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Humor and Anti-Semitism: A Match Made In Controversy

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02/20/2013

Adam Daniel Miller photo

If there’s one thing I do in abundance, it’s make fun of myself. I have to in order to survive. It’s a defense mechanism as well as a way of life for me. Even without being prompted, the self-deprecation I have towards myself is always there, but only because I love who I am. When someone tells me I’m funny, I instinctively say it’s because of the face. It’s always good for at least one laugh. But I bring this up because the self-deprecation I have for myself as a way to make others laugh is also the main tactic I employ in combating anti-Semitism. For some, my way of dealing with anti-Semitism may very well be crossing a line but my intention is, in fact, to get rid of that line.

I recently had the privilege to attend a special program that the Anti-Defamation League, or ADL, offers for young adults between their Bar and Bat Mitzvahs and college called Confronting Anti-Semitism. It’s a program that offers insight on what anti-Semitism truly is in our modern world and how we can prevent and educate against it. It is a powerful program that I enjoyed quite thoroughly. For my full account of what the program is and has to offer, you can pick up the March issue of JUF News. A fine publication if I do say so myself. Mostly because they let me write for them even though they choose to accompany my articles with a picture of me. Remember, the face.

I will say right away, I am aware that I come from a relatively easy life, having grown up in the northwest suburbs of Chicago and then attending the University of Iowa for college, a relatively heavy Chicago occupied school for being out of state. Anyway, having attended the ADL program I started to think about my own dealings with anti-Semitism when it has faced me or those I’ve known. As not everyone is keen to do, I deal with it utilizing humor.

In general, I embrace most anything towards me that is meant to embarrass, be slanderous or hurtful, regardless of context. It’s what I do to defuse and dilute what is thrown towards me. I’m like Maxwell Smart where everything that happens to me I pretend it was always my intention. When I screw up, I take it and run with it. For example, if I slip on ice and fall on my bum, I exclaim I was simply testing that gravity was still in full effect. I embrace the hand given to me. On the more controversial side, in my opinion, I do the same with Jewish stereotypes and what some may perceive as anti-Semitic attitudes. By embracing the stereotypes I attempt, as I said, to dilute the stigma associated with them. If I’m not bothered by the joke there is no joke. Embracing helps to never be embarrassed. If someone says I have a big nose, I say lucky me as I get to smell incredible scents that they unfortunately will never be privy to. Not that it needs any help from me, but I try to make it look awesome to be a Jew. Because, well, it is.

As I have said before, part of what enables me to so easily do this is my fortunate lack of truly horrendous first hand anti-Semitism. But I have had friends who have experienced such moments that I still find unbelievable. For example, I had a friend who, upon first arriving at college, met people who had never seen a Jew in their lives. Subsequently, my friend was asked where their horns and tail were. It’s shocking to me that ideas like that still exist. I mean, my goodness, we haven’t had tails for centuries.

See what I did there? If you’re still with me, thank you. If not, you probably aren’t reading this sentence.

But this concept of horns and tails is beyond me. That particular stereotype is one that I simply don’t understand since if I had horns and a tail then I would be exactly like Hellboy and be invulnerable to fire. I fail to see the anti-Semitism because being Hellboy would be awesome.

Humor can often educate stronger than it is given credit for. It may feel like a roundabout way of education, but by using humor and subsequently installing confidence and acceptance with ourselves I feel that we give great power to the Jewish people against anti-Semitism, even if only in minute ways compared to the grand scheme of things. By taking power away from the stereotypes and the concepts that many are offended by, we give ourselves the advantage. No one can laugh at you if you are laughing with them. By instilling humor into combating anti-Semitism, not only do we dilute the negativity but we are then also fortunate enough to add laughs as well. And if there’s one group of people that are known for their remarkable senses of humor, I do believe that would be the Jews. Now if you’ll excuse me, Fiddler on the Roof is on and I haven’t reached my monthly quota of a dozen viewings yet.

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