From the JTA Archive: April Fools’ Day lessons for Jewish pranksters


From the JTA Archives…

Seeking inspiration for mischief, we found more than a dozen examples of Jewish April Fools’ Day pranks documented in the JTA Jewish News Archive, which will launch May 3, making available online more than 90 years of JTA reporting. Here are some highlights of our fake coverage (and that of others) from the JTA Archive:

Manna From Outer Space?

April 1, 1976

LONDON – Two Cambridge University engineers have come to the conclusion that the manna eaten by the Israelites during their wandering through the Sinai was a single cell protein produced by a machine from outer space. Rodney Dale and George Sassoon, both well-respected in the field of engineering research, air their theory in the equally respected magazine New Scientist.

They argue that in the Kabbala the miracle in the wilderness is attributed not to the Almighty but to "the ancient of days." From the Kabbalistic description of "the ancient of days." They deduce that it might have been how a primitive culture would have described a sophisticated machine. The article appears tomorrow–April Fools Day. 

In 1946, a Tel Aviv newspaper had fun with their audiences, who apparently didn’t get. JTA reports:

Palestine Quintuplets Were April Fool Joke of Tel Aviv Newspaper

April 3, 1946 

Jerusalem – Palestine’s first quintuplets, reported to have been born in Tel Aviv yesterday, turned out today to be an April Fool joke perpetrated by the Tel Aviv newspaper "Haerev." 

In 1971, Israeli drivers were the butt of the joke:

April Fools Day – Israeli Style; Traffic Signs Changed but No One Notices

April 2, 1971

JERUSALEM – An April Fools prank caused a major traffic snarl outside of Jerusalem today. Practical jokers, as yet unapprehended by the authorities, switched the direction of the arrows on traffic lights at the entrance to Jerusalem. Hundreds of unsuspecting motorists made the wrong turn creating a jam that took police several hours to unravel. Drivers said they didn’t question the reversal of the arrows because they were used to seeing detour signs on the Jerusalem highway that seems to be constantly under repair. They forgot that today was April 1. 

Traffic jams are nothing compared to the diplomatic train wrecks that resulted from these radio pranks in the mid-1980s:

April Fool’s Day Capers Backfire

by Hugh Orgel

April 3, 1986

TEL AVIV -Two April Fool’s day pranks, one by a soldier in the Israel Defense Force intelligence corps and the other by Israel Radio journalists, caused severe embarrassment to the IDF and the Defense Ministry and touched off a panic among Israelis who have accounts in Swiss banks.

The soldier, not immediately identified, was promptly sentenced to 35 days in a military jail for perpetrating a hoax that Nabih Berri, leader of the mainstream Shiite faction in Lebanon, had been gravely wounded in an assassination attempt Tuesday.

Why the soldier thought this was "funny" could not be ascertained. But his joke had fairly serious consequences. The report of the fake assassination attempt appeared on official IDF stationery. The army passed it on to the Defense Ministry Yitzhak Rabin who was appearing before the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Security Committee.

Rabin accepted the report as authentic and commented on it to the committee. The media obtained a copy and the report was broadcast by Israel Radio along with a lengthy commentary by one its Arab affairs experts on the implications of the alleged assassination attempt. The hoax was discovered only later and Rabin personally ordered the perpetrator punished.

Meanwhile, it is not clear what punishment may be meted out to the Israel Radio journalists who broadcast a report Tuesday that the Israeli and Swiss governments had signed a secret treaty under which the Swiss agreed to disclose the numbers of bank accounts held by Israelis in Swiss banks.

Israel Radio telephones were immediately flooded with calls, many from local bank managers who said their clients told them that if the reports was true they would emigrate from Israel immediately.

Not all attempts at humor are good for the Jews:

 ADL Assails Student Newspaper Article Mocking the Holocaust

May 7, 1979

NEW YORK – The Anti-Defamation League of B’nat B’rith has lodged a complaint with Dr. Lloyd N. Peak, school superintendent in Watkins Glen, New York, objecting to a student newspaper article mocking the Holocaust. According to Beth D. Randall, ADL’s New York State director, the reference about Jews in the April Fool’s issue of "Echo," student paper at Watkins Glen High School "surpass the realm of a joke in bad taste" and serve as "examples of raw anti-Semitism."

A news item in the school paper featured a new fast food menu consisting of "Beans Anne Frank," "Holocaust and Cheese," "Fruit Jews," and "Straight Jews." It also offered "a free swastika patch" and "a toy gas mask (while suplies last)."

Ms. Randall said that to poke fun at the Holocaust in the paper "seems to give blanket approval to anti-Semitism among the students. Anne Frank was only slightly younger than most of the students when she was marched off to the gas chamber of Auschwitz. It is difficult to understand the humor in that act."

Inquiring what action has been taken in response to the bigoted article, Ms. Randall suggested that Peak propose a course of study in the Watkins Glen district. "It is essential, "she observed, "that the school system take a stand in order to set the tone of brotherhood rather than bigotry."

This sobering bulletin from Berlin in April 1935 paints a complex portrait of pre-Holocaust anxiety about how Jews were being received in Germany:

Force Jewish paper in Reich to Drop "German"

April 8, 1935

 Berlin – Following the policy of isolating the German Jews to a ghetto life, the Ministry of Press and Propaganda of which Dr. Goebbels is the head ordered today a change in the title of the German Jewish newspaper Central Verein Zeitung, the official organ of the Federation of German Citizens of Jewish faith.

The order instructs the newspaper to eliminate the word "German" from the subtitle of the paper. The subtitle must read "A General Newspaper for Jewry," instead of "A Journal for Germandom and Jewry," the order says.

Reports that the entire German press in Pomerania has decided not to accept Jewish advertisements were denied today in the Pommersche Zeitung which appears in Stettin. These reports, the paper says, were nothing but April Fool stories. The non-party newspapers are continuing to accept Jewish advertisements as usual.

In connection with this it was also pointed out today that Goering’s newspaper Essener National Zeitung published an article warmly greeting the Pomeranian newspapers for their alleged ban on Jewish advertisements in their pages.

Historical context is important when considering pranks, which is why Libya ought to be off limits this year. Fortunately, this wasn’t the case in 2000, so we leave you with something to chuckle at in the face of the uncertain military and political situation unfolding overseas:

News Brief

April 5, 2000

Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi dismissed reports that Libya had invited a senior Israeli politician to visit as an April Fools joke. His comment came after the secretary of Israel’s Labor Party, Ra’anan Cohen, said he was invited to visit Libya by the head of the Libyan delegation at a conference of legislators from Mediterranean states that met this week in Marseilles, France.

Recommended from JTA