Straddling cultures with a smile

Jerusalem comedian gives Anglo immigrants something to laugh about.

Despite the glossy ads and video footage of the desert flowering, foregoing the comforts of a cushy western country isn't easy and falling in love with the Jewish homeland takes time and often involves a hysterical mixture of laughter and tears. With his new comedy show, "The Aliyah Monologues," 28-year-old Jerusalem based comedian and rabbi, David Kilimnick has created an entertaining way to tell the real story of moving to Israel. Conveyed in a plainly honest style, the show explores Kilimnick's personal journey from a downsized American twenty-something to flag-waving Israeli citizen. Along the way, he touches on issues ranging from family dynamics and immigrant unemployment to overpriced falafel and the challenges of meeting an Israeli women. Smoothly, Kilimnick uses his talents at imitation to step into the skin of scores of different individuals, bringing to life a whole cast of characters, from proud if somewhat incredulous American Jews, to spirited kids at Israeli public schools; from a large Hebron family embarking on vacation with machine guns. to Israeli rappers throwing Jewish gang signs. Already well-known to both English and Hebrew patrons of the Israeli comedy world, the show is now hitting the road, as Kilimnick embarks on a November and December tour of the United States. He will perform in a range of locations including Illinois, Massachusetts, New York and Pennsylvania, with several sponsored by Yavneh Olami, a religious Zionist student organization. So what's a nice Jewish boy from Rochester, NY doing in show biz? His present career can be traced to an impromptu show he did three and a half years ago, shortly after receiving his rabbinical ordination from Yeshivat Hamivtar. Getting up at an openmike, he found himself riffing about Israeli life and found that lines just came to him on the spot. Hearing the spontaneous laughter from the crowd, the new rabbi began to realize that his calling would involve comedy and that his life as a new immigrant provided all the material he could possibly want. Within a few years, Kilimnick, with several English-speaking Jerusalem comedians, founded Off The Wall Comedy, a group which performs regularly, does improvisation, and provides instructional comedy classes. Since its inception, the organization has become a forum for creative expression for those who straddle two different but equally beloved cultures. "The drama of switching from American culture to this Middle-Eastern life is so jarring. There is too much pain and joy in it to let it pass by without talking about it," says Kilimnick. The show often deals with the competitive quality of Israeli culture, which can be challenging for those used to calmer conflict resolution. His Seinfeldian charm saves Kilimnick from sounding bitter about his journey. Instead, many at his shows seem to find an opportunity to relax their earnest efforts at immigrant absorption and see the humor in their new lives. Light comedy aside, Kilimnick's range extends to more serious subjects as he deals with the place of religion in society. In an aside, he jokes "I went to the Kotel and wrote God a note because I'm not good at breaking up in person. Who gets those notes, anyways?" In a similar joke, he complains that he can't throw out the sports section of an Israeli newspaper because the paper quotes the name of God. "I want people to think about why we keep these customs, to focus on the meanings behind our religious actions and how they relate to living in Israel," he explains His background as an Orthodox rabbi, with an MA in Wurzweiler School of Social Work of Yeshiva University, adds a decidedly ethical twist to his approach. "If it isn't true, it isn't going to be funny. You have to really understand what someone is going through, in order to help them and that starts with honesty," he explains. Sometimes the truth hurts and creates a less than picture-perfect rendering of Israeli life, a style that is not always advocated by Zionist organizations around the world. But then, Kilimnick represents a new kind of publicity for Israel - one that focuses on the whole bittersweet adventure of aliyah and not just the pretty surface. "If you're country doesn't have color and attitude and life, then no one will want to go there. Israel has all that and more. The truth is that you get here and in many ways, you are on your own. You aren't going to be eating falafel and talking to Israelis right away because you're not going to know any Israelis and you're going to realize that most falafel places stink. I will tell you where to go for excellent falafel. Tiberias. They have exceptional falafel there," he says philosophically. Kilimnick's keeping' it real approach has been helping him build a solid fan base in his Jerusalem home and may be the key to his future success on the tour. "The Aliyah Monologues" will be performed at the Little Coffee House in Baka on October 22 and at Not Just Bagels in Beit Shemesh on October 30 before the tour moves to the US For more information, www. or call (050) 875-5688