JEWels

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JEWels

Teasing Out the Poetry in Jewish Humor and Storytelling

Edited by Steve Zeitlin
Lead commentary by Peninnah Schram

With commentaries by
Robert Bernstein, Esther Cohen, Lisa Lipkin, Bob Mankoff,
Flash Rosenberg, Jack Santino, Rabbi Edward Schecter, and Zev Shanken

With contributions by
Dennis J. Bernstein, Robert Bernstein, Roslyn Bresnick-Perry, Esther Cohen, Sylvia Cole, Rachel Ray Faust, Robert Hershon, Bob Holman, Rabbi David Holtz, David Ignatow, Marc Kaminsky, Cherie Karo-Schwartz, Mayer Kirshenblatt, Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, Carol Klenfner, Jack Kugelmass, Annie Lanzillotto, Warren Lehrer, Philip Levine, Lisa Lipkin, Bob Mankoff, Linda Pastan, Flash Rosenberg, Jack Santino, Rabbi Edward Schecter, Peninnah Schram, Renée Fodor Schwarz, Hal Sirowitz, Zev Shanken, Mark Solomon, Sparrow, Arthur Strimling, Marc Wallace, Rabbi Sheila Peltz Weinberg, Francine Witte, Lila Zeiger, Aaron Zeitlin, and others
 

400 pages
index

Paperback

February 2023

978-0-8276-1552-6

$29.95 Pre-order

About the Book

JEWels is the first of its kind: the living tradition of Jewish stories and jokes transformed into poems, recording and reflecting Jewish experience from ancient times through the present day. In this novel hybrid—jokes and stories boiled down to their essence in short poems—Jewish witticism is preserved side by side with evocative storytelling and deepened with running commentary and questions for discussion.

Illuminated here are jewels from journeys, from the Old Country, from Torah, shaped by the Holocaust, in glimpses of Jewish American lives, in Jewish foods, in conversations with God, and on the meaning of life. Jewish comedians (Lenny Bruce, Jackie Mason) appear alongside writers and musicians (Elie Wiesel, Sholem Aleichem, Itzhak Perlman) and Hasidic rabbis (the Baal Shem Tov, Rabbi Nachman of Breslov), yet most of the tellers are ordinary Jews. In this cacophony of ongoing dialogue, storytellers, rabbis, poets, and scholars chime in with interpretations, quips, and related stories and life experiences.

In JEWels each of us can see our own reflection.

 

 

Author Bio

Steve Zeitlin is the author or coauthor of several award-winning books on America’s folk culture, including Because God Loves Stories: An Anthology of Jewish Storytelling and The Poetry of Everyday Life: Storytelling and the Art of Awareness. He coproduced the storytelling series American Talkers for NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday and Morning Edition and is the recipient of the American Folklore Society’s Benjamin Botkin Award for lifetime achievement in public folklore.

Praise

“Steve Zeitlin is a national treasure who celebrates the voices of everyday life. Wise, funny, and poignant, his book JEWels brings Judaism to life in short bursts of words that explode off the page and infuse our hearts with light and truth.”—Dave Isay, founder of StoryCorps

“I could not put this book down. JEWels is brilliant, intelligent, well researched, and has heart. It’s an immersive experience in which the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, but the parts are what matter, each jewel standing on its own.”—Amy Shuman, professor in the Department of English at Ohio State University and author of Other People’s Stories

JEWels is a unique, humorous, and sensitive link in the chain of Jewish storytelling, humor, and commentary.”—Rabbi Moshe Waldoks, coeditor of The Big Book of Jewish Humor

