Good for a laugh

HaHafuch improv troupe presents Israeli comedy through Anglo eyes at the Stage One Amateur English Theater Festival

Hahafuch comedy group 521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Hahafuch comedy group 521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Molly Livingstone believes she has the solution for Israel’s hasbara (public diplomacy) difficulties: Laughter.
“It’s important for Israelis to know we can laugh at ourselves and show the rest of the world that there are lots of things going on here other than what’s in the news – things that are funny and make Israel more approachable,” she says. “We’re doing comedy in English that speaks to a variety of different people, and I think that’s a milestone for Israel,” says the Los Angeles native who made aliya in 2005.
Livingstone and her fellow performers in the HaHafuch improvisational comedy troupe are indeed making Israelis, especially new olim from English-speaking countries, laugh at everyday life in Israel. On April 20 and 21, HaHafuch will perform during the second annual Stage One Amateur English Theater Festival in Jerusalem, organized by Beit Avi Chai and Merkaz Hamagshimim, Hadassah’s Center Stage Theater.
“New immigrants are banging their heads against the wall questioning why they’re here when, for example, they’re standing in a line at a bank where four people are cutting in, if there’s a line at all, and then the teller goes on a break,” says Livingstone, who thinks of HaHafuch performances as supportgroup sessions for new olim.
“I call it Aliya Anonymous. You can go to shows and laugh about these experiences because you realize that other people have also gone through them,” she explains. “People at our shows always say, ‘Oh, my God, I have a sketch for you – it’s so ridiculous, it has to be comedy.’” A recurring character at HaHafuch shows is the Israeli driving instructor, played by the troupe’s sole Sabra member, Assael Romanelli. The driving instructor is a stereotypically loud and expressive Israeli who teaches olim the Israeli rules of the road. Those dangerous driving techniques, of course, cause the drivers to fail their road tests. The inspiration for those sketches came from common sights on Israeli streets, says Livingstone. “Everyone here is familiar with the [driving] learners who are horrible drivers and constantly drive at four miles per hour. And when they pass their tests, they get even worse because they start driving at 150 miles per hour.”
A past HaHafuch skit entitled “Oil of Oleh” tapped into the wish lists of olim. The skit involved a scientist testing a product to make the lives of olim easier – a spray designed to transform Israelis into extremely helpful and polite individuals upon contact.
An immigrant in a different HaHafuch sketch, “In Your Facebook,” received more than she bargained for when she accepted a request to become friends with an Israeli young man on Facebook.
Instead of simply becoming an online friend, the Israeli visited her home, brought other friends and wrote on a wall in her home instead of her Facebook profile wall.
“Immigrating to a new country is one of the most unnatural things you can do – it’s good, but unnatural,” says Benji Lovitt, a HaHafuch member, stand-up comedian and Young Judaea employee who grew up in Dallas and made aliya in 2006. “It’s difficult to acclimate, and humor gives us a way to cope. It also brings us together and reminds us why we love this country, even when it drives us crazy.”
The troupe comes up with spontaneous sketches around themes suggested by cast and audience members, which can last three or four minutes or between 30 and 45 minutes.
The name of the group is a combination of “ha ha” and hafuch, the Hebrew word for “upside-down.”
“We were looking for something that spoke to us and had a bit of an Israeli feel to it,” says Livingstone, who works in the public relations department at the Hebrew University. “The way we see Israel, nothing makes sense – it’s upside-down. Everything’s strange, but that’s the norm.”
The name of the troupe also pays homage to cafe hafuch (“upsidedown” coffee), a popular drink in Israel. “It’s the standard coffee [with milk], but I’m still trying to figure out what exactly it is,” she says.
Word is spreading about HaHafuch. The group, which performed for the first time in December 2009, was putting on shows every three or four months last year. Now HaHafuch, which also includes Josh Kaplan, Debbie Kaye and Rafi Poch, performs at least one show a month.
“As far as I know, we are the only Anglo improv group in Jerusalem,” says Poch, a Toronto native who made aliya 12 years ago and serves as artistic director of Center Stage Theater. “It’s a niche because a lot of Israelis haven’t had that experience of seeing things through non-Israeli eyes.”
In February, HaHafuch performed at a Nefesh B’Nefesh event for older olim, where the audience ranged in age from 50s to 80s. It proved to be a crucial test for the troupe. “We were so nervous about that show because we had always done shows for 20-somethings and we had never before catered to older people, but it was a very successful show,” recalls Livingstone.
Thus far HaHafuch has performed only in Israel, but its members hope to one day entertain audiences in Anglo countries, ideally at Hillel centers and Taglit-Birthright Israel meetings on university campuses. “It’s important to show people in the age ranges that are the most disconnected from Judaism, in addition to Israel, that a lot of cool things are happening here,” says Livingstone.
Livingstone also feels HaHafuch’s success story can encourage Jews in the Diaspora to make aliya. “In Los Angeles, there are a number of improv groups you can join. There are fewer improv groups in Jerusalem, and we managed to start an English one,” she explains. “It says to the Jewish community that you can do what you want here. You don’t have to go to New York to work for nonprofits, and you don’t have to stay in Los Angeles to pursue an acting career. You can come to Israel and make it happen.” 
HaHafuch will be performing at the Studio One Amateur English Theater Festival at Beit Avi Chai (44 King George Avenue in Jerusalem) on April 20 at 11 p.m. and on April 21 at 10:30 p.m. More information about the festival is available at To find out more about HaHafuch, visit