L'Chayim! ed. by Immanuel Olsvanger
The overwhelming impression left by this collection of Jewish wit and humor is that there exists no sense of humor like it in the world. This is true even though Olsvanger cites parallel anecdotes from Italian, Japanese, and Indian sources and even though we may come across a few examples in Americanized adaptations. (“Why did Adam live so long?—Because he had no mother-in-law.”) It is questionable, however, whether anyone who has not heard Yiddish in his childhood, with its particular rhythms and cadences and its typical inflections, can wholly enjoy this humor, for so much of it depends on the telling (or the reading). That is why the careless, tin-eared translations into English of the short jokes in Ausubel’s Treasury of Jewish Folklore fall so flat. Immanuel Olsvanger has solved (by avoiding) both the problem of audience and the problem of translation. He has simply transliterated the original Yiddish, in all its flavor and obstreperousness, into Roman script, so that as the eye reads sentences written in the Roman alphabet, the ear pronounces them in a nearly-forgotten but still vivid Yiddish.
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