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Introduction: The Ancient Living Tradition of Jewish Jokes and Stories
The Parrot
Traditional joke retold by Zev Shanken
The Face of a Human Being
Adapted by Steve Zeitlin from a story by Rabbi Edward Schecter, based on an old midrash
Holocaust Jokes
Contemporary joke retold by Zev Shanken
Excerpt from “We Tell”
By Cherie Karo-Schwartz
1. JEWels . . . in Stories
Now the Story
Adapted by Steve Zeitlin from a tale by Rabbi Nachman of Breslov
Stories            
Adapted by Steve Zeitlin from a story by Edgar Hilsenrath
Tales              
Lined out from an inscription in Elie Wiesel’s Souls on Fire
The Lubavitcher Rebbe on Stories
By Esther Cohen
Burning the Scrolls
Adapted by Steve Zeitlin from a tale retold by Rabbi Edward Schecter
A Table with People
By Marc Kaminsky
2. JEWels . . . on a Journey
Paradise
Adapted by Steve Zeitlin from a traditional tale retold by Rabbi Edward Schecter
The Guru        
Contemporary joke retold by Steve Zeitlin
Mameloshen  
By Steve Zeitlin
Bubba Truth   
Adapted by Steve Zeitlin from a traditional tale retold by Jane Yolen
Traveler’s Prayer
By Rabbi Sheila Peltz Weinberg
3. JEWels . . . from the Old Country
The Sabbath Fish
Adapted by Steve Zeitlin from Cherie Karo Schwartz’s version of Jewish folklore from Eastern Europe and Yemen and earlier version from the Babylonian Talmud
The Magic Ship
Adapted by Steve Zeitlin from Howard Schwartz’s telling of a folktale in the Israel Folktale Archives
Tales of the Razbash
By Zev Shanken
The Rabbis’ Convocation
Traditional tale retold by Robert J. Bernstein
The Sweeper  
Traditional joke
The Shammes: A Response
Adapted by Steve Zeitlin from Rabbi Edward Schecter’s retelling of “The Sweeper”
Once Upon a Time in the Old Country
Adapted by Steve Zeitlin from a traditional tale retold by Rabbi David Holtz
The Hunchback
Traditional tale retold by Zev Shanken and Steve Zeitlin
A Cold Ass    
Adapted by Steve Zeitlin from an interview with Sylvia Cole
An Offspring’s Answer
Adapted by Peninnah Schram and Steve Zeitlin from The Memoirs of Glückel of Hameln
The Cart         
Adapted by Steve Zeitlin from a summer camp story told by Rabbi David Holtz
Blessing the New Moon in Wintertime
Adapted by Steve Zeitlin from the poem by Rachel Ray Lehrer Faust
The Rabbi and the Balagola
Traditional folktale retold by Steve Zeitlin
Elijah             
Adapted by Steve Zeitlin from a traditional tale told by Amy Shuman, based on a telling by Dov Noy
Parable of the Horse
Adapted by Steve Zeitlin from a retelling by Jack Tepper
Who Said the Jews Killed Jesus?
Adapted by Steve Zeitlin from an oral history by Baruch Lumet
The Hasid      
Traditional joke
A Nineteenth-Century Hasid Contemplates the Modern World
Lined out from a story about the teachings of Abraham Yaakov of Sagadora, as recounted by Martin Buber
Philosophy with Noodles
Traditional joke retold by Peninnah Schram
The Rooster Prince
Adapted by Steve Zeitlin from a traditional tale attributed to Rabbi Nachman of Breslov
Publishing      
Lined out from a traditional tale by Rebbe Menachem-Mendel of Kotzk, as retold by Elie Wiesel
The Teller of Tales
Traditional tale retold by Rabbi Edward Schecter and Marc Kaminsky
The Temples Rise
Adapted by Steve Zeitlin from a tale retold by storyteller Roslyn Bresnick-Perry
Conversations over a Glass Tea
Traditional tale retold by Peninnah Schram
Fresh Rolls and Butter
By Zev Shanken, inspired by the short story “Bontshe Shvayg” by I. L. Peretz
How We Lived: A Tribute to Mayer Kirshenblatt
Adapted by Steve Zeitlin and Marc Kaminsky from They Called Me Mayer July by storyteller and painter Mayer Kirshenblatt and Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett
4. JEWels . . . in Jokes
Passementerie
Traditional tale adapted by Steve Zeitlin from a telling by Jack Tepper
Telling Jokes in the Shtetl
Traditional joke
My Mother Liked Telling Jokes
By Esther Cohen
Taxi                
Traditional joke
Einstein’s Theory of Relativity
Traditional joke
Schwartz        
Traditional joke
Abe and Becky
Traditional joke adapted by Steve Zeitlin from a retelling by Herb Shore
The Theater   
Traditional joke adapted by Steve Zeitlin from a retelling by Herb Shore
The Perfect Girl
Traditional joke
Two Old Jews at a Urinal
Traditional joke
