For those students choosing Jewish comedy as a school report, this book is gang busters, though not a laugh a minute. Finkelstein does an excellent job developing the pivotal impact of Jewish comedians on American culture. He explains how styles morphed to fit the times, how the success of many funny Jewish men and few women (8 out of 46) affected entertainment and sensitized the wider society. Defining Jewish humor from the Bible (yes, the Bible) to right now, then presenting examples, Finkelstein identifies American comedy as Jewish comedy. Comedy is integral to Jewish tradition. Immigrants used comedy to explain their new world to each other; their children to explain it to the wider world. The organization is terrific; snappy, chapter headings are appropriate and accurate. Introductory background to each era provides succinct, insightful history of this Jewish art form. Each biography proving the point provides a photo, quote balloon, vitae including real names, but Wikipedia depth information. The problem is that excepting the trendy final section, examples are outdated for targeted readers. Children meet dead white males with little relevance beyond an offbeat academic assignment. Their parents, on the other hand, will enjoy the nuggets of information about childhood favorites and laugh at the joke balloons, which today’s youngsters will find too mature, stale, or both. Warts noted, this is a lively addition to a sparsely developed topic for young readers. Hooray for Jewish comedians: on stage, on air, and now on your book shelf. For ages 8 – 12.
Ellen G. Cole, the librarian of the Levine Library of Temple Isaiah in Los Angeles, is a past judge of the Sydney Taylor Book Awards and a past chairperson of that committee. She is a co-author of the AJL guide, Excellence in Jewish Children’s Literature. Ellen is the recipient of two major awards for contribution to Judaic Librarianship, the Fanny Goldstein Merit Award from the Association of Jewish Libraries and the Dorothy Schroeder Award from the Association of Jewish Libraries of Southern California. She is on the board of AJLSC.