Synagogue event proves ‘clean’ comedy can also be funny
Kosher comedy is like a vegetarian cholent — a little different than the norm, but pleasantly surprising. With neither a cuss word nor crass remark gracing either of the two comedic sets, Shaare Torah Congregation’s “A Night of Kosher Comedy” featured a series of self-deprecating ribs that mostly weren’t too cheesy.
“These guys knew exactly where we live. They are part of the community, they understand the community and understand how funny we are sometimes,” said Jonathan Young, president of Shaare Torah.
While offering a lens on the Orthodox Jewish community provided much of the evening’s fodder, Eli Lebowicz, the opening entertainer, severed the trope with an initial lament.
“There’s a lot of pressure being introduced as a comedian,” said Lebowicz. “People come up to me and say, ‘Oh, you’re a comedian, prove it.’ No one ever says, ‘Oh you’re a mohel, prove it.’”
From there, though, Lebowicz broadened his focus to larger satire.
“People criticize Israel unfairly. Don’t criticize Israel for being an apartheid state, because it’s not,” he said. “Criticize Israel for being this close to curing cancer, but not being able to figure out how to serve pizza on anything more than a cardboard slab.”
Lebowicz, who lives in New York, then raised his cup, made a blessing and said, “I’m drinking wine, because, you know Chabad’s slogan: It’s Purim somewhere.”
For his part, Daniel Steinberg, the headliner, narrowed the comedic scope by emphasizing familial dynamics.
“A lot of people don’t know this about me — I married my driving instructor. It’s true,” Steinberg announced to the nearly 50 attendees before adding the caveat, “To be fair, she didn’t become my driving instructor until after we were married.”
Steinberg, who resides in Columbus, Ohio, then asked those gathered if any parents leash their children in public places. After one participant acknowledged that she has been known to tether herself to her child, Steinberg said, “When I see a kid on a leash, I feel bad; it’s like the leash says, ‘I tried to run away, but I was unsuccessful.’ It’s kind of like seeing a shoplifter at Walmart getting tackled by security guards on his way out of the store. Sure, what he did was wrong, but when you see him pinned to the ground like that, unable to escape, you just feel pity.”
By restricting raunchiness from their acts, both comedians believed that they were serving an important purpose.
For many observant Jews, “there’s a gap,” said Lebowicz. “There’s a big need for clean material, especially in Orthodox circles.”
“People want to laugh,” he emphasized.
By making jokes that are “completely clean, not foul, not embarrassing, you could look at it as limiting, but you could also look at it as freeing, because I’m elevating the craft,” said Steinberg.
While comedy for some is merely about the laughs, personally the aims are higher, he claimed. “It’s a tool of positivity, to build things up and bring people together. I find comedy as a tool to do that.”
Camaraderie, in some sense, was the purpose of the evening, suggested David Chudnow, who chaired the event alongside Susan and Jonathan Jablow.
“I hope people start thinking of Shaare Torah as the fun synagogue, because I’m here and I want to have more fun, and if this attracts more fun people, then I’ll have more fun,” said Chudnow.
But assembling so many Jews in one space, such as a synagogue, may offer alternative results, claimed Lebowicz.
“Jews like to correct people more than they like laughing,” he suggested. “How much excitement do Jews get when someone makes a mistake reading the Torah?”
Adam Reinherz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.