Music and theater and opera and art and the whole damn thing.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

English Jewish joke - p.s. to Mike Leigh

1946. An Englishman – from an entirely assimilated family - is horrified to learn that one of his distant cousins has turned up in one of the camps where Jews who survived the concentration camps were interned. He investigates - it's true. The poor man has survived his entire family, and now, broken in spirit, is one of the last persons in the camps who has not been repatriated somewhere. The Englishman consults with his family - of course there's only one thing to do - I mean, the guy can't be expected to go back and live in Poland, now, can he? After all he's been through. And there's no one there to receive him in any case. He's probably in terrible health. He deserves a family - and fortunately, they're still Jewish enough to remember family. The paperwork is submitted and after endless delays, more than a year having passed, the man is located, is permitted to enter England as the refugee relative of an English family through whom he can build himself a new life.

The big day comes. The plane lands at whatever airport they were using in 1947. The Englishman, a fixed smile on his stiff upper lip, waits at the terminal. A vagabond, bent and prematurely aged, thin and sickly, emerges from the plane. He smiles with his few remaining yellow teeth. The Englishman smiles back (thinking, Oh my God), and embraces him. The refugee bursts into tears. The Englishman is terribly embarrassed. "None of that, now," he mutters. "There's no point to it. You're safe now. You're in England. ENGLAND." The cousin stops sniveling and begins to think about this.

The Englishman takes his cousin at once to Bond Street, goes to his personal tailor (to whom he had explained matters in advance), and orders him shirts, shoes, ties, suits, hats - so they can take him around and not be ashamed of him. The refugee has forgotten about such treatment. He is overwhelmed. He cannot grasp things, but he tries. He lets the tailor pick everything out that might be suitable. He stands before the triple mirror being fitted. Cuffs? Does he like cuffs? How long should they be? Lapels? How wide?

It is all too much. He bursts into tears again. The English cousin is even more mortified - in front of his tailor! Egad. How will I ever face the fellow again?

"Oh, don't go on like that, Cousin Osip. I've explained it to you. We're English now!"

"Yes!" sobs Cousin Osip. "English! And we've lost Ind'ya!"

(My mother told me that joke. I should send it to Mike Leigh. The father in Two Thousand Years tells bad jokes. A lot.)

No comments: