A book of Jewish jokes written by a Neapolitan engineer (humorist by passion)

twelve o’clock, 8 March 2021 – 12:03

Roberto Avrum Modiano has collected in the volume “The best Jewish jokes” the jokes of the oral tradition and the famous ones of Groucho Marx, Woody Allen and Mel Brooks

of Angelo Lomonaco

Will a laugh change the world? Considering that in more than one part of the globe, in recent years, various comedians have turned into political leaders and institutional leaders without improving the mood and lives of their fellow citizens, perhaps the answer should be no. A few examples? In Guatemala, in 2017, after a year of presidency, it was discovered that Jimmy Morales Cabrera was taking bribes. In Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskii was involved in various international crises in his first year and a half as president. In Italy, the 5 Star Movement, inspired and created by Beppe Grillo, seems to have lost the bite that had determined its rapid growth to the point of bringing it to the government. Better to just think that a laugh can change us a day. Maybe even a particularly sad day. This seems to be the philosophy of Jewish humor which “can be considered a kind of scoundrel, an antidote used by the Jews in the many difficult and dramatic situations in which they found themselves in their millenary diaspora”.

This is the opinion of Roberto Avrum Modiano, Neapolitan engineer, tourist guide for hobby and humorist for passion. According to which, “laughing so as not to cry is an effective Jewish way to exorcise the many dramas of life”. Modiano, who for some years has also been the protagonist of comedy shows, has just collected in a volume «The best Jewish jokes», many of which fall within a sort of oral tradition. Others, however, part of the repertoire of famous artists including Groucho Marx, Woody Allen, Mel Brooks. All strongly characterized by a lashing self-irony that finds no rest even in the face of delicate issues such as death or anti-Semitism. There are even stories about Auschwitz. Probably using the Shoah as the subject of a joke is only acceptable if it is a Jew, that is a victim: in any case it strikes. And it’s funny. On many occasions, Modiano’s jokes target the bad habits of Jews. One, for example, says: «Epitaph on the tomb of a Roman Jew:“ Here lies Mosè Luzzatto, a famous shirtmaker, born in 1931 and died in 2020. The sale continues in via Portico di Ottavia 33 ”».

But why did Roberto Modiano, 70 years old and a business executive career behind him, first become an expert and then an interpreter of Jewish humor? “Well, that’s part of our culture in its own right. However, thanks to Moni Ovadia, an excellent actor and my friend, I have discovered the peculiarity of Jewish humor for some years and I have begun an in-depth research. I have read more than a thousand Jewish stories, selecting the best ones ». At the same time, Modiano cultivated a passion for researching Jewish history and places of his own tradition: so much so that he became a tour guide (he is the only one able to speak in Hebrew to Jews from all over the world). «In the Middle Ages – he says – in Naples the old Giudecca was in the current Forcella. There was another in Piazza Portanova, then there was that of the Spaniards and that of the Sicilians in the Orefici area ». In the last year, however, very few foreign Jewish visitors have arrived, so he dedicated himself to compiling the volume, published it on his own and assigned all the rights to the Jewish Community of Naples, which deals with the sale on request.

Modiano’s collection of short stories, despite being an unassuming volume, allows the “goyim”, non-Jews, to come into contact with some aspects of the culture and way of thinking of the Jews. The short glossary helps to better understand the meaning of some jokes. And some of the stories help to understand what is almost a kind of philosophy of life. An example: “Our view of the world was influenced by five Jews. Moses said: the Torah is everything. Jesus said: love is everything. Marx said: money is everything. Proust said: sex is everything. Einstein said: everything is relative ».

March 8, 2021 | 12:03

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