JEWels Teasing Out the Poetry in Jewish Humor and Storytelling

About the Book

JEWels is the first of its kind: the living tradition of Jewish stories and jokes transformed into poems, recording and reflecting Jewish experience from ancient times through the present day. In this novel hybrid—jokes and stories boiled down to their essence in short poems—Jewish witticism is preserved side by side with evocative storytelling and deepened with running commentary and questions for discussion.

Illuminated here are jewels from journeys, from the Old Country, from Torah, shaped by the Holocaust, in glimpses of Jewish American lives, in Jewish foods, in conversations with God, and on the meaning of life. Jewish comedians (Lenny Bruce, Jackie Mason) appear alongside writers and musicians (Elie Wiesel, Sholem Aleichem, Itzhak Perlman) and Hasidic rabbis (the Baal Shem Tov, Rabbi Nachman of Breslov), yet most of the tellers are ordinary Jews. In this cacophony of ongoing dialogue, storytellers, rabbis, poets, and scholars chime in with interpretations, quips, and related stories and life experiences.

In JEWels each of us can see our own reflection.

“From wry quotes by Gol­da Meier to bawdy ‘Abe and Becky’ jokes told by seniors and life-rein­forc­ing philo­soph­i­cal humor in the midst of pain, JEW­els delights with sur­prise. There will be some­thing new here for everyone.”Jewish Book Council

“These poems made me laugh, cry or nod with acknowledgment to the wisdom offered. . . . Zeitlin notes that he hopes to give readers a chance to experience a wide range of Jewish perspectives on the world. In that, he has definitely succeeded.”Reporter

“Steve Zeitlin is a national treasure who celebrates the voices of everyday life. Wise, funny, and poignant, his book JEWels brings Judaism to life in short bursts of words that explode off the page and infuse our hearts with light and truth.”—Dave Isay, founder of StoryCorps
“I could not put this book down. JEWels is brilliant, intelligent, well researched, and has heart. It’s an immersive experience in which the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, but the parts are what matter, each jewel standing on its own.”—Amy Shuman, professor in the Department of English at Ohio State University and author of Other People’s Stories
JEWels is a unique, humorous, and sensitive link in the chain of Jewish storytelling, humor, and commentary.”—Rabbi Moshe Waldoks, coeditor of The Big Book of Jewish Humor
“Perfect addition to any poetry collections as well as collections with Jewish story and or joke anthologies.”—Association of Jewish Libraries Reviews
“I recommend JEWels to anyone interested in Jewish culture in general, and especially to those interested in its rich folklore… The commentaries, alongside the “jewels” themselves, make for lessons one might never forget – that there is beauty even in terrible situations, laughter to be found in all aspects of life, and that stories reminding us of these facts might be more relevant now than ever before.”The Journal of Folklore Research Reviews

Steve Zeitlin

Steve Zeitlin is a folklorist, writer, cultural activist, and the Founding Director of City Lore, New York’s center for urban folk culture.  He received his Ph.D. in Folklore and Folklife from the University of Pennsylvania, and is the author or coauthor of 10 award-winning books on America’s folk culture. His latest is JEWels: Teasing out the Poetry in Jewish Humor and Storytelling (JPS). Others include The Poetry of Everyday Life: Storytelling and the Art of Awareness (Cornell), Because God Loves Stories: An Anthology of Jewish Storytelling (Simon & Schuster), a volume of poetry, I Hear America Singing in the Rain (First Street Press) and three books for young readers. He coproduced the storytelling series American Talkers for NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday and Morning Edition with Dave Isay and is the recipient of the American Folklore Society’s Benjamin Botkin Award for lifetime achievement in public folklore.


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