Sense of humour crisis

  • PETA editorialpic1
Making light of a tough situation is mostly acceptable and, I guess, understandable. Sometimes we need to find the humorous side to uncomfortable or unpleasant situations, and just laugh. Clever satire dealing with conflict or controversial situations can also be interesting and sometimes helpful. And we all need a good laugh.
by PETA KROST MAUNDER | Nov 19, 2020

However, I had to swallow hard when I received a video four times this week via WhatsApp that was, I guess, meant to be satire. It was a clip from an old German movie showing Hitler freaking out in front of his generals, but it had farcical and bitchy subtitles referring to the recent outcry in the community over the cost of kosher food and kashrut certification fees. The references in the words make it sound like the chief rabbi is Hitler.

I felt quite sick watching it. Any humour was lost on me. Comparing the chief rabbi to Hitler is totally and utterly unacceptable and debase.

In fact, for anyone to be compared to Hitler, I would say, is defamatory, especially if they are Jewish. The man represents the murder of six million Jews. How can we compare anyone to him, not least of all someone who is our spiritual leader?

What was astonishing for me is that there were people in our community sending it around as if it was funny and worth watching.

It was clear from the subtitles that the person or people behind this version of the video were Jewish and very much a part of the community. They were clearly also knowledgeable about the kashrut debate.

If they weren’t, and this had been made by someone outside of the community, we would be baying for blood. It would be the worst kind of antisemitism – comparing our spiritual leader to Hitler. Surely, you don’t get worse than that?

But it was made by a Jewish person or people, so does that make it any better? Does it make it funny or acceptable? I don’t believe it does.

Have I lost my sense of humour, or have some of us gone to a place where such ugliness is perceived to be acceptable?

I find it disturbing.

I have given my opinion on the kashrut debate a number of times, and I’m still clear that I see a genuine move on the part of the Union of Orthodox Synagogues towards improvement. I’m of the belief that we do make mistakes, and we aren’t always right. We are all human. So, when a light is shone on something we may have done wrong, that’s good. When we ignore it, it only gets brighter.

However, when people accept responsibility for something that has been shown to be imperfect, and commit to fixing it, it’s honourable and a sign of real strength of character. It’s not weakness, and it certainly isn’t a reason to stab them in the back.

In the same week and also in our newspaper (page 3), we write about The Kiffness, who created a video comparing Julius Malema to Hitler. There were many in our community who were upset by this, not least of all because it attracted a lot of antisemitic comments on social media.

Help me to understand why it’s okay for us to compare one of our leaders to Hitler, but we won’t accept it from people outside the community. I don’t get it.

Coming back to this distasteful video, I wonder what kind of person sought it out and did the voice over. What were they thinking when they did it? They obviously thought it funny to compare our spiritual leader to Hitler. I wonder if they still do. I would love to understand what was going on for them, and why they felt it was necessary or acceptable. I also find it interesting that they don’t publish their names with the video but are happy to mock someone who has committed his life to our community.

I know I just said we are all fallible and human, but this was just cruel and nasty.

I’m no rabbi, nor am I an expert in morality, and I certainly have my failings. However, I would like to believe that as a community, we set moral standards for ourselves. We may gossip and be a tad bitchy at times, but I would like to think we don’t set out to hurt people.

We are, after all, the people of the book, and have been called on to be “a light unto the nations”. I get that there are some people who will disagree with me, and they are fully entitled to do so.

In fact, there were some who felt that we shouldn’t touch this story in our newspaper because it would make us look bad. We do look bad, but sometimes we have to hold a mirror to ourselves to remind us of who we are and what we aspire to be.

I’m all for people making mistakes, genuinely apologising and righting their wrongs. I call on the people behind this video to do just that.

I wish you all a Shabbat Shalom!


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