Time Stamp   
Traditional joke
The Plotkin Diamond
Traditional joke
Rich Man       
Traditional joke
Golda             
Traditional joke retold as a clever comeback by Golda Meir
The Commandments
Traditional joke adapted by Steve Zeitlin from a telling by Rubin Levine
Perfect           
Traditional joke retold by Peninnah Schram
Toyota            
Traditional joke
Worry            
Traditional tale
The Summum Bonum
Traditional joke adapted by Steve Zeitlin from a retelling by Abe Lass
Zoom             
By Marc Wallace
Self-Critique  
By Sparrow
Jewish Mother Telegram
Traditional joke retold by Zev Shanken
A Freudian Analysis
Attributed to, among others, Julia Sweeney, who wrote a book with this title
Jewish Mothers
Traditional joke
Twenty Years
Traditional joke
Seven Differences between a Joke and a Poem
By Zev Shanken
Optimism/Pessimism
Traditional joke
5. JEWels . . . from Torah
The Tsimtsum
By Rabbi Edward Schecter
Rabbi Simon Said
Adapted by Steve Zeitlin from a midrash in the name of Rabbi Simon Jacobson
Hillel and Shammai
Traditional tale retold by Rabbi Edward Schecter
What I Would Tell Adam and Eve
By Francine Witte
The Original Adam and Eve
Adapted by Steve Zeitlin from a story in Howard Schwartz’s Tree of Souls
The Birth of Memory
By Steve Zeitlin
Enough!         
Contemporary tale retold by Rabbi Edward Schecter
The Razbash Describes God’s Test
By Zev Shanken
The Prophet   
Traditional tale retold by Rabbi Edward Schecter
Moses and the Superhero
By Jack Santino
Rabbi Hayim Vital Dreams of Moses
Adapted by Steve Zeitlin from a traditional tale in Howard Schwartz’s Tree of Souls
Miriam’s Wandering Well
Adapted by Steve Zeitlin from a traditional tale
Lamb’s Blood
By Steve Zeitlin
A Rabbinical Love Poem
By Zev Shanken
Twelve Rabbis Went to a Party
By Annie Lanzillotto
The Lamed Vavniks
By Arthur Strimling
6. JEWels . . . Shaped by the Holocaust
Tickling the Corpse
By Steve Zeitlin
Holocaust Jokes
Contemporary joke retold by Zev Shanken
It Is Raining on the House of Anne Frank
By Linda Pastan
Riding with the Moon
Adapted by Steve Zeitlin from a true story by Roslyn Bresnick-Perry
Last Supper in the Krakow Ghetto
Adapted by Steve Zeitlin from oral testimonies by survivors of the Krakow ghetto uprising
Hovering above the Pit
Adapted by Steve Zeitlin from a tale retold by Yaffa Eliach
In the Janowska Street Ghetto
Adapted by Marc Kaminsky from a story retold by Yaffa Eliach
The Twig       
Adapted by Steve Zeitlin from Renée Fodor Schwarz’s memoir Renée
In Memory of Those Who Died in Vain in the Holocaust
Excerpted from a poem by Renée Fodor Schwarz
Forgotten Acts of Courage
Adapted by Steve Zeitlin and Marc Kaminsky from Alex Borstein’s Emmy acceptance speech
Rachel
By Linda Pastan
Death Train    
Lined out from André Schwartz-Bart’s The Last of the Just
Kaddish in the Boxcar of Death
By Aaron Zeitlin, translated by Morris M. Faierstein
Face in the Mirror
Adapted by Steve Zeitlin from a true story by Boris Blum, retold by Toby Blum-Dobkin
7. JEWels . . . in Glimpses of Jewish American Lives
Rummage      
By Marc Kaminsky
Yiddishe Mama during World War II
Lined out from the essay “The Healing Power of Jokes” by Alter Yisrael Shimon Feuerman
Plucking the Chicken
Adapted by Steve Zeitlin from a traditional joke retold by Abe Lass
Getting Dressed
By Steve Zeitlin
No More Birthdays
By Hal Sirowitz
A Short History of Judaic Thought in the Twentieth Century
By Linda Pastan
At a Bungalow in the Rockaways
Traditional joke
Tradition!      
Traditional joke
Jewish and Goyish
Adapted by Steve Zeitlin from a routine by Lenny Bruce
The Great Trick Is to Know Who You Are
Lined out from Jackie Mason’s Broadway show The World According to Me
Skin Check    
By Esther Cohen
It Reminds Me of Those Old Jokes
Traditional joke
The Rabbi      
By Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett
Reflection      
By Zev Shanken
True Story      
By Carol Klenfner
To Kvell or Not to Kvell
Adapted by Steve Zeitlin from a traditional joke retold by Rabbi Edward Schecter
The Free-Yarmulke Bin
By Steve Zeitlin
The Kiss         
By Mark Solomon
The Driver Said
By Robert Hershon
Clara              
By Steve Zeitlin
Alicia             
By Steve Zeitlin
Sally               
Adapted by Steve Zeitlin from a true story told by Anita Nager
Moishe Said   
