If someone were to ask me (and so far, nobody has), “Aren’t you scared living in Israel with all the terrorist attacks going on around you?”, I would reply as follows.
“I am from New York. While living in The Bronx, Manhattan, and then New Jersey, I lived through all of these:
One disaster at the World Trade Center. (The office where I was working is a ten minute walk south of the WTC site. We had a bird’s-eye view of thousands of people being burned alive. Soon the buildings began to collapse and, for the longest time, the sky was pitch black – the way that plague is described in the Torah. When we could finally see the sun again, most of us left the building, and I walked over to the Hudson River where hundreds and thousands of people were boarding one of the flotilla of boats that spontaneously came together to ferry people to the safety of New Jersey – where a mass of people were waiting to offer first aid and comfort to the survivors. There was no one dancing in the streets. Sorry, Donald. From there, I took a series of local buses to Hackensack and got a ride to Passaic, where we were living at the time.)
Two apartment break-ins. (The second one was thwarted by a neighbor who came to my rescue with his loaded handgun.)
Three total blackouts of the City or the region. (Each one was more problematic and more difficult for me personally. Someone woke me up from a late afternoon nap during the first one. I had just left the Museum of Modern Art on 53d St. and was able to walk up to 104th St. during the second. The third found me at my job in Lower Manhattan and I had to make my way all the way uptown to the GW Bridge and across the river to Teaneck NJ. Don’t ask how I did it.)
Four muggings. (Three at knife point. The most bizarre one was on an evening when the police were on strike. Two guys tackled me in the street and knocked me down. I of course was unarmed during all of these episodes.)
So I ask myself rhetorically, “What else can ‘they’ do to me?”
On the other hand, we had not lived here in The Land during the intifadas and all the rest of the violence, and until recent events, we have not had to witness first hand the incredible quiet resilience of the Israeli people. None of this braggadocio, putting up banners, “We will never forget,” and then doing just that before the banners have finished fading. Many of you have seen pictures or videos of The Wedding – that wedding – the recent wedding of Sarah Litman and Ariel Biegel, the one that took place after the bride finished sitting shiva for her father, Rabbi Yaakov Litman and her brother, Netanel, may their memories be a blessing, who were murdered by terrorists days before the wedding was supposed to be. For the second time around, the kallah invited anyone and everyone to come to the Convention Center in Jerusalem to join in the dancing, and thousands of people – some coming from halfway around the world – took her up on the offer. I chose to stay home, but watched the festivities on my iMac as they went on. And yes, it was something special.
It tales a very special person to survive an horrific event and then find a way to improve the lives of others who have suffered in a similar way. Some of these fine people live here in Israel, the heartland of Arab terror. One of them, Liora Tedgi, we know first hand, because every Thursday morning, Barbara heads into Jerusalem to help pack food baskets for her organization. Liora was walking in Jerusalem one day, minding her own business, when a terrorist blew up a car nearby. Liora was injured; worse, one of the twins she was “carrying” did not survive. What do you do after such a calamity? What this woman did was create Ohr Meir & Bracha, a/k/a Victims of Terror. Thirteen years later, Liora heads a full service organization, one that provides food, material benefits, emotional support, and opportunities for “simchas” for lots of people, may of whom have been beset by tragedy and traumatized beyond description.
When she lost that child, Liora, being of the spiritual persuasion, prayed for another set of twins. And guess what: she got her wish! One year after her miscarriage, she gave birth to two girls. Barbara was recently at the extravagant bat mitzvah celebration for these children whom Ms. Tedgi had so ardently prayed for. Sometimes good things do happen to good people.
And then there’s Sherri and Rabbi Seth Mandell. They were doing just fine, living the life in “The Gush,” until somebody decided to murder their son Koby, along with another young boy, in 2001. As I said before, some of us are made of sterner stuff. The Mandells “created the Koby Mandell Foundation to provide individuals and families with the tools to translate the pain and suffering of tragedy into positive personal growth, deeper interpersonal relationships, and active community leadership.” That’s a tall order, and some serious financial support was required – especially for Camp Koby, a summer camp with up to 400 kids. Into the breach stepped Avi Liberman, a comedian who was born in Israel and raised in The States. You wanna raise money? Put on a show! Put together a bunch of American stand-up comedians and bring them on a tour, performing at Israeli cities where Anglos hang out. Keep doing this year after year until the tour becomes an institution, and everybody knows about it. Simple.
