American oleh (immigrant to Israel) comedian David Kilimnick, a rabbi from upstate New York, has taken the plunge – performing confidently in beginners' Hebrew before Israeli audiences.
“Zeh miftah Yerushalmit [This is a Jerusalem accent],” Kilimnick told the crowd at Jerusalem’s Khan Theater Wednesday night, poking fun at his own American accent and the abundance of English-speaking immigrants living in and around the capital.
Expanding on that theme, Kilimnick, who grew up in frigid Rochester, New York, said he moved to Israel for the weather. “I could move to Jerusalem and live with all the Americans, or I could move to south Florida and live with all the Israelis.”
Kilimnick, wearing a straight face, told the crowd that he was truly trying to become more Israeli. “I use hatzilim [eggplant]-flavored toothpaste and I love Beitar Yerushalayim (Jerusalem’s soccer team) so much I wear my team scarf even to the beach in the summer,” he says, eliciting guffaws from the mostly Israeli crowd.
Seinfeld-like observations about Israeli life and culture – some translated from his popular English-language standup routines - also pepper his New Oleh performance. “Have you ever been to mini-Israel?” he asks the crowd. “What, the country isn’t small enough already? I’ve been thinking about it and I figured it out: it’s [Prime Minister] Olmert’s convergence plan!”
All joking aside, Kilimnick, a rabbi whose father is still the rabbi of Rochester, sees comedy as a method of breaking down barriers and connecting disparate segments of Israeli society. The audience at the Khan theater consisted of veteran Israelis, laughing at themselves and at the caricature of American olim, alongside fellow olim, laughing at themselves and the subtle critiques of Israeli society.
The different segments of the audience laugh at different bits to varying degrees: Israelis when Kilimnick replaces common Hebrew words with similar sounding ones with completely different meanings; and olim when he does an impression of the high-strung Israeli response to his attempt at customer service at the popcorn store where he works. “I say ‘Can I help you?’ and olim are like, ‘Why yes, thanks for being so courteous,’ but Israelis yell: ‘WHAT? Does it look like I need help!?’”
Kilimnick says that when he performs for Israelis in Tel Aviv, “they get much more into the character. I think it’s because for Jerusalemites, there are just too many of these American-Israelis around – it scares them."
Kilimnick will continue to perform his New Oleh routine in both Hebrew and English – as well as host other stand-up forums - under the auspices of his Off The Wall Comedy Empire. He also has several shows planned for tourists over the summer. Email David@IsraelComedy.com to be informed of upcoming shows.
American Comedians Coming to Israel For Benefit Shows
Next week, a tour of four Hollywood comedians are coming to Israel, led by Israeli-born Avi Liberman, who developed the tour as a means of expressing solidarity with Israel by bringing high-profile American comedians here. Proceeds from the shows are directed to Crossroads, a Jerusalem-based center for homeless and drug-addicted Anglo teens.
Beginning Thursday, the English-language stand-up show will visit five communities home to concentrations of English-speaking olim.
Those performing are Gary Gulman, Dwight Slade, Craig Robinson and Liberman himself. All are experienced stand-up comedians and some have appeared and acted on Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Office and late-night talk shows like The Tonight Show.
The schedule of the shows, all beginning at 8:30 PM:
June 21 – Hashmonaim, Cultural Center
June 24 – Tel Aviv, ZOA House
June 26 – Raanana, Yad L’banim
June 27 – Jerusalem, Yellow Submarine
June 28 – Efrat, Cultural Center