"However terrifying things are, when they are portrayed in cartoons, our fears melt away and the terror evaporates. Just watch the safety movie they're about to screen. You'll see," said the doctor who squeezed into the seat next to me on an El Al flight to Israel.
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She was right. The film, which most of us ignore, shows planes running out of oxygen then crashing into the sea. It's the stuff of nightmares, but somehow the little cartoon characters who haul down their air masks and put on their life jackets as they plunge into the ocean do so with such panache that we barely notice what's going on. None of us break into hysteria; none of us flees the flight.
As Israel prepares for elections, we are wrestling with overwhelming existential questions. None of us are prophets and few of us have military expertise. Yet, we are called upon to cast our vote on how to preserve the only Jewish state, keep it ethical and prosperous, make peace with our neighbors and fend off ISIS, militant Palestinians, Hezbollah and an Iranian nuclear threat. Our decisions will determine our future – whether there will be another intifada and whether our sons will be called up to fight.
Perhaps that's why I enjoy the humor of the election campaign videos. We are making awesome decisions, so it’s a relief to see the parties occasionally using a light-hearted touch to put across their plans and lampoon their rivals. Israeli author Yoram Kaniuk says "the only way to describe hell is with laughter, to make it into a circus." And when dealing with some hellish questions, it's nice to share a chuckle. I have enraged some of my friends by posting videos made by parties whose policies I oppose, because while dealing with some of the terrifying existential issues, they made me smile.
My teacher, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, once eulogized an outstanding but very humble professor by describing him as someone who took God so seriously that he could not take himself seriously. By embracing satire, we demonstrate humility, accepting our imperfections and making room for deeper thought. This year we learned just how important that is. If we take ourselves too seriously, we end up aligning ourselves with the killers at Charlie Hebdo.
Using humor to approach serious topics is profoundly Jewish. Raba, the Talmudic sage, would open each of his classes with a joke or humorous comment. Only once he had lightened the atmosphere would everyone sit in rapt attention in classes and debates about the solemn, spiritual questions of the day. One commentator, Rabbi Menachem Hameiri, reminds us that prophecy is given to those who are cheerful; not buffoons, but people who can enjoy life while appreciating its gravity (Talmud Shabbat 30b).
Israel is burdened by major existential threats. It would be easy to sink into a mire of despondency or give up altogether. We don't. Israelis should be proud that our country makes room for so many political parties debating different approaches to our difficulties. We should celebrate these with lively conversation. And if our politicians can help us deal with what's at stake by meeting some of the challenges with a bit of humor; I'll vote for that.