Not right and left

Not right and left

Israeli comedians bring politics to Teaneck — and make it funny

Noam Jacobson, left, and Gady Weissbart tour with Stayin’ Alive.
Noam Jacobson, left, and Gady Weissbart tour with Stayin’ Alive.

Sometimes, when a political situation gets really bad, you have to find some humor in it to get you through.

We could use our current political climate in the United States as a perfect as example of “If you don’t laugh, you’ll cry.”

Israel is another example of this general principle. Its history — the way all the nations that surrounded it that had it in for this tiny country, the War of Independence in 1948, the Six Day War in 1967, the Yom Kippur War in 1973 — the David and Goliath theme goes on and on. None of these wars were funny in any way, but with the constant struggles and suicide bombings and missile attacks, Israel still manages to blossom and remain strong.

And sometimes, again, you just have to laugh to get through.

Gady Weissbart and Noam Jacobson are trying to bring some humor to a conflict that seems to have no end. Their live show, “Stayin’ Alive: An Israeli Comedy Show,” which they brought to Congregation Bnai Yeshurun in Teaneck recently, is an attempt to entertain and educate audiences of all religious backgrounds on the history of Israel and its conflicts.

Mr. Weissbart, 39, and Mr. Jacobson, 42, both were born in Israel; today Mr. Weissbart lives in Jerusalem and Mr. Jacobson lives in Tel Aviv. They met 20 years ago, when they both were in a yeshiva in a settlement called Otniel. They both were comedians.

The two lost touch, remet, lost touch again, met again, and eventually realized that they had chemistry when they worked together. “Four years ago, we started doing a radio show together on ‘Galev Israel,’” Mr. Weissbart said. This satiric show about life in Israel ran for a year, and during this time, the two men started working on a stage show called “B’Shinuy,” which means “in an unusual matter.”

“This was a comedy show for religious Jewish audiences,” Mr. Weissbart said.

But as they performed they learned a great deal about the extensive anti-Israel movements that flourish around the world, especially on college campuses, and they decided that they wanted to fight back. So, Mr. Weissbart said, “We decided to create a show that would give outsiders a new perspective on life in Israel.” They began this process by getting in touch with World Mizrachi, a religionist Zionist organization. “They took us under their wing and found us a sponsor so we could make it happen,” he said. “We then brought in a writer/director named Sariel Piterman and started working on the show.”

It took about a year for all of the pieces to come together. Now, the two comedians have begun to tour with the show, which they perform in Hebrew in Israel and in English in North America.

“Our target audience includes Jewish communities, students, and even non-Jews,” Mr. Weissbart says. “Really everyone.” The show demonstrates, in satirical, out-of-the-box ways, how Mr. Weissbart and Mr. Jacobson deal with the BDS movement, the world media, and other issues Israelis must face.

For example, in the show, Little Red Riding Hood faces the media. The wolf eats her grandmother, and the hunter shoots him, but the reporter knows only about the hunter’s shot, not the dead-and-eaten grandmother, and so makes the wolf the story’s hero.

In another skit, set at the United Nations, a delegate says he has a solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and then sings “Under the Sea,” positing that watery grave as a place where Israelis could live in peace.

Mr. Weissbart and Mr. Jacobson have performed Stayin’ Alive in London, Chicago, Toronto, Philadelphia, and New Jersey. They adjust it to its audience. “But the message never gets lost,” Mr. Weissbart said. “We just want the people to understand what we are saying.”

Jack and Carole Forgash sponsored the sold-out performance at Bnai Yeshurun. “We had seen them perform in Jerusalem when we were there a few months ago,” Mr. Forgash said. “When Rabbi Pruzansky called us about helping to bring them to Bnai Yeshurun, we were more than happy to do so.” CBY member Yoel Fuld, whose son is in the army in Israel, goes there often. “Coming in not knowing what to expect, I felt the show was not only great entertainment, but the perfect vehicle to educate audiences about what goes on in Israel, in a non-threatening manner,” he said.

Mr. Weissbart and Mr. Jacobson are thrilled to bring their show outside Israel because they want everyone to know what an amazing country it is. “Jerusalem, for example,” Mr. Jacobson said. “Only in Jerusalem can you see a Greek monk buying Turkish coffee in the Arab Quarter.” But their true message, according to Mr. Weissbart is, “It’s not a matter of right or left, it’s a matter of right and wrong.”

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