Dad Jokes Lighten These Dark Times


Even with his city convulsed by demonstrations against police brutality in the wake of the George Floyd killing, Chicago day school teacher Yair Bernstein saw a role for humor, however dorky. And so he pasted another one of his “dad jokes” in the window of his basement apartment, where he’s been quarantined because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The 37th in the series (which has attracted attention from his neighbors and the Chicago Tribune): “I would like to be a millionaire just like my dad. He also wanted to be a millionaire.”

JTA caught up last week with the Jerusalem native and father of two young children about his project.

When did you get the idea for your project, and what has the reaction been?

It came from a friend who was doing it in a different neighborhood. She was doing it on her lawn. I realized I could do it in my window — I don’t have a lawn, unfortunately. I started posting them one day, and I decided to number them; it became a habit.

I didn’t know that people were reading them. But slowly it was clear that people were enjoying them — they were passing by, stopping, laughing and taking pictures. So I’ve continued doing it.

Jews are famously funny. What’s Jewish about this project for you?

Being an educator in a Jewish community and a Jewish person, I grew up looking to live a more meaningful life and trying to make the world a better place. The phrase tikkun olam, American Jews really believe in it. I think this fits into that. In the state that I have in my life, I can’t give big [donations], but I can make some people feel better.

This week, laughter feels farther away. How are you thinking about your project now?

Today was the first time I thought I didn’t want to do it. But then I thought to myself this is exactly the reason people want to see it. Things are not so good now, and people are looking for something to make them feel a little better.

What’s been your favorite joke from this project?

I liked the one from today. But also this one: “Unfortunately since the quarantine, I can only tell inside jokes.”