Adapted by Steve Zeitlin from a story by Jack Kugelmass
Abraham Joshua Heschel Goes to Selma
By Steve Zeitlin, quoting Abraham Joshua Heschel
8. JEWels . . . in Jewish Foods
The Bagel      
By David Ignatow
The Fish         
By Lila Zeiger
Happiness      
Lined out from a recollection by Moishe Sacks
A Jewish Blessing Sung When Placing the Bread in the Oven
Anonymous
The Atheist    
By Steve Zeitlin
The Jews and Chinese Food
Traditional joke
The Jewish Waiter
Traditional joke
The Strudel    
Traditional joke
Aging Parents
By Marc Wallace
The Schtup     
Adapted by Steve Zeitlin from a tale by Lisa Lipkin
Fresh Fish Sold Here
Traditional joke retold by Cherie Karo Schwartz
How to Make Blintzes
Traditional joke retold by Cherie Karo Schwartz
2nd Avenue Kosher
By Dennis J. Bernstein and Warren Lehrer
From “The Whole Soul”
By Philip Levine
9. JEWels . . . in Conversations with God
The Messiah #1
Lined out from Michael Gold’s Jews without Money
The Messiah #2
Traditional joke
Closer            
By Aaron Zeitlin, translated by Morris M. Faierstein
Wrestling with God
By Bob Mankoff
Somebody Up There Likes Me
Traditional joke retold by Bob Mankoff
It’s All Relative
Traditional joke retold by Peninnah Schram
Tevye the Milkman Said
Lined out from the story “Tevye Strikes It Rich” by Sholem Aleichem
My Aunt’s Ninetieth Birthday
Adapted by Steve Zeitlin from a quip by Ann Katz
The Tailor’s Prayer
Traditional tale
A Pair of Pants
Traditional tale
The Do-Over  
By Steve Zeitlin, inspired by a conversation with Richard Rabinowitz
The dna in My Coffee—A True Story
Adapted by Steve Zeitlin from the story “God and dna over Coffee” by Lisa Lipkin
Deconstructing Heaven
Adapted by Steve Zeitlin from a tale retold by Rabbi Avraham Weiss
Levi Yitzhak Burns the Evidence
Traditional tale
Six Lines        
By Aaron Zeitlin, translated by Robert Friend
To the Rescue
Traditional joke
Lifeline          
Traditional tale
10. JEWels . . . on the Meaning of Life
The Meaning of Meaning
By Bob Holman
Who Knows? 
Adapted by Flash Rosenberg from one of her father’s favorite jokes
Hineni            
By Flash Rosenberg
The Angel of Death
Adapted by Steve Zeitlin from an essentially true story in Howard Schwartz’s Tree of Souls
The Land        
Adapted by Steve Zeitlin from a traditional tale
If Not Higher!
Adapted by Steve Zeitlin from the short story “If Not Higher!” by I. L. Peretz
Time All at Once
Adapted by Steve Zeitlin from a story by Caroline Harris
Soul Sight      
Adapted by Marc Kaminsky and Steve Zeitlin from Howard Schwartz’s Tree of Souls
The Burning Twig
Adapted by Steve Zeitlin from a traditional tale retold by Robert J. Bernstein
Oy                  
Lined out from a spontaneous observation by Eli Levine
The Philosopher
Traditional joke
Life                
Traditional joke
The Razbash on Old Age
By Zev Shanken
Doctor, Doctor
Adapted by Steve Zeitlin from a traditional joke retold by Doris Kirshenblatt
Yizkor            
By Zev Shanken
The Razbash on Forgiveness
By Zev Shanken
The Womb     
Traditional tale retold by Rabbi Edward Schecter
Moishe’s Wisdom
Lined out from Moishe Sacks’s comments in The Grand Generation documentary (1993)
The Angel of Forgetfulness
Lined out from Dara Horn’s novel The World to Come
The Laughing Man
Lined out from Elie Wiesel’s Souls on Fire, based on writings attributed to Rabbi Nachman of Breslov
              Wiesel’s Response
Lined out from Elie Wiesel’s Souls on Fire
The Fiftieth Gate
Lined out from a passage by Rabbi Boruch of Medzhybizh, as recounted by Martin Buber
Whitewater Rapids
Adapted by Marc Kaminsky and Steve Zeitlin from the story “Whitewater” by Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi
The Ring        
Adapted by Marc Kaminsky and Steve Zeitlin from a traditional tale
The Beautiful Question
Traditional tale retold by Steve Zeitlin
Lost in the Woods
Traditional tale retold by Peninnah Schram
Shmuel Discovers a Purpose in Life
Traditional tale retold by Rabbi Edward Schecter
Coda   
Traditional tale retold by Rabbi Edward Schecter
Concerto        
Adapted by Steve Zeitlin from a traditional tale retold by Rabbi Eli Rubenstein
11. Final Thoughts
Questions for Discussion
Source Acknowledgments
Notes
Bibliography
Commentator Biographies
Index
 

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