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

 
Acknowledgements
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
                                   
JEWels
1... 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. ..on a Journey
Paradise
                        adapted by Steve Zeitlin from a traditional tale retold by Rabbi Edward Schecter
The Guru
contemporary joke     
Mameloshn
by Steve Zeitlin          
Bubba Truth
                        adapted by Steve Zeitlin from a traditional story retold by Jane Yolen
Traveler’s Prayer
                        by Rabbi Sheila Peltz Weinberg
                                   
3....from the Old Country
The Sabbath Fish
                        adapted by Steve Zeitlin from Cherie Karo Schwartz’s version from Jewish
                        folklore from Eastern Europe and Yemen, and earlier from the Babylonian
                        Talmud
The Magic Ship
                        adapted by Steve Zeitlin from Howard Schwartz’s telling of a folktale in the
                        Israeli Folktale Archive         
Tales of the Razbash
                        by Zev Shanken
The Rabbis’ Convocation
                        traditional tale retold by Robert 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 Diary of Glueckel
                        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 a poem by Rachel Ray Lehrer Faust
The Rabbi and the Balagola
                        traditional folktale retold by Steve Zeitlin
Elijah
                        adapted by Steve Zeitlin from a story 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 by Steve Zeitlin from a traditional story by Rebbe Menachem-Mendel of
                        Kotzk, as retold by Elie Wiesel
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 Roslyn Bresnick-Perry
Conversations over Glass Tea
                        traditional tale retold by Peninnah Schram
Fresh Rolls and Butter
                        by Zev Shanken, inspired by the I..L. Peretz short story “Bontshe Shvayg”
How We Lived
                        adapted by Steve Zeitlin and Marc Kaminsky from They Called Me Mayer July
                        by storyteller and painter Mayer Kirshenblatt and Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett
 
4... in Jokes
Pasamentrie
                        traditional story 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
            How Many Jewish Mothers
                        traditional joke
            Twenty Years
                        traditional joke
            Seven Differences between a Joke and a Poem
                        by Zev Shanken
            Optimism/Pessimism
                        traditional joke
 
5... 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 Hayam Vital Dreams of Moses
                        adapted by Steve Zeitlin from a traditional story in Howard Schwartz’s
                        Tree of Souls
            Miriam’s Wandering Well
                        adapted by Steve Zeitlin from a traditional story
            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... 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
            The Last Supper at the Krakow Ghetto Uprising
                        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 acceptance
                        speech upon winning a 2019 Outstanding Supporting Actress Emmy for her
                        portrayal of Susie Myerson in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
            Rachel
                        by Linda Pastan
            Death Train
                        lined out from André Schwartz-Bart’s 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 Toby Blum-Dobkin
 
7 ...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 Lenny Bruce routine
            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 That Old Joke
                        traditional joke
            The Rabbi
                        by Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett
            Reflection
                        by Zev Shanken
            True Life
                        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 Selma Goes to Selma
                        by Steve Zeitlin, quoting Abraham Joshua Heschel
 
8 .. .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 Athiest
                        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 Ave. Kosher
                        by Dennis J. Bernstein and Warren Lehrer
            Excerpt from “The Whole Soul”
                        by Philip Levine
 
9...  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 during one of his talks on
                        Jewish humor
            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 from the Yiddish by Robert Friend
            To the Rescue
                        traditional joke
            Lifeline
                        traditional tale
 
10...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 story
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 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 story retold by Rabbi Edward Schecter
Moishe’s Wisdom
lined out from Moishe Sacks’s comments in a 1993 documentary
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 story retold by Steve Zeitlin
Lost in the Woods
                        traditional story 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
 
 
Final Thoughts
Commentator Biographies
Questions for Discussion
Notes
Bibliography
Source Notes
Index
 

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