(RNS) Yoo-hoo! Sarah Silverman, Jon Stewart, Larry David! No matter how unreligious you comics may be, American Jews seem proud to claim you.
Well, mostly. You know the joke: Two Jews, three opinions…
But seriously: A sweeping new survey from the Pew Research Center, “Portrait of Jewish Americans,” finds humor is one of the main qualities that four in 10 of the nation’s 5.3 million religious and cultural Jews say is essential to their Jewish identity. The survey was released Tuesday.
First in the list of qualities was remembering the Holocaust, which 73 percent of Jews said was essential to their Jewishness. Next came leading an ethical life (69 percent), working for justice and equality (56 percent) and being “intellectually curious” (49 percent).
But having a good sense of humor (42 percent) was almost a statistical tie with caring about Israel (43 percent).
"'It’s a way of indicating that people are proud that Jews are funny, that Jews are educated – the people of the book – that these qualities are more important than being ‘gastronomic Jews,’ ” said Alan Cooperman, deputy director at the Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project and a co-author of the survey.
While a taste for a bagel and a schmeer is low on the list, wit is a hit for Jews of all ages, including those who may be more likely to know Adam Sandler’s goofy “Hanukkah Song” than the ritual Hebrew blessing for the holiday candles.
Jewish comics themselves confess that they can’t turn off their culture even if they don’t practice the rituals of Judaism.
“I’m Jew-y,” Sarah Silverman once told Piers Morgan. “It oozes out of my pores uncontrollably. Personally, I have no religion but … I am Jew-ish. I’m culturally beyond my control.”
Look to the nature of comedy. “If you are going to go on stage and talk about yourself and your life, you need chutzpah,” said Charles Winkleman, a 24-year-old stand-up and improve comic in Vermont who blogs as Chicky at hipsterjew.com.
Scholars add that humor is – to them, at least – more than a laughing matter.
As the late Irving Saposnik, a professor of Yiddish literature, wrote, “Jewish jokes became a way for Jews to define the unfair world. … By being able to voice their thoughts, they no longer felt discomfort and displacement. Jewish jokes and words entered mainstream America, and their comic abnormality became the American norm.”
Not that Jews are about to pat themselves on the back and give up the very insecurities and neuroses that have provided so much fodder for Jewish humor.
For example: A recent hit YouTube video features a compilation of Stewart’s Jewish quips on The Daily Show, which includes his sarcastic quip that, “if Jews controlled the media we wouldn’t be on basic cable right now.”
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Played a role in the formation of the League of Nations with his participation in the Paris Peace Conference in 1919; helped form the National Recovery Administration, which helped to alleviate American suffering during the Great Depression. Photo: American financier and unofficial advisor to President Roosevelt, Bernard Baruch (1870-1965 ). Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images.
Widely considered one of the greatest American songwriters; wrote and composed "God Bless America" in 1918.
Created America's first system of labor mediation and arbitration in 1912; in 1916, was the first Jew appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Dr. Gertrude B. Elion
First to develop chemotherapy treatment for childhood leukemia in 1954 and received the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1988.
Activist and feminist best remembered for authoring "The Feminine Mystique" in 1963, and starting the "second wave" of the Women's Movement in the United States. Photo: Author Betty Friedan attends a reading of the U.S. Constitution at Cooper Union for the People For the American Way Foundation September 1, 2004 in New York City. (Photo by Peter Kramer/Getty Images)
Rabbi Alexander David Goode
One of the famous "Four Chaplains" who gave their lives to save other soldiers during the sinking of the USAT Dorchester during World War II.
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Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel
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Ann Landers (Esther Pauline Friedman)
Offered advice and guidance to Americans for decades (1955-2002) with her newspaper column and became an iconic figure in American households.
Co-founder of Estée Lauder Cosmetics, featured in every major American department store, she was the only woman on TIME magazine's 1998 list of the 20 most influential business geniuses of the 20th century.
Poet and author of "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free," from her poem "The New Colossus," which was mounted on the Statue of Liberty in 1903 and greets every American and visitor.
