The Gene For Laughter


“…with the advent of the Internet and genomic technology, genealogy has entered a new age. The past year has served up a series of high-profile revelations. The news that Barack Obama’s ancestors owned slaves was a bit more surprising than the news that Strom Thurmond’s did. … And Henry Louis Gates Jr. … was astounded to learn that half of his own ancestry was European, including Irish kinsmen on his father’s side and two Jewish women on his mother’s.” —Steven Pinker, The New Republic, Aug. 6

“A sense of humor is a great cure. I have never once in my life seen a fanatic with a sense of humor, nor have I ever seen a person with a sense of humor become a fanatic.” — Amos Oz, “How to Cure a Fanatic.”

In what was expected to be a modest, low-stakes meeting between Israelis, Palestinians and the Middle East Quartet in Brussels this week, pandemonium broke out after it was revealed that Palestinians had been doing secret genetic testing on Israeli diplomats.

Just before Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni got up to present her remarks, Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas leapt to the podium and stated that “according to a genetic lab in Hackensack, N.J., a majority of Minister Livni’s maternal ancestors can be traced to indigenous Norwegian farmers, making her a non-Jew, according to halacha. Therefore, what right does she have to the land?” Livni took the news well, expressing initial shock at the genealogical surprise, but quickly commenting: “The fjords are beautiful this time of year. Perhaps a little vacation is in order.”

Immediately following the meeting, Israeli commandos stole the empty Vichy water bottles from the conference tables, and after a quick turnaround from a London lab, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert called a press conference to say that the DNA of three top Fatah diplomats, all from the same extended family, could be traced to a shtetl outside Bratislava.

Intrigued, the three men stopped a planned attack on the Steimatsky bookstore in Ramat Gan, instead driving to the store to buy copies of Martin Buber’s “Tales of the Hasidim” and a new biography of Nachman of Bratslav. After devouring the volumes, the diplomats boarded a plane for Europe, hoping to study Yiddish and engage in some pilpul before the Jewish holidays. Upon landing, the Palestinians were greeted with tears by the Slovakian minister of belated repatriation. “We welcome back our brothers with open arms,” he said. (Unfortunately, one of the men quickly parted ways with the other, after discovering in a further test that he was actually descended from the Karaites, making the study of Talmud [Yerushalmi and Bavli] anathema.)

Emboldened by the results of the Fatah tests, Israelis raided a restaurant where former Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniya had left some saliva. The Israelis were saddened to learn that his genetic test came up “100 percent Hittite.” Surprisingly, Haniya was equally disappointed, saying privately to aides that “Now I have to continue living in Gaza, instead of in the lush Pale of Settlement!” Haniya reportedly called Sen. John Kerry and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, asking them to come to Gaza to help him come to terms with his results. “And bring your tefillin,” he was heard saying. Even more surprising was the revelation, presented by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice the following week at President George W. Bush’s ranch in Crawford, Texas, that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas were both primarily of Irish descent. The men immediately cancelled their respective trips back home, instead spending a wild weekend together in Dublin, closing out the pubs on Baggot Street. The only violence ensued when both Abbas and Olmert offered to pick up the tab for a group of familiar-looking Slovakian tourists looking for kosher wine.

Dan Schifrin, a writer and editor living in Berkeley, Calif., has just finished a novel about a Jewish family without a sense of humor.