How to defeat terrorism? The Jewish way is to leave them laughing

Like Ritz crackers topped with schmaltz herring, gallows humour has been a source of Jewish comfort for decades

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JERUSALEM  — True story: An Israeli soldier receives a care package from a supportive stranger, one of many offering comfort during the Israel-Hamas war.

He finds a hand-written note signed by the woman who sent it:

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Dear soldiers,

Please stay alive. I’m not married yet… Need options 🙂

The note, simultaneously a joke and serious as a heart attack, was shared on a popular Jewish WhatsApp group, one of two offering dark comedy via dozens of war-related memes daily. Like Ritz crackers topped with schmaltz herring, gallows humour has been a source of Jewish comfort for decades. Employed in the ghettos and concentration camps as a survival tool, black comedy is helping Jews in Israel and abroad cope with war.

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Among the most popular: jokes about Rachel Edri, Israeli’s newest national hero. On Oct. 7, Edri entertained five Hamas terrorists who invaded her and her husband’s home in the southern Israeli town of Ofakim with tea and Moroccan cookies for 19 hours until police were able to break in and kill them.

At the end we will triumph, and one thousand years from now Jews the world over will celebrate yet another holiday marking our survival from attempted annihilation, by eating “Rachel’s cookies.”

On his recent visit to Israel, President Joe Biden met with Edri and lauded her bravery and heroism. Ahead of their encounter, this joke was circulating:

Channel 12 news: Rachel, are you excited to meet Biden?

Rachel: Biden? Big deal! Last week I almost met God!

Another popular subject: International media bias castigating Israel as the oppressor in a war started by a Hamas attack that killed more than 1,000 Israelis, the worst Jewish death toll since the Holocaust.

OK, so I don’t know which one of us is supposed to be the one controlling the media right now, but you suck at it.


Journalists: Israel! We hereby find you guilty!

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Israel: Of what?

Journalists: We don’t know yet. The day has only just started.

Also making the rounds is a comic featuring a reporter standing in a cemetery filled with hundreds of graves of Israelis murdered by Hamas. Kneeling and pointing her microphone at a tombstone, the journalist asks: “Do you think Israel’s response is proportionate?”

Two Israeli soldiers smile near the Gaza Strip.
Israeli soldiers in a staging area near the Gaza Strip. Photo by Ariel Schalit/AP

Then there are memes mocking Israeli divisions around the current Israeli government:

There are three occasions when the Israeli Nation comes together:

During times of disaster
During times of war
When yelling at the city bus driver to open the back door to let riders out


Dear enemies,

Just an FYI that whatever you were trying to accomplish, all you’ve done is make the Jewish people love one other more than they ever have in their entire lives.

Jerusalem resident Emmanuel Kushner, one of the WhatsApp groups’ founders, recently posted a meme of an Israeli soldier covered from head to toe with crackers, candy, chocolate bars and other snacks as a nod to the overwhelming treats sent to the Israel Defense Forces.

“We don’t know what’s happening one day to the next and we just need to release stress,” says Kushner, who in 2010 moved to Israel from London, England, where he met his wife Chaya, a fourth-generation Israeli and former Montrealer.

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“While it’s largely a time to be serious and speak about emotions, this group provides a way for us to process what’s going on, and to address the dark side.”

Were Kushner to focus exclusively on the war’s tragic elements, he would be forgiven; the licensed tour guide and owner of One Israel Tours, a company specializing in tours of Jerusalem’s Old City, is now out of work indefinitely.

“I went from being fully booked in October and November to no work overnight,” says Kushner. “Fortunately, I saved some money, but if things don’t clear up soon, I will return to work as an ESL teacher which I used to do in England.”

Jerusalemite Braha Bender, who co-created another black humour WhatsApp group, is also unable to run her business, 100 Fun Things, which provides a space for women of all ages and denominations to connect with one another.

