Veterans: Comic timing

Hani Skutch, 40+, from Cherry Hill, NJ, to Rehovot, 1997.

Hani Skutch (photo credit: ROY BRENER)
Hani Skutch
(photo credit: ROY BRENER)
"I sat my kids down and told them I think it’s very important that my children take care of me when they’re older. They said they think it’s very important that I adopt a Filipina.”
Ba-dum-ching! Welcome to the stand-up comedy of Hani Skutch, a native of Toledo, Ohio, who made aliya in 1997 with her husband, David Freedman, and two children.
By day, Skutch works happily as a content manager for the British company William Hill in Tel Aviv. By night, she delivers one-liners poking gentle fun at her kids, husband, mom and herself.
“I like finding the funny in life,” says Skutch.
“About eight years ago, I took a comedy class with David Kilimnick from Off the Wall Comedy Club in Jerusalem. I learned the basics of performing stand-up in a class with an amazing mix of people, including a haredi man and a Polish lesbian. We had a performance at the end of the course, and I just loved it.”
In addition, a few years ago she began participating in Modi’in Toastmasters to become more comfortable in public speaking.
“This has been a real source of help for me and I’ve met some interesting fellows,” she says.
After the first few years performing, Skutch took a long break and didn’t get on stage regularly again until last year, when she connected with a group of Israeli comedians who perform in English. She’s taken the stage at a variety of venues in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, including the Dancing Camel Brewery, in shows produced by Comedy Man, the HOLY Comics of the Holy Land and Laughing Lion Comedy, among others.
“My husband is a huge support,” she says.
“He was with me the other night until 2 a.m. in a smoky bar in Tel Aviv.”
The couple met at a Chabad-sponsored Chinese-themed succa party for singles in Philadelphia, where they were both living at the time.
“Of course neither of us was Chinese,” she points out drily.
They dated for a few years and wed in 1989.
Skutch earned a master’s degree in social work and graduated two weeks after having her first baby, Sarah, in 1991.
The family then moved to Cherry Hill, a New Jersey suburb near Philadelphia.
A second daughter, Elisheva, was born in 1993.
“I was doing very depressing home visits to old and sick people. Then a Croatian student came to live with us for a year and I found her very inspiring because, though she was just 18, she knew what she wanted to do with her future. I said to David, ‘We’ve always talked about Israel. Let’s go!’ And he said, “‘Okay, let’s try it.’” Skutch had been thinking about aliya since 1983, when she visited Israel for the first time with her family.
“I fell in love with it. I had grown up very secular, and I wasn’t drawn to our people or the Zionist idea, but coming here and seeing Israel totally turned me on.”
In 1985, she participated in Machon WUJS [World Union of Jewish Students], in Arad, and came back filled with a desire for aliya – but first she met David, finished her schooling and started a family.
When David agreed to try living in Israel, they put their house on the market and he began looking for a job in the computer field in Israel.
“Our house was not selling and someone asked if we had checked the mezuzot. We put one on the garage door and the house sold the next week,” Skutch relates.
Warm and welcoming They explained to their little girls that they would be making aliya to Israel.
“At the time, we watched musicals a lot, especially Oklahoma!, and at one point they asked me, ‘Mommy, can’t we make aliya to Oklahoma?’” Actually, she had Beit Shemesh in mind.
“But David got a job in Rehovot and someone said, ‘If you love your husband, don’t make him commute.’ “So we spoke to people in Rehovot and they all said they loved it. We moved here, and we’ve never been happier.
“Our move from Philadelphia to Cherry Hill was six miles, yet it was more difficult than our move from Cherry Hill to Rehovot. We came several weeks before our stuff, and as soon as we moved into our apartment, people from the community were climbing up three flights of stairs to bring us tables, mattresses, etc. Everyone was warm and welcoming. We didn’t have a fridge for the first few weeks and our neighbor kept a small sack of cottage cheese and milk in her fridge for us. Every morning she would put it in front of our door. It was like room service, but without the tip.”
Perhaps the only downside to Rehovot’s vibrant Anglo community is that Skutch has not become fully fluent in Hebrew.
“My Hebrew is not where it should be,” she says. “I’ve often thought that if we’d moved to a small community my Hebrew would be great, but we’d have gone back to New Jersey. The Anglo kehilla in Rehovot is a good fit for us.”
The couple had two more children after making aliya: Benjy, now 17, and Daniella, 16.
“Kids always think their parents are weird,” Skutch tells her audiences.
“My kids asked me, ‘Mom you’re so strange; what’s wrong with you?’ And I said, ‘It’s something that happened at birth… yours.’” But seriously, folks, Skutch is a devoted mom and made sure to visit her own mother in the States annually until her death last year. Her father died many years previously.
“My parents were really proud – and really pissed off – when we moved. If I would say to my mother, ‘Damn, the plumber was supposed to come and he didn’t,’ she’d say, ‘Well, you can come back to America.’ But I think she got it. One time she came to visit and I tried to give her an amazing trip. We traveled, stopped in cafes all over the country, went to the symphony. At the end of her visit she said, ‘People say it’s hard living in Israel, but I don’t see it!’ Ha! I messed that one up!” Skutch has a sister in Atlanta, a brother in Manhattan and another brother in Toledo. The siblings and their families all celebrated Thanksgiving together in Ohio last November.
“My least favorite thing about living in Israel is being far away from Costco – and my family,” says Skutch. “We have no family here.”
Like most Israelis, she abhors the political system.
“Israelis make good businessmen, scientists, mathematicians and doctors, but terrible politicians,” she says.
On the other hand, Skutch admires Israelis’ “no-BS zone” and their patriotism.
“As much as I think a lot of Americans are very patriotic, I think Israelis are more so, and I love that,” she observes.
“I also love the way the country smells. Not all the people on the bus, but the way the land and trees smell and the Shabbat chicken soup smells.
After all these years I’m not Israeli and yet I’m no longer American. But my feet walk more solidly here, and I love being Jewish here.”
And that’s no joke.