For any number of years now, we’ve seen announcements for “Comedy for Koby,” but for one reason or another, we never made it to any of the shows. This year, Natania suggested that the three of us go. The performances in Jerusalem were on a Thursday night, so I didn’t have a rehearsal to interfere. Plus the early show was at 7PM, so we wouldn’t be out too late. What’s not to like?
Let’s make an evening of it! Barbara, Natania, and I would meet for an early meal in the center of town and then walk over to the Hirsch Theater. Let’s go to Igen Migen! That’s a new restaurant in town – Hungarian dairy – (take that, Teaneck!) and someone we know is one of the chefs. It’s gotten incredible buzz, and we’ve been meaning to check it out. We arrived about 5PM, ready for a great meal, something out of the ordinary. But they were closed!!! They had started renovations to enlarge the small facility, and the rain all week stymied them. So they weren’t finished. All they had to offer was a glimpse at their new winter menu. Come back next week. But we’re hungry NOW!!! Across the alleyway is Tmol Shilshom, a combination restaurant and book nook. I hadn’t been there in ages, but my fond memories of the place lingered on. Well, the ambience was as good as ever, a restful place to linger awhile (and there were two women “lingering” for an hour and a half over coffee and dessert). Certainly the menu looked interesting, salads that we wouldn’t find elsewhere. But, sorry to say, the food was awful; even the coffee was bad. We left the place and walked to the theater, kicking ourselves as we went. There were all these restaurants on the way we could have gone to with, no doubt, better food. Can’t win ‘em all.
I had the strangest feeling of déjà vu all over again going to the Hirsch Theater. That’s where Encore! stages its productions, so I have spent quality time backstage there. Usually I arrive hours before the curtain goes up, to get into costume, get made up, and deal with last minute instructions. It’s been at least six years since I’ve had to buy a ticket to sit in the audience. But at least now we could arrive fashionably on time. Wow, was the place packed! And look at the program, chock full of ads. If Encore! could do this well, we might even make some money!
Nothing to do but sit back and relax. Let the comedy commence! But first a word from our sponsor. The Mandells walked on stage, looking like a typical couple from The Gush – where a rabbi can walk around in jeans. Essentially one message: have a good time tonight! Whereupon, Avi Liberman appeared on stage to do his routine and act as M.C.
I’ve spent a fair amount of time listening to comedy, and I’m considered a good audience, someone willing to laugh out loud. Any performer needs a few enthusiastic supporters in the audience to laugh, to applaud, to encourage the rest of the folks sitting down the aisle to do likewise. But virtually every comedian has a warm up act to win over at least some of the audience and get the laughter started. Avi is the perfect guy to win over a crowd in Jerusalem: Jewish humor put over with a rapid fire delivery, words coming out of his mouth a mile a minute.
When he was finished, Avi turned the mike over to Kermet Apio (“Born and raised in Honolulu…”). Here was someone who understood that, as in most things, timing is everything. Don’t start your next bit until the audience is finished enjoying your last one – milk it for every laugh you can get. Of course, if your name is Kermet, you can get a lot just by working off your name. He, like the next performer, Erin Jackson, had never been to Israel before, and both of them incorporated their impressions of our country into their routine.
Erin, a plump African-American, had a routine built around charming her audience (“Armed with a megawatt smile and a pocket full of dreams….”), and she got a lot of mileage from describing her experience in the Tel Aviv shuk. Clearly, she, along with Avi and Kermet, had put together a new routine for this tour (which also went to Be’er Sheva, Modiin, Raanana, Beit Shemesh, The Gush, and Tel Aviv. I don’t think that the last – and hence the featured – performer took the same trouble. Bob Zany (What a name for a comedian!) has, it says “appeared on over a thousand national T.V. shows…,” which is a lot of time for laugh lines. His routine seemed to be talking to members of the audience, asking them questions and saying something funny in response (à la Groucho on You Bet Your Life). Others thought he was great; I thought he was OK. But then I thought the opening act, Kermet from Honolulu, was great. Different strokes…..
You wanna raise money; you wanna make people feel good at a time when they are just a bit jittery? Put on a show; make people laugh. That’s the ticket. So would I buy one for the next time around? Bet your booties. Let’s hope Igen Migen is open for business by then.