Uriah P. Levy
First Jewish Commodore of the United States Navy and veteran of the War of 1812, instrumental in helping end the Navy's practice of flogging; preserved Thomas Jefferson's Virginia estate, Monticello, for the American people through his family's philanthropy and restoration work.
Senator Joe Lieberman
First Jewish nominee on a major American political party presidential ticket; a leader of Jewish causes throughout his political career. Photo: U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT) speaks during a press conference about their report on the Benghazi consulate attack, on Capitol Hill, on December 31, 2012 in Washington, DC. The report was released on Monday by the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs and cites 'extremely poor security in a threat environment.' (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Discovered first successful polio vaccine as a researcher at the University of Pittsburgh in 1955; to date, the Salk vaccine is estimated to have helped save more than 100 million people. Photo taken by Yousuf Karsh specifically for Wisdom Magazine.
Revolutionary War hero who brokered deals that kept soldiers clothed and armed; After arriving in America in 1772, his investments in the early U.S. government helped to keep the country afloat.
Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson
The Lubavitcher Rebbe, who inspired the growth of the Chabad movement -- one of the world's larger and best-known Hasidic movements -- throughout the world.
Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver
An early American Zionist leader and a key figure in the mobilization of American support for the founding of the State of Israel. Photo <a href="http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/biography/silver.html" target="_blank">from the Jewish Virtual Library</a>.
Invented the iconic "blue jean" in 1873; today, Levi's is a $4.8 billion American business.
Bacall was an American film and stage actress and model from The Bronx, New York. She graced the screens of many a film noir, including The Big Sleep, Dark Passage, and Key Largo. She received an Academy Honorary Award in 2009 for "recognition of her central place in the Golden Age of motion pictures."
Brooklyn-born Wallach is a film, television, and stage actor with a career spanning over 60 years. He was in iconic movies like <em>The Magnificent Seven</em>, <em>The Misfits</em> and <em>The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.</em>
Allen is a renowned director, actor, screenwriter, author, comedian, playwright, and musician who's been working for over 5 decades. He has been nominated 23 times for an Academy Award and has won four. Photo info: US film director Woody Allen poses during a photocall for the French Premiere screening of 'Blue Jasmine', his latest movie, on August 27, 2013 in Paris. AFP PHOTO THOMAS SAMSON
Stewart was born Jonathan Stuart Leibowitz and rose to fame as a political satirist, writer, director, television host, and stand-up comedian. He's received sixteen Emmy Awards. Photo info: FILE - In this Nov. 8, 2012, file photo, Jon Stewart performs at the 6th Annual Stand Up For Heroes benefit concert in New York. Stewart returned Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2013, to The Daily Show after being off Comedy Central since June 6 directing and producing a movie. (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP, File)
A family comedy act, the Marx Brothers' early vaudeville success translated into Broadway appearances and motion-picture fame.
Dylan is a legendary musician who influenced countless people after him. He rose to fame in the 1960s with songs that became anthemic for the civil unrest at the time, such as "Blowin' in the Wind" and "They Times They Are a-Changin."
She gained national recognition as a leader of the women's liberation movement in the 60s and 70s and continues to remain influential on women's issues to this day. Photo info: Feminist, journalist and social activist Gloria Steinem attends the 2013 Women's Media Awards hosted by The Women's Media Center on Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2013, in New York. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)
The director of hits like The Producers, Spaceballs, Robin Hood: Men In Tights, and Blazing Saddles, Brooks' career has gone from strength to strength. He is one of a short list of entertainers who has won an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar, and a Tony award. Photo info: Honoree Mel Brooks addresses the audience during the American Film Institute's 41st Lifetime Achievement Award Gala at the Dolby Theatre on Thursday, June 6, 2013 in Los Angeles. (Photo by Chris Pizello/Invision/AP)
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Seinfeld was ranked 12th out of 100 by Comedy Central as one of the greatest comedians of all time. His iconic sitcom Seinfeld has permeated modern culture to a huge extent, and he continues to perform. Photo info: NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 16: Jerry Seinfeld attends 'Enough Said' New York Screening at Paris Theater on September 16, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Rob Kim/Getty Images)