After months of negotiation with the authorities, a scholar from
Odessa was granted permission to visit Moscow. He boarded the train
and found an empty seat.
At the next stop a young man got on and sat next to him. The scholar
looked at the young man and thought: This fellow doesn’t look like a
peasant, and if he isn’t a peasant he probably comes from this
district. If he comes from this district, then he
must be Jewish because this is, after all, a
On the other hand, if he is a Jew, where could he be going? I’m the
only Jew in our district who has permission to travel to Moscow.
Ahh? But just outside Moscow there is a little village called Samvet,
and Jews don’t need special permission to go there. But why would he
be going to Samvet?
He’s probably going to visit one of the Jewish families there, but
how many Jewish families are there in Samvet!? Only two - the
Bernsteins and the Steinbergs. The Bernsteins are a terrible family,
and a nice looking fellow like him must be visiting the
Steinbergs. But why is he going? The Steinbergs have only
daughters, so maybe he’s their son-in-law.
But if he is, then which daughter did he marry? They say that Sarah
married a nice lawyer from Budapest, and Esther married a businessman
from Zhitomer, so it must be Sarah’s husband. Which means that his
name is Alexander Cohen, if I’m not mistaken.
But if he comes from Budapest, with all the anti-Semitism they have
there, he must have changed his name.
What’s the Hungarian equivalent of Cohen? Kovacs. But if they allowed
him to change his name, he must have some special status. What could
it be? A doctorate from the University.
At this point the scholar turns to the young man and says, “How do
you do, Dr. Kovacs?”
“Very well, thank you, sir,” answered the startled passenger. But
how is it that you know my name?”
“Oh,” replied the scholar, “it was obvious.”