A bit more than thirty years ago Leo Rosten published The Joys of Yiddish, a warm-hearted book that walked its readers through a wide variety of Yiddish jokes, salty aphorisms, and comic types. One learned, for example, how to distinguish between the schlemiel and his ever-present cousin the schlimazel, and the lengths that a schnorrer (“shameless beggar”) would go to wangle a meal. Rosten, best known for his humorous New Yorker sketches, was well aware that humor depends, above all else, on three things: timing, timing, and timing. But even Rosten must have been amazed when The Joys of Yiddish took off. Here is a case where the Zeitgeist worked decidedly in his favor—not only in terms of how fashionable ethnic Jewishness had become, but also how the 1967 War in Israel had greatly heightened the consciousness of many otherwise assimilated Jewish Americans. Yiddishists, by contrast, were ...

 
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