Sometimes the Jewish world is both miraculously and almost terrifyingly connected.
Last week, my daughter, my sister, my husband, and I went to see the up-and-coming young comedian (absolutely everyone calls him that) Alex Edelman, and his sort-of-stand-up Broadway show, “Just For Us.”
The show’s great. It’s both hilarious and thoughtful, in ways that do not detract but instead strengthen each other.
And it’s on Broadway. That means it’s for the entire world, not just for the Jews. We did wonder exactly what non-Jews might make of it — would they see it as anthropology? — but we decided that it would be their problem, not ours.
“Just For Us” is about lots of things — there are different bits woven into it, including a piece that I’d already heard on the Moth, about the time the Orthodox Edelman family celebrated Christmas, and I loved hearing it again — but it’s centered on Alex choosing, for some reason he couldn’t explain, to go to a meeting of white supremacists. The meeting, which he described in detail, was in an apartment in Queens, one of the most multiethnic, multicultural places in the world, and he managed to make it sound not only threatening but also sad, vacuous, and funny. (The white supremacists he met were most notable for being losers.)
At one point, though, Alex said something about having to watch what he said because his aunt was in the audience that evening. Who’s that? Aunt Nancy from Teaneck, he said from the stage. But of course! That’s Nancy Edelman, who teaches English at SAR. I know her!
And then, when the show was over, the couple sitting in front of us turned around — and we knew them too! Gustavo and Binah from our shul!
To be honest, about half the audience looked more or less familiar; I assume that some of it was generic, and that I’d seen some of the people there on the street, on the Upper West Side or in Teaneck.
Alex also showed up that Sunday on a podcast from one of my favorite groups, the Bulwark — mainly former political operatives who are astoundingly smart and often funny, and also kind. The interviewer on the Sunday edition of the Next Level, Tim Miller, a very smart, very incisive, very funny former political observer whose recent book, “Why We Did It,” is a very useful look at the political scene, is not Jewish. The discussion sounded very different than the show did.
Alex talked about his need to try out new experiences, to figure out who and where he is in those contexts, and how that can help lead to the kind of understanding that we so badly need. The discussion was sweet, smart, and earnest, if not at all funny.
It left me thinking a lot about community, belonging, insider-ness, outsider-ness, and how everything connects, even when it doesn’t. Sometimes, popular podcasts not only provide YouTube versions — which seems weird, right? because the whole point is that the talk is in your ear, and you can walk around and bring it with you — but also bring their shows on the road. We’d seen the Bulwark podcast in person just a month ago, also on Broadway, just a little north of the theater district, in the very Jewish Upper West Side.
So really, everything connects.
And go see “Just For Us”!