Some people come to Israel to meet Israelis. Many come to see the Western Wall. Others come to make their mother happy. Comedienne Judy Gold is in the last category. OK, fine, she's in all three, but especially the last one.
Gold is one of four successful comics headlining the biannual Comedy for Koby tour that begins tonight in Ra’anana and goes through Beit Shemesh, Modi’in, Jerusalem, and Tel Aviv before concluding in Gush Etzion next Tuesday. The shows raise money for the Koby Mandell Foundation, which works on
behalf of individuals and families struck by terror and was named after a child who was murdered by terrorists.
As usual, Los Angeles-based comedian Avi Liberman, who has been bringing comics to Israel for 10 years, lined up a varied group of talent for the shows. The group includes British-born African-American comedian Ian Edwards and veteran funnyman Ted Alexandro, neither of whom are Jewish.
The Jewish-gentile ratio will be balanced out by Liberman and by Gold, who is so Jewish that on her web site, she signs her name “Jewdy.”
So why hasn’t she come to Israel before? She was supposed to headline Liberman’s tour a few years ago. But last-minute opportunities prevented her from coming.
“Everyone in my family has been here except me,” Gold confessed apologetically in a phone interview between shows in New York.
“My mother has wanted me to come here for so long. She’s in a nursing home in New Jersey. It meant so much for her for me to visit Israel, so I wanted to come when she is still around.”
Gold said she can’t wait to see the Western Wall, the beaches of Tel Aviv, and the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum. She will be seeing some family members. But it’s the ordinary Israelis who seem to have her excited.
“I’m looking forward to being around Jews – Israelis – in my homeland,” she said.
“I’ve always wanted to do this tour. And now that I am finally coming to Israel, I want to start coming there a lot.”
Gold’s brother-in-law is Israeli, and her sister- in-law lived on a kibbutz. She emailed all the Israelis in her family to tell them that she was on the way.
“Everyone I tell I’m going to Israel just lights up,” she said.
“People can’t believe that I've never been there before. I practice the religion, have Shabbat dinners, and keep a kosher kitchen.
"It's the way I am. It's the way I live, cook, eat, talk and how I look. I’m very Jewish.”
Stopped on that last one, Gold is asked what it means to “look Jewish” if there are African, Asian and even Aryan-looking Jews.
“I think I look Jewish,” she said.
“In America, I’ve been told so many times that I look too Jewish that I stopped counting.”
GOLD COMES from an observant family.
The first time she “performed” was at her bat mitzva, where she chanted her Haftorah. She still remembers the sense of accomplishment she felt when it was all done.
“Growing up in New Jersey, bat mitzvas were all about the elegant parties,” she recalled.
“There was even a bat mitzva girl who jumped out of her cake. When my mother told me we would just have a small dinner at the synagogue, I was mortified, but I’m glad looking back, because it’s really not supposed to be about the party.”
Gold’s mother Ruth was very religious and has had a big influence on her or as she puts it “her love of Judaism bled on to me.” She received a 2006 Drama Desk nomination for Outstanding Solo Performance for her hit off-Broadway show 25 Questions for a Jewish Mother for which she spoke to Jewish moms across America.
Her new show, called It’s Judy’s Show: My Life as a Sitcom debuted to rave reviews in Washington DC, was featured at last year’s Williamstown Theater Festival, and will be opening Off-Broadway this summer.
She received a Cable Ace Award for her HBO half-hour special, won two Emmy Awards for writing and producing The Rosie O’Donnell Show, and was nominated twice for The American Comedy Award’s funniest female stand-up.
While the focus of her act in Israel will be on her mother, raising her two sons, and being Jewish, she will also talk about being a lesbian.
“It’s not a huge part of my act,” she said.
“But I’m not afraid of who I am. Hiding who I am tells my children there’s something wrong with it. In our country it’s important to not be ashamed, not to hide it, but not to make a big deal out of it either.”
Looking forward, Gold wants to eventually have her own TV show, which she promises would be funny and socially relevant like the shows she grew up with. But meanwhile, she is excited just to come to Israel and be on the same bill as Alexandro, Edwards and Liberman.
“I’m really funny, and so are the other comics, so it’s going to be an awesome show,” she said.
”I’m looking forward to going to a place where being Jewish is normal. It’s like the biggest dream come true.” For more info on the tour visit comedyforkoby.com