Talk of the town

Move over Letterman and Leno. Ari Abramowitz and Jeremy Gimpel are mixing mitzvot and mayhem on their 'Tuesday Night Live' shows.

tuesday night live 224.88 (photo credit: Shelley Shafran)
tuesday night live 224.88
(photo credit: Shelley Shafran)
If you saw them walking down the street, you probably wouldn't give them a second glance. Ari Abramowitz and Jeremy Gimpel look like the typical North American, modern Orthodox immigrants that populate the Jerusalem area landscape - well-groomed, shirts tucked in and polite. But put them in front of a TV camera, and watch out! Abramowitz and Gimpel are hosts of Tuesday Night Live, touted as the first ever Israel-based Jewish TV show broadcast to the world. Since its debut at the end of 2007, the Internet-available talk/variety show has not only gained a rising audience among viewers in cyberspace, but its bi-monthly tapings at Heichal Shlomo in Jerusalem have become the hottest free ticket in town for the local national religious crowd, as well as visiting tourists with a fervent love of Greater Israel. "That love for Israel is something we all share - from the Right to Left, Orthodox to secular," explained Abramowitz, a 28-year-old native of Texas, who has served in the IDF and attended Bar-Ilan University. But at a taping of the show earlier this summer, there didn't seem to be many left or secular members of the standing room only audience of more than 600. Instead, it felt like a religious Zionist lollapalooza. In the lobby of Heichal Shlomo, vendors are hawking a range of products, from New Age candles and hand-painted T-shirts to CDs of Jewish soul music and sandwiches. People are buzzing with excitement as they make their way to the fourth-floor auditorium. "It's a whole scene. People are selling Judaica and jewelry, and paintings, tie-dye T-shirts for babies. Non-profits handing out information. We've created a Jewish festival," says Gimpel, who immigrated with his parents at 12 in 1991. Miriam K. from Ramot says she marks the days off each month on her calendar, waiting impatiently for taping night. Wearing a long skirt and T-shirt, she makes sure to arrive early to get a good seat in the front row of the balcony. "I like coming to see the show because I enjoy the guests they bring on and the music, and the whole sense of love and passion for Israel that they and the audience give off," she says. Like the Paul Schaeffer Orchestra on The David Letterman Show, a spunky Jewish rock band on stage left begins warming up the crowd by playing some Carlebach-inspired circle dance music, complete with scorching electric guitar solos that soon have the audience swaying. Following a quick off-camera briefing by a producer who goes over guidelines for the taping, like "always look happy" and "don't get up in the middle," the hosts are introduced to enthusiastic applause and more music. Abramowitz and Gimpel, who only a week before were both articulate and impassioned, but somewhat reserved, when speaking to The Jerusalem Post in a Jerusalem café, are transformed into TV supermen - part animated Jewish revivalists, part entertaining emcees. Working the audience like Las Vegas pros, they gather energy by trading off each other's verbal riffs focusing on their message of Jewish unity. This show is geared around Jerusalem Day, with special guest Nobel Prize winner Robert Aumann, and the duo's opening monologue/sermon sticks to the "Jerusalem is the undivided capital of the Jewish people" theme, transmitted through personal anecdotes and heartfelt declarations about the dangers of giving up the city to "terrorists." "I think a left-wing, secular Israeli would be challenged by the show, that they would be interested in it," said Abramowitz. "We get some of our best feedback and interesting e-mails from them. So we're always very respectful to the other side. Would they be offended by the show? Absolutely not." "If they're open to Judaism, there shouldn't be a problem," added Gimpel. "Look, we're no rabbis, - we're just guys that love Israel and Judaism, and we're just sharing our enthusiasm." The duo, who met in the army, originally expressed that enthusiasm by founding Ohr Olam - The Israel Center for Biblical Zionism, an organization whose mandate is "inspiring the world, ingathering the exiles, and empowering the Jewish people." They also host a radio show on Israel National Radio called A Light unto the Nations and Gimpel has been associated with Heartland to Heartland, MK Benny Elon's organization dedicated to mobilizing grassroots Jewish and Christian support for the "Biblical Land of Israel." Well-versed in public speaking, Abramowitz and Gimpel began appearing about four years ago to talk about Israel to birthright groups and other visiting Jewish and Christian groups. That branched out into regular speaking tours in the US, where they discussed Zionism and Israel in venues ranging from college campuses to evangelical churches. "We'd go anywhere - and no matter where we spoke, people would say, 'We don't ever hear this. All we hear from Israel are these government sound bites, not this passion and love for Israel and Judaism,'" said Abramowitz. "It was such a hit, but I was getting tired of going to America so often," said Gimpel, a married father of two who lives in Neveh Daniel. "So last year we thought, why don't we let Israel speak for itself? Let people tune in to us, and see a positive, excited voice of what Israel really is." According to Gimpel, it was a quick eight months from the time they began thinking about launching a TV show to the first broadcast, with funding readily procured through private Jewish and Christian donors. "Our premise was to have a variety show - with Jewish music and Israeli bands that are up and coming. We bring in different rabbis, stand-up comedians, spiritual leaders, all the people that show the real Israel - the happy Israel," said Gimpel. "The world only sees the terror, the corruption and the challenges that face Israel, and we wanted to show the Israel that the world never gets to see." With a "to do" list, Abramowitz and Gimpel went about the logistical aspects of putting a band together, acquiring backdrops, cameras, a podium and looking for a venue to host the show. "At first, we looked at some smaller places that held 100 people or so, but we thought that if we're really going to be a Jewish voice to the world, this could really take off, so we should think big," said Abramowitz. But even the 600-seat Heichal Shlomo has proven to be confining for the show, with people unable to find a seat lining the aisles of the auditorium. Like the ICBZ's mission of "instilling a comprehensive understanding of modern day Israel through the prism of Jewish history and biblical values," Tuesday Night Live quickly became a show that appeals not only to pro-Israel Jews, but perhaps even more, to Christian fundamentalist supporters of Israel. "We really transcend religious affiliation," said Abramowitz. "There are tremendous amounts of non-Jews who are interested in the show." Themes of the show have varied from Sderot to assimilation to Remembrance Day and IDF soldiers. "The media portrays the army as big, angry nameless oppressors - but these are 18-year-old Jewish boys who are defending our country and homeland and protecting our people from terrorists," said Gimpel. One side agenda that Gimpel and Abramowitz keep in their pocket is the hope that the show will encourage aliya from North America. "We're trying to show Jews throughout America especially that moving to Israel is not something that a martyr would do. It's a life of real spiritual excitement and vibrancy," said Gimpel. "One of our best segments is pre-taped film montage called 'Meet the Streets.' Whatever the show's about that week, we go out to the streets of Jerusalem and we ask people what their thoughts are. It just shows what an exciting flavor Jerusalem offers, and by extension, all of Israel. And to show people you're not sacrificing anything by moving to Israel - the real sacrifice is not moving here." While the live audiences indicate that Tuesday Night Live is preaching to the converted, Gimpel and Abramowitz claim that a wide variety of people are attending the tapings and approaching them afterward with words of encouragement. The number of Hebrew-speaking Israelis in the audience is negligible, however, and Gimpel readily declares that Tuesday Night Live is "more of a Jewish show than an Israeli show." "In my mind, when composing our thoughts about what we want to say, I think about a birthright group as the target audience," said Abramowitz. "I think about people who are perhaps secular and disconnected, but have an affinity and an interest about Judaism. And when you speak to that group, it sort of appeals to everyone. "People respond well if they feel that you're being you. And I have a real passion and love for Judaism. So I try to share that element of me, because that's who I am. And I feel like we don't need to put a spin on it in any way." That straightforward, no-nonsense approach has enabled Tuesday Night Live to not only pack its tapings with loyal crowds, but has made the show a hit on the Internet, where it's available in live stream or download form at both and While they say they can't provide accurate numbers on how many viewers each show has, Abramowitz claims that it's in the tens of thousands. "We get e-mails and letters from people everywhere," he said, with Gimpel adding, "from China, Ireland, South America, from literally the four corners of the earth." They disclosed that negotiations are under way with both Comcast and Time Warner to syndicate the show internationally, which would dramatically raise its profile and viewership. And while they're comfortable appearing before large audiences, Gimpel and Abramowitz admit that as amateur TV hosts, they sometimes come up with last-minute jitters. "I remember that the first show I was fairly terrified, but now we go out there and it's much more free flowing, and we feel very connected to the audience," said Abramowitz. "What I try to say to myself before I go on is that I'm so fortunate to have the opportunity to share my passion and excitement with all these people. I try to get into the zone of not thinking too much about what I'm doing. Because if I start thinking that I'm in front of 600 people talking, then I'm not thinking about what I'm saying. So I really try to gear myself spiritually and emotionally and invest myself in it." One of the unexpected fringe benefits to being a local "celebrity" is getting recognized, and Abramowitz and Gimpel are still adjusting to their new status. "I don't see myself as a media star," laughed Gimpel. "After our second show, someone came up to me and put his arm around me and had his photo taken - I'm like, what is he doing? That's weird, it's too much," added Abramowitz. Vanity aside, Gimpel and Abramowitz see Tuesday Night Live - which will resume taping in December, when ticket availability will be announced - as their mission, and proof positive that a good idea can have a ripple effect. "If two guys want to, they can change the world," said Gimpel. "We're nobodies, we're not rabbis or scholars - we're Ari and Jeremy and we're just going to do the very best we can for Israel." "That's part of our appeal,"added Abramowitz. "If we had the world 'rabbi' before our names, it wouldn't work."