Today our students heard from Dr. Chaya Ostower, a psychologist from Beit Berl College. Her research explores the connection between humor and coping with the Holocaust. Her lecture, titled, “What is Humor? What is the Purpose of Humor? Why Do We Laugh?” explored the connections between the academic understanding of humor, and the way Holocaust survivors related their experiences in the Holocaust with humor to her.
She explained the various kinds of humor, and how humor is studied and approached by psychologists, and she spoke to us about her research. We learned how humor is understood as a release of excess energy or tension, or can be understood as an aggressive behavior seeking to make one feel superior to others, or can be seen as a cognitive reaction that is more removed from emotion. These different approaches can begin to explain how utilizing humor during daily life in the Holocaust was a successful coping mechanism for many Holocaust survivors.
Dr. Ostower made a serious point to emphasize that nothing connected with the Holocaust was funny, and that her research does not seek to poke fun at the Holocaust, the survivors or any aspect of the atrocity. Rather, she is showing how people used humor to help them survive. She gives the example of one survivor, who said: “I’ve got two choices, either to laugh or to cry. I thought it was easier to laugh.” She shared some of the jokes that the survivors she interviewed told her during their interviews, and it was easy to see how the approach of humor alleviated their suffering. Dr. Ostower explained that humor “replaces distressing emotions with positive ones.”
We love being able to see the different places in Academia the Holocaust, and its survivors, are being explored. We are glad to be able to bring guest lecturers, like Dr. Chaya Ostower, to our MA students.
Interested in applying for our MA in Holocaust Studies Program? You can find the application and more information at our website: http://holocaust-studies.haifa.ac.il/