The recent news that Jon Stewart is leaving the Daily Show struck a cord with many; some are sad and some are relieved. His tenure on a fake news show, that for many was the primary source of “real news,” inspired an excellent summary of lessons on the NPR It’s All Politics blog entitled “5 Things Jon Stewart Reminded Us About Politics” by Amita Kelly.
One thing listed in the article: “Politics can be interesting — and fun,” speaks directly to the current Jewish community. It is no surprise that Stewart, (or should we call him by the name on his Bar Mitzvah invitation, Jonathan Stuart Leibowitz) would have a strong comedic element. Jews and comedy go all the way back to the Talmud, and modern comics like Lenny Bruce helped turn the Jewish practice of brutally honest self examination into a mainstream value.
And the Daily show did just that, appealing to the politically disenfranchised in a way that was educational without taking itself too seriously. As Kelly puts it
“One of the show’s appeals to a younger audience was its knack for breaking down the latest Washington scandal by stripping it of Beltway-speak. Here’s how Samantha Bee, the show’s “White House Correspondent,” explained the Valerie Plame spy scandal in 2005:
“Jon, in Washington, information is power, and is disseminated through a sophisticated network of operatives and contacts, in a system modeled after a sorority house,” she said.
She then broke down the scandal and all the players as if it were happening in a sorority house, valley girl accent and all: “So then Cooper called Rove and he’s all like ‘Wilson’s wife’s all CIA!’ and Karl was like ‘I know, right! But you totally can’t tell anyone I told you!’ and Matt was all ‘I totally won’t!’ and Karl was all ‘You double-secret won’t tell?’ and Matt was all ‘I totally super-secret, double-super-secret won’t tell.’ ”
That style turned off a lot of serious political viewers, but it got the job done: A 2008 Pew study found that viewers of The Daily Show were most likely to score in the highest percentile on knowledge of current affairs.
The same ingredient is essential for today’s Jewish community, we must reclaim the joy in Judaism.
This is not a new idea, but one which needs more focus. We are no longer motivated by those who hate us, by fearing for the end of Israel, or by guilt. Today, participation in each part of the Jewish community must be less about meetings, and more about connecting; less about guilt and more about guidance, and we must focus on how our personal stories connect with tradition. And a primary avenue to this kind of honest, organic community is humor and joy.
Stewart did it for politics, Judaism should be easy by comparison.