I hope your Purim holiday is filled with joy and you enjoyed the Megillah reading last night and today.
I have debated with myself and colleagues whether I should write about this topic. My conundrum is when is a joke worthy of speaking out? Is it better to possibly add “fuel to the fire” or just let it go?
At the risk of giving it “more legs,” last Saturday I was watching Saturday Night Live. Weekend Update co-anchor, Michael Che, dropped a “joke” about Israel and people’s access to the coronavirus vaccine. I will not repeat the joke; you can find it online.
Most at home probably just heard it as a joke. I cringed. I had a negative reaction. The joke perpetuated false news reports (those stories have since been retracted). Others heard the joke in a way that validated their humanitarian beliefs.
Saturday Night Live is a comedy show. They make fun of real-life things. That is their job and I should expect it. And there are plenty of other recent jokes on SNL that have made me uncomfortable.
In this specific incident, I felt it was unnecessary and distorted reality.
Immediately following the show, several Jewish organizations loudly voiced their opinions. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), along with many other Jewish organizations, felt it crossed the line with factual inaccuracies and anti-Semitic tropes. Progressive Jewish groups used the opportunity to raise humanitarian issues.
My message this week is not about the "joke" itself. And, it has nothing to do with international law and treaties. I am interested in how we respond as a Jewish community when insensitive comments and jokes are made.
An editorial in the Jerusalem Post on February 22 said, “Did the American Jewish Committee really have to issue a statement, organize a petition, and demand an apology? Did the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations need to weigh in with a statement of its own saying that ‘NBC should know better, and must not only stop spreading harmful misinformation, but take action to undo this damage caused by propagating Jew-hatred under the guise of comedy?’”
Israel’s Minister of Health, Yuli Edelstein tweeted, “I inform you that antisemitism is not funny. It is dangerous and false…Satire is meant to be entertaining, not shocking. Your 'joke' is an anti-Semitic lie that can have dangerous consequences.”
Did these Jewish organizations and leaders go overboard in their reaction? I am unsure. Do I believe Saturday Night Live or NBC are anti-Semitic? No. Do we gain anything from insinuating anti-Semitism was at play here? Read on.
The Jerusalem Post continued, “Anti-Semitism is a serious charge. It is the heavy ammo. And you do not need to take out the cannons to kill a mosquito. If you do, not only will you be wasting valuable ammunition, but when you actually do need to use the big guns, they will make much less of an impact since everyone will have become inured to the blast, having heard it so many times before.”
For most, the 10 second joke was forgotten long before Bad Bunny (Latino pop star who was the musical guest on the show) finished his performance. Did the Jewish community need to speak out? Did we need to do so publicly? Could this have been done behind closed doors? And what do we expect Saturday Night Live to do?
Many will say we must loudly fight every perceived anti-Semitic or anti-Israel comment or joke. If you let it pass, then you are just giving license for more. I hear.
But I struggle. Is a joke just a joke, especially on a satirical comedy show? Who decides when it is offensive? Do we need to call out these jokes every time? How should we respond?
I truly do not know. What do you think?
Next Thursday, March 4 at 4:00 p.m., join us for a webinar on COVID-19 vaccines. This workshop, co-sponsored by CNSCOS, the Jewish Federation, and Boost Oregon will cover the vaccines available, the safety and effectiveness of them, and potential reactions to the vaccines. We will also address whatever questions you have. Click here to register.
Also, please join our Jewish community for a pre-Passover Food Drive on Sunday, March 14 between 12:30 p.m. – 2:00 p.m. We have four convenient drop sites throughout the metro area. This is your opportunity to clean out your pantry of your hametz
(leavened products) and help those facing food insecurity in the Greater Portland community. Please only bring non-perishable, non-expired foodstuffs (and nothing inherently not kosher like shellfish and pork products). Find all the information and registration information here.
Any questions, please click here.
That same day we will be hosting a “virtual seder workshop” with Haggadot.com at 4:00 p.m. with tips for your Zoom seder. More information can be found here.
Finally, I spoke this week to several of my colleagues in various Jewish communities in Texas. One said to me, “If this last year has been hell, then last week hell froze over.” Thank you to those who contributed to the emergency campaign and we are happy things are improving for many in Texas.