–As told to me by two visiting writers and a five-year-old
The teller: Visiting poet, white unkempt hair, glasses, grew up in a Yiddish speaking household. Picture your grandfather, but more interesting.
The joke: There were three old Jews at Cohen’s funeral. His son went to greet them.
“I was a friend of your father,” the first old man said, adjusting his yarmulke. “My name is Gottlieb.”
“I was also a friend of your father,” the second old man said, smoothing down his beard. “My name is Levinson.”
“I was too a friend of your father,” the third man said from behind a thick Yiddish accent. His beard was even longer than the first two. “My name is Sean Ferguson.”
“Thank you for coming,” the son said. “But I have to ask. Sean Ferguson?”
The man sighed. “It was a long journey coming here. So many months traveling. So many weeks on the boat. So many days standing in line at immigration. The official was checking people through, one after another. When I reached the front, he said, So? Who are you? I said, shoyn fergesn.”
I have already forgotten.
Note: this is more sad-funny than funny-funny.
The teller: Fiction writer, slightly doughy. Survived childhood in Soviet Eastern Europe. Permanent wry smile now attached.
The joke: So the time finally came when Rabinovich was arrested. He knew this time was coming. He was a refusenik, a Zionist. He was a Jew. How could he not be arrested? The KGB men were banging on the door. Rabinovich said to his wife and mother, “Don’t worry. I have a plan. I will write to you in blue ink and I will write in red ink. If I write in blue ink, everything I say is true. But if I write in red ink…” Then they broke down the door.
Rabinovich sent letters all the way from Siberia, month after month, year after year. They always said the same thing: Everything’s fine. Sometimes in blue ink. Sometimes in red ink. Then no letters came for a long time.
Finally a letter arrived. His wife opened it. It was written in blue ink. It read. “Sorry to worry you. Everything is good here. I am treated very well. Plenty of food and no one ever harms me. The only problem is, I am out of red ink.”
Note: The writer started to tell me one more Rabinovich joke, about Kruschev’s wife, but stopped because it’s “kind of pornographic, and also you need to know Russian.”
Note 2: See note for joke #1.
The teller: Five year old boy, back seat, driver’s side. Thin sweet voice.
The joke: Kevin. Kevin. I have a funny joke. (Long pause.). It’s not that funny.
Note: This is a very Jewish joke.