotional and social intelligence. To begin at the very first post you can click HERE.