One of the reasons we love Allen West is that he is such a steadfast and loyal friend of Israel and the Jewish people. I don’t know if he has a subscription, as I do, to Commentary, the wonderful journal of conservative Jewish opinion — but I’d be willing to bet he does. It’s not just the best conservative Jewish magazine out there — it’s one of the best conservative magazines, period.
One of my favorite parts is “Enter Laughing,” where each month a Jewish joke is narrated in wonderful Jewish style, and there’s a contest for readers to send in their 250-words-or-less analysis of the joke. The following month, they reprint the joke along with the winning analysis. The jokes are always delightful, often laugh-out-loud. The analyses sometimes make me smile; sometimes they bring a lump to my throat and a tear to my eye. My new issue just arrived in the mail today — and this month’s humor section is too good not to share.
The Shoemaker Joke
Ira Kaplan, who hasn’t returned to the old neighborhood since he went off to fight in Vietnam, returns during a business trip to find everything on Kotler Avenue changed. When once there was Edelstein’s Delicatessen, there is now a McDonald’s; where Fleischman’s Dry Cleaning (One-Hour Martinizing) used to be, a nail salon and spa now is; where Ginsberg’s Department Store was, there is now a Gap. Nothing is the same, except for the narrow storefront of Klonsky’s Shoe Repair, which, dimly lit as ever, is still in business.
As Kaplan passes the shop, he recalls — such are the quirks of memory that he does not know how — that just before he was drafted to go off to Vietnam, he had left a pair of shoes with Mr. Klonsky that he never bothered to pick up. Could they, he wonders, possibly still be there?
A small bell tinkles as he enters the dark shop. Mr. Klonsky, who seemed old 40 years ago, shuffles out from the back. He is hunched over, wearing a leather apron, one eye all but closed.
“Excuse me, Mr. Klonsky,” Kaplan says, “but I used to live in this neighborhood, and 40 years ago I left a pair of shoes with you for repair that I never picked up. Is there any chance you might still have them?”
Klonsky stares at him and, in his strong greenhorn’s accent, asks, “Vas dey black vingtips?”
“They were indeed,” Kaplan only now recalls.
“And you vanted a halv sole, mid rubber heels?”
“Yes,” says Kaplan. “That’s exactly what I wanted.”
“And you vanted taps on the heels only?”
“Yes, yes,” says Kaplan. “Amazing! Do you still have them?”
Mr. Klonsky looks up at him, his good eye asquint, and says, “Dey’ll be ready Vendesday.”
* * *
When you’re done laughing,
The Winning Exegesis of “The Shoemaker Joke”…
…comes from Peter Lopatin of Stamford, Connecticut, who writes:
The joke is a meditation on perennial Jewish themes: continuity and change. Diaspora and return, and above all, on the importance of memory to the Jewish soul.
Kaplan and Klonsky are survivors: one has survived the trauma of war; the other, the more benign — if more pervasive — forces of social change. Demography, rather than persecution or genocide, has all but effaced the Jewish presence from the old neighborhood.
Klonsky is bent by the years and half-blind. Yet, as the joke’s embodiment of the power of Jewish memory, he sees across those years and so is unfazed by Kaplan’s return. He has been waiting for Kaplan, just as a memory — in some sense — waits to be retrieved.
But why has Kaplan returned in the first place? Certainly not to reclaim his old shoes. He doesn’t even recall having left them at Klonsky’s until he passes the shop. Kaplan’s memory is fragmentary, as memory always is. But, though fragmentary, memory may serve — as it does for Kaplan — to arouse hope: it is sometimes possible to retrieve something that you have forgotten, something you would have thought was gone forever, something you once valued, and might yet again. The Jewish past is like that. It is accessible, its treasures retrievable (if we seek them).
Yet, a mystery remains: why has Klonsky not repaired the shoes, lo these 40 years? Because, if Kaplan had returned 40 years ago, the shoes would not have been ready until Vednesday, and some things simply never change.