In 1979, if you were Orthodox, the only weekly Anglo-Jewish newspaper you could read was The Jewish Press. Many of our families subscribed to the publication – and the newspaper thrived.
On Purim 1979, a 24-page newspaper looking very much like The Jewish Press appeared on the newsstands across the New York metropolitan area. The headline – in the familiar 148-point block capital blue typeface – proudly proclaimed: MESSIAH ARRIVES! The article said, “In what has to be the greatest event since the splitting of the Red Sea, we have learned that the Messiah has finally arrived. After many false alarms and a few hoaxes over the years, this time we are sure.”
The headline was the perfect lead for the front page that parodied the hyperbole and somewhat exaggerated claims of the actual newspaper. And at the time, it created quite a storm.
I recently spoke to Steve Fox, the brainchild behind the parody issue, which was called Not the Jewish Press. Fox lives in Teaneck and is currently the president of the Jewish Community Council of Greater Teaneck. I was able to obtain a pdf copy of the original paper (there were 30,000 copies that were sold, but very few copies remain). The contents are still hysterical more than 40 years later.
One article parodied the popular column by Arnold Fine:
“Look. Stop. I can’t go on. It’s too much already week after week. SHOEN, ZEIT, NU, TAKKEH, GEVALT. I can’t take it anymore. I’ve got to confess. I’ve got to get it off my chest. First of all, I’m not even Jewish. That’s right, you heard me. I’m Italian and grew up in Bensonhurst. If you ever read my column carefully, you’d realize I know as much Yiddish as any Italian who grew up in a Jewish neighborhood. I can write anything as long as I stick SHOEN in it and, SHOEN I’ve gotten by for another week. Listen, it’s a living but I don’t have to feel good about it. Second, you should know I’m only 11 years old. Think about it. Have you ever seen an adult construct sentences like me? I’ve never seen a candy bar for less than 25 cents in my whole life. I don’t even know what a double feature is let alone TAKKEH and SHOEN. You’ve all been very kind, but now that I’ve made confession I’ll have to say ten Hail Marys. Sorry, I have to run now. Father Antonelli is expecting me for choir practice and I’m late. A BI GEZUNT!”
I particularly enjoyed the fake ads. There was one ad for a singles event at the Kipacabana – Erev Yom Kippur at the Kipa! Dance away your hunger and guilt with thousands of other Jewish singles! Introducing the new dance step … the Ashamnu Bagadnu Boogie.
I loved the ad for the prefabricated shteeble: “Ever been caught downtown at mincha time without a place to daven? Then the prefabricated shteeble is for you! Although about the size of a pack of cigarettes, it inflates into a full-size shul. Model #407 includes: 3 cracked windows, 6 siddurim with no covers, 2 1953 Shatnez Laboratory calendars, and a full-scale door that won’t slam shut.”
Even the Rav was not off limits in this parody. You could purchase a 30-minute course by Rabbi Soloveitchik on “The Thought of Rabbi Shlomo Riskin” – an in-depth analysis of Rabbi Riskin’s magnum opus, Ba’al haTeshuva. Kantian ethics and the categorical interrogative. Premarital textual intercourse in the covenantal community.
Interspersed between articles that looked very much like the real thing (Problems in Inhuman Notions by Moreless Mundane, Youth Throws Up) were more wonderful advertisements: Rubik’s Tefillin; a new volume from Artscroll on the Asher Yatzar prayer with a Shabbos tear-away edition only costing $4.95; a a request for donations with the headline “FDR NEEDS YOUR HELP” with the address being Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 455 Moshe Feinstein Drive, NYC; La Indifference, the world’s most expensive kosher restaurant.
The Meet Our K’tanim parody was very clever, in which we read about such illustrious people as Shlomo Chaim Hochleiber, the Krotz of Blitta, who declaring in a moment of pique that eating on Yom Kippur was not necessarily a bad thing if you kept it quiet and benched.
One of my favorite parts of the parody were the personals, social register, and classifieds:
***Chumash teacher, P/T, Bais Yaakov, must skip dirty parts.
***Professional schnorrer desperately needed, Lower East Side and Boro Park experience a must, immediate opening for the right person.
***Father seeks young man, preferable in medical profession, for adorable 48-year-old daughter. Slight acne and arthritis condition.
***Mr. and Mrs. Chaim Kaputnik would like to announce the engagement of their beautiful daughter Irma, but unfortunately cannot.
***Shabbos goyim needed for religious community in Israel. Must be able to run hot water, post office, and other necessary services. Contact Dati Org of Goyim (DOG).
***Chaperone service for Orthodox singles. Avoid yichud but enjoy privacy. Jewish Guild for the Blind, Box 23, NJP.
For decades I’ve written Jewish Purim parodies – while I was involved in NCSY, when I edited the local shul newsletter here in Stamford, when I helped The Jewish Week with its annual Purim parody. But I admit that nothing I have ever written compares to the humor and wittiness of Not the Jewish Press.
When The Jewish Press found out about the parody, they called the writers of Not the Jewish Press Nazis and antisemites … and claimed that the Moonies were behind the publication!
The creators of Not the Jewish Press published a second Purim parody a couple of years later, but it was not nearly as funny or clever as the original parody issue, which in my mind stands alone as the mother of all Jewish parodies. After 44 years, the jokes still make me laugh out loud.