During the first week of the war, school was closed for all Israeli children. While three of Bender’s four kids have since returned to class, her youngest remains at home as the daycare she attends lacks a bomb shelter.

A post on the Whatsapp group she co-founded encapsulated the sentiments of many exasperated Israeli parents: If the daycares and schools are not reopened by Sunday, parents will go into Gaza themselves.

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“Comedy without sharp boundaries is critical,” she says, “because it enables the unspeakable to be said and helps to start conversations nobody wants to have.”

Psychotherapist and clinical social worker Bilha Fruchter notes that using humour as a coping mechanism during dark times is critical.

It seems disrespectful. But that’s their way of coping with the pain, the stress, and feeling lost

“Humour is a way for us to support our psychological and emotional well-being easily and naturally, and to cope with difficult and painful situations,” says Fruchter, a former Montrealer who coordinates the Sexual Abuse Unit at The Family Institute in Jerusalem and supervises practising therapists and Hebrew University School of Social Work students.

“Robin Williams is a wonderful example of someone who was able to take the very difficult daily occurrences in his life and to channel them into something comedic.”

Dr. Daniel Weishut, a Dutch expat who worked as a clinical psychologist for the Israel Defense Forces and now runs a Jerusalem practice, says dark humour connects people sharing similar experience and pain.

“Humour also reduces the stigma surrounding very delicate subjects and taboos and enables people to mention things that are otherwise too difficult to swallow,” he says.

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Indeed, members of both WhatsApp groups are using the forums to soothe their persistent and overwhelming feelings of sorrow, fear, and anxiety; feelings that literally keep them up at night.

A girl texts her friend: “Are you awake?”

“Yes,” the entire country replies.


In the Israeli city of Bat Yam, a suspect was caught filming a building.

During his police investigation, the suspect stated: “I just haven’t seen anything this ugly in my entire life.”

“It’s a very personal way of coping,” says Weishut.

“There are those who ask, how can you find humour at a time like this? It seems disrespectful. But that’s their way of coping with the pain, the stress, and feeling lost and unable to predict what’s going to happen.”

Smiling Israeli soldiers in an armoured vehicle.
Israeli soldiers in an armoured vehicle drive near the border with Lebanon. Photo by Jalaa Marey/AFP via Getty Images

Canadian commentator David Frum, senior editor at The Atlantic and a onetime National Post contributor, recently posted a joke on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter.

Somebody asked me today, “Do you think we’ll ever get past this?”

I answered, “We don’t eat bread for eight days because we’re still mad at Raamses II.”

Montrealer Jamie Elman, a member of the comedic duo behind the internationally renowned Yidlife Crisis cultural brand, was in Israel when the war broke out. He made his way back to California, where he spends much of his time, and then to Brooklyn, where he and comedy partner Eli Batalion screened their award-winning documentary “Chewdaism: A Taste of Jewish Montreal” at the Mile End Deli.

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“We thought about calling the event off,” said Batalion. “But, to paraphrase Tevye from ‘Fiddler on the Roof,’ on the other hand, at this moment we are craving being with each other… We’re craving community, in whatever ways we define it. And, seriously, we need a break from doom-scrolling.”

Batalion agrees there’s something about Jews and jokes, especially during trying times.

“In the spirit of fellow neurotic Jew Sigmund Freud, who spoke to comedy as a self-defence mechanism, we believe that one of the ways to sublimate, distract and realign our energies is to move from dread and helplessness to joking and laughter.

“Historically, there have been few weapons at our disposal as powerful as comedy and mockery, sometimes directed at ourselves and sometimes directed at others. With comedy, we could feel empowered, some degree of control. They can take anything away — everything — but not our sense of humour.”

Another joke:

A survivor of the bloody Hamas rampage dies of old age and goes to heaven.

When he gets there, he meets God and tells him a joke about terrorism.

God says, “That’s not funny.”

And the man says, “I guess you had to be there.”

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Originally posted 2023-10-25 10:00:38.