‘Because the Middle East is funny…’

‘Because the Middle East is funny…’

He hates to say so, but American-Israeli comic Benji Lovitt must admit that last summer’s war was good for business.

It led to a 14-show cross-country tour that will include stops at Temple Emanu-El of Closter on October 30 and at the United Synagogue of Hoboken on November 11.

Since making aliyah from Texas eight years ago, Mr. Lovitt has come back to perform in the United States many times, using his immigrant experiences as fodder for his standup routine. But his daily helpings of humor during Operation Protective Edge in July and August splashed his name across the social-networking world like never before.

“People are looking for really positive Israel programming after the war,” he said. “I spent a lot of the war expressing how a lot of us in Israel were feeling, and many people told me that when everybody was depressed I was the one they looked to for a smile.

“For some people, I was the only reason they went on Facebook this summer.”

Here are two jokes he posted on his Facebook page and Times of Israel blog as Hamas missiles were flying over half the country:

“According to Egyptian daily al-Shorouk, the Israeli and Palestinian delegations in Cairo have agreed on 95% of the issues necessary for a cease-fire. The outstanding obstacles are Israel’s refusal to agree to an airport and Hamas’s refusal to not want us dead.”

“The IDF says it is continuing to let supplies and fuel pass through Gaza’s crossings with Israel, as long as Hamas ‘doesn’t fire rockets’ at it. Seems reasonable. If I shoot even one rocket at the Domino’s guy, I’m pretty sure he’s never coming to my neighborhood again.”

Mr. Lovitt said that the two New Jersey gigs resulted from requests by Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner of Temple Emanu-El and from the Jersey Tribe, a social, volunteer, and philanthropic group for young Jewish adults across New Jersey.

“Historically, the Jewish people have had a long history of appreciating good humor and using it to deal with sorrows,” Rabbi Kirshner said. “That’s something special and unique to us. Especially after such a tense, stressful summer, having the opportunity to relax, enjoy and even poke some fun at ourselves is the best remedy. The Babylonian Talmud says some of most important people in the community are the court jesters, because they bring smiles to others’ faces.”

Mr. Lovitt also took part in Rocket Shelter Comedy, a late July tour led by Teaneck native and standup comedian Ari Teman. The comics performed in cities including Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Beersheva, and Modi’in for the benefit of the IDF Lone Soldier Fund, and also visited army bases and an Iron Dome control center to cheer and thank the troops stationed there.

Mr. Lovitt had never performed for soldiers before, and he wasn’t sure how his routine would go over with a Hebrew-speaking audience. “I don’t want to offend them when I talk about Israel,” he says, but he need not have worried. His jokes struck a chord, even in English. “When Israelis laugh, it is that much more meaningful to me,” said Mr. Levitt, who recently turned 40.

He brings fresh material on tour, and leaves out quips that Americans are not likely to get. “I may not joke about Bituach Leumi” – the National Insurance Institute – “but things like negotiating with Israelis, making embarrassing Hebrew mistakes, going through security checks – most American Jews do get that. A lot of them have been to Israel, and everyone knows a few Israelis.”

He emphasizes that the butt of his humor ultimately is himself, not the Jewish state. “I would never bash or make fun of Israel, but I joke about both Israelis and Americans,” he said. “It’s kind of educational and storytelling. Israel is a complicated place, but at the end of the day we love it.”

After his shows, audience members typically want to talk to him. “People always come up and say my show reminds them of their trip to Israel, or they have a friend in Tel Aviv they want me to meet. And they talk to me about aliyah or visiting Israel. I often notice people in Israel who saw my shows.”

Mr. Lovitt has performed for campus Hillel groups, Birthright Israel tours, and Jewish federations. His witty perspectives on life in Israel have been featured in USA Today, TIME magazine, the Jewish Daily Forward, and the Jerusalem Post. He also does serious advocacy work as a member of the ROI Community (an international network of activists and “change makers” trying to redefine Jewish engagement for a new generation), a certified trainer for PresenTense (an organization that helps innovators and entrepreneurs build new ideas into social ventures), and a presenter at Limmud conferences around the world.

What do his parents think of all this?

“After making aliyah you can never shock your parents anymore,” he joked. “They came to see me in Dallas in August. My dad came up afterward and said seeing my show made them want to come and visit.”

To inquire about future bookings, email Mr. Lovitt at booking@benjilovitt.com.

Comic Benji Lovitt admits that “I would never bash or make fun of Israel, but I joke about both Israelis and Americans. It’s kind of educational and storytelling.” Steven Winston
Who: American-Israeli comic Benji Lovitt

What: Appearing in concert

Where: Temple Emanu-El of Closter, 180 Piermont Road

When: Thursday, October 30, at 7:30 p.m.

How much: $18; please also bring a donation for Meir Panim, an Israeli poverty relief organization.

Information: templeemanu-el.com

Where: United Synagogue of Hoboken, 115 Park Ave.

When: Tuesday, November 11, at 7:30 p.m.

How much: $15

Sponsored by: Moishe House, Jersey Tribe, and Engage-NJ of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey

Information: www.hobokensynagogue.org

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