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Teaching Through Film: Jewish Humor

Sun, December 16, 4:15 to 5:45pm, Seaport Hotel & World Trade Center, Beacon Hill 2 & 3

Session Submission Type: Roundtable


This roundtable explores the pedagogical possibilities of teaching Jewish humor through films and television (American and international). Members of the roundtable will share experiences teaching humor in their own classes. To that end, the following questions will be highlighted: Is there a distinctive Jewish humor, and, if so, how do we identify its characteristics and stereotypes? What are the historical traditions of Jewish humor, ancient and modern? Is Jewish humor universal or culture- specific? Can Jewish humor be read as obscene or pornographic, and how do we prepare our students to analyze such material? How do gender and anti-Semitism play into Jewish humor? What strategies can we deploy in matching film selections for syllabi with themes of anti-Semitism, persecution and the Holocaust? Participants in this roundtable are scholars of cinema, literature and Jewish humor. Olga Gershenson, Professor of Judaic and Near Eastern Studies and Film Studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, will discuss the use of the Soviet Yiddish film “Jewish Luck” (1925) to show how the humor and literary work of Sholem Aleichem was reinterpreted in the Soviet Union. This discussion will help students appreciate cross-cultural aspects of Jewish humor. Catherine Portuges, Professor Emerita, Comparative Literature/Film Studies, University of Massachusetts-Amherst, will give a comparative analysis of They are Everywhere/Ils sont partout (2016), a controversial French sketch comedy that deconstructs anti-Semitic clichés through provocative, politically incorrect dialogue. Jennifer Caplan, Assistant Professor Towson University, will discuss Roses Are Red, Humor Is Blue: Teaching ‘Obscene’ Jewish Humor Through Film and TV”. The roundtable will be moderated by Dalit Katz, Adjunct Associate Professor of Religion at Wesleyan, and the founding director of the annual Ring Family Wesleyan University Israeli Film Festival. This pedagogical panel was organized by the AJS Film Committee.

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