I believe in laughing. I really do. But my frequent tears might suggest otherwise.
Like a bad after-school special, I’ve cried nearly every faux pas of life: at school, at work, during the break-up conversation. I’ve cried while writing, praying, on the phone, in the arms of a friend. I’ve cried with joy when older friends finally find a spouse or give birth. I’ve woken up in bed weeping without knowing why. I’ve cried so much that when audiences sob at a Hollywood tearjerker, I’ve sat there stonewalled, completely tapped out.
They say children of Holocaust survivors are born with tears in their eyes. But something has happened on the way through so much tissue. It came up last year when I was reporting in Israel. The Holy Land is not exactly the funniest place on earth but the threat of terrorism inspired me to start performing comedy. And I just couldn’t keep it down.
So many innocent civilians have died in terror attacks on Israeli buses that guards now protect popular bus routes. Suddenly, I saw the bus as an opportunity to reclaim joy. Like a spoof of the old Jewish yente that is my destiny, I would offer anyone, including the drivers, unsolicited advice. I spoke in Hebrew but put on an American accent so exaggerated it made the Israelis want to refund my bus fare. It was so much fun that one night, at an open mic in Jerusalem with a short sign-up sheet, I figured “Why not?”
When I came back to the states and told a friend of my exploits, he asked me to open for a veteran comedian at a charity benefit. I worked on my routine for months. When the day of the show finally arrived, I picked up my father, a survivor of Buchenwald, at the airport and told him my plans for the performance. He didn’t believe me. When I insisted, his response was a stern, “Don’t do it.”
But it was too late. On stage that night, one of my favorite lines was, “My big news is that I have a book coming out. It’s called ‘Cool Jew: The Ultimate Guide for Every Member of the Tribe.”‘ When the crowd laughed, I said, “No, that’s the actual title. Really. And it’s going to have a big sticker on the front that says ‘Not just for Jews.”‘
The best part about the show was that my father loved it. And not only that, I really did write that book. And there really is a sticker on it. Well, it’s actually a fake sticker, but it’s right there on the cover. And if, like my dad, you don’t believe me, you can look it up and see for yourself.
Sometimes, when I think about dedicating my book to my dad, I start to cry again.
I believe in tears of sadness. I believe in tears of joy. I believe in the redemptive power of human emotion. In this I believe.
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