Five recent sold-out benefit comedy performances in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Modiin, Beit Shemesh and Ra’anana featuring four well known American stand-up comedians provided a unique charitable venue for the Koby Mandell Foundation – the renowned terror victims outreach organization helmed by Rabbi Seth and Sherri Mandell. Their son Koby was stoned to death by Arab terrorists in May 2001.
“Comedy For Koby” was conceived by the comedy troupe Stand Up For Israel, the brainchild of Los Angeles-based comedian Avi Liberman. He is the son of former olim, forced to move back to the U.S. after a financial crisis hit the Jewish state in the aftermath of the Yom Kippur War.
“I created Stand Up For Israel when the second intifada broke out [nearly eight years ago] in Israel and the mood was so depressing back then that my friends stayed at home, rather than getting out of the house and laughing,” Liberman told The Jewish Press in an exclusive interview between performances.
Liberman, who attended college at SUNY-Binghamton in Upstate New York, moved to Los Angeles upon graduation to begin his comedy career. He has been featured both as an actor and comedian on a variety of TV sitcoms and talk shows. Liberman said that Stand Up For Israel is underwritten by wealthy, anonymous donors who believe in the organization’s morale-boosting efforts and charity. All proceeds go directly to those in need, including the Koby Mandell Foundation.
(L-R) Comedians Chris Spencer; Modi; Avi Liberman; and Mike Loftus in Jerusalem.
Stand Up For Israel is comprised of a variety of Jewish and non-Jewish American comedians who bring their unique stand-up skills to Israeli communities with substantial numbers of English-speaking residents.
Liberman said, “I don’t aim for Israeli audiences because of the comedic cultural differences and, of course, the language barrier. Almost all of the people who attend our performances are Americans.”
Liberman’s itinerary includes daily side trips to well-known tourism attractions, so the comedians get to explore, understand and even acquire a real “taste of Israel.” On this trip the two non-Jewish stand-up artists, Chris Spencer and Mike Loftus, had the audiences in stitches when they tried to understand Israel’s Wild West parking habits and the nuances of eating Schwarma (“looked like a torso on a spit”) with strange-looking vegetables (“the colors don’t match”).
Liberman added, “The word has gotten out in the comedy world that this (Stand Up For Israel) is a great gig. They know they’re not going to make great money from this, but they do it for the experience. I won’t settle for second-tier comedians either. I don’t want to sacrifice the quality of the show, and there are many comedians who really want to come. We’ve become a victim of being a hit.”
The comedians also share with the audience their preconceived notions about Israel, based on what they’ve seen and read in the American mass media. For Liberman, and fellow comedian Modi (also born into an Israeli family that moved to the U.S.), coming to entertain Anglos in Israel was a no-brainer. But for African-American comedian Chris Spencer and Midwest Irish-American Mike Loftus, feeling secure was an issue. As Liberman said, “Some are more worried than others. Many think that Israelis live in a ‘giant Gaza.’ So they’ll ask their colleagues who’ve been here what it was like.
“Once they come here, they see that it is totally not what they thought. Aside from raising money for good causes such as the Koby Mandell Foundation, my other goal is to make sure that the comedians enjoy themselves and become emissaries for Israel.”Steve K. Walz