The eulogies are fast and furious as the news of Joan River’s death continues to spread. All of the major internet sites have clips of her appearances and routines from the past fifty years along with remembrances and biographical analyses. There is a lot to say and hope that in the coming days the writers and the commentators will not be able to agree on one single narrative to eulogize her life.
I have a small footnote. Joan Rivers was a real Jew – not a pious Jew, a synagogue Jew, nor an ethnic or cultural Jew. She was a member of the tribe, an offensive term when non-Jews use it but a high compliment when it is bestowed by one Jew upon another. To an outsider, tribalism is a derogatory term reeking of exclusivity and condescension. To proclaim someone a member of the tribe within the Jewish world is to mark that person as being remarkable and proud about being a Jew.
Joan lived a philosophy that many rabbis preach but few rise to embrace. Joan embraced everything Jewish from food and family to politics and Israel. The term “Judaism” is a definition imposed upon Jews by outsiders. There is no “ism”, no specific religion for the Jews. We are a people and the sphere in which we dwell is called “The Jewish World”. Joan embraced this entire sphere, sometimes with high regard and sometimes with low profanities.
She called her career as a comedian a calling. She skewered any and all who dared to flaunt themselves for fame, fortune or power. She skewered herself. She spoke truths with a capital “T” and I believe that these public expositions of truth dressed as jokes were the source of her influence and media power through these past fifty years. This trait alone made her a leading member of the Tribe.