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Pranking Jewish Friends on Easter: Not So Funny

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After sleeping in until noon on Easter Sunday, I wandered out of bed to caffeinate and plug back into the world of the awake. I saw I had missed two phone calls that morning and listened to my voicemail intently. Much to my surprise, I had received the following message:

"Hi, this is Officer John Ricardo from the __________ County Police Department. We're looking for a Mr. Josh Stanton. Please give us a call at __________. Thank you."

Now, as a benevolent troublemaker, I could imagine a neighbor calling in a noise complaint or maybe a question about whether I was witness to a crime. But the night before I had stayed in and worked late on my Hebrew homework for rabbinical school. Much as I love the language, studying it is hardly the kind of wild party that could irritate a neighbor or render me a witness.

I called the number back, wondering what had gone on. When someone picked up, I politely asked for Officer Ricardo. The person at the other end of the phone responded in a British accent that he had no idea what I was talking about or why I thought a police department was located at his private residence.

Something seemed fishy. Even so, I dialed the number of my other missed call. Since it wasn't on my list of contacts, I assumed it had also come from the police department. When I asked for Officer Ricardo, the person who answered seemed stern, and his voice matched the one on my voicemail. "This is Officer Ricardo."

After explaining that I was returning his call, I asked him what he had called about. "A disturbance," he explained. "One that took place in _________ last night."

"Really?" I responded. "I was in the Village. Would you like references to verify where I was?"

"Look," he said. "We think you may have been involved in a murder, actually. The murder of a Mr. Jesus Christ."

At that point, I hung up the phone. It was clear I had been had. By whom, I did not know - at least until a phone call overflowing with laughter and a familiar voice a couple of minutes later made clear it had been the doing of a group of friends. They certainly thought it was funny. I was still a bit shell-shocked and didn't know what to think.

So was it?

Legal issues aside (impersonating a police officer is illegal in the U.S.), I was ambivalent. On the one hand, they had legitimately scared me into thinking I was in trouble. That was funny. On the other, my grandmother still remembers angry mobs running down her street shouting "Death to the Jews" on Easter. Have we moved so far beyond that, at least in America, that it is fair game to prank Jews on Easter?

I think that context and intention matter a great deal. In this case, the pranksters were friends who knew me well and were trying to make light of the tension that once might have existed between them as Christians and me as a Jew, especially on Easter. They may also have been poking fun at my involvement in interfaith work, intended to eliminate precisely this type of interaction.

The irony did not escape me. But I think I might have followed up with a call to the NYPD had they not phoned back to let me know that the call was a joke and intended in good fun. Police involvement would have been no laughing matter.

Even as I appreciate my friends' benign aims, it seems rather tasteless to jest like this on a holiday in which Jews were - and, sadly, still are - frequently the victims of violent acts.

My friends had just better watch out on Hanukkah, since I might go Hasmonean on them to get even. Just kidding.

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