‘Morty Robiniwitz at Congregation Beth Jewface isn’t throwing bottles at me.’

That was one of stand-up comedian Benji Lovitt’s better quotes from an interview I did with him recently for D”ash Magazine by the Jerusalem Post.

This is what the original article looked like:

Benji Lovitt PDF-page-001

But I don’t expect you to read the image above. Thankfully,  the full text is below. As always, let me know what you think.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _

Benji Lovitt

‘The capital of your mom,’ and other Jewy things.

By Laura Rosbrow

Benji Lovitt is an American immigrant and the principal English-language stand-up comedian and writer in Israel. He has written for many Israeli media outlets, such as The Jerusalem Post, and has his own blog on The Times of Israel. This year his annual “Yom Hatzmaut List,” where he lists X number of reasons he loves Israel according to how old Israel is (this year, it was 64, and aptly titled, “Sixty-four things I love about Israel”) received 9,000 likes on Facebook. Things seem to be only getting better for this breath of fresh Texan air.

Like any good comedian, he performs for the people he most understands: other Jewish English speakers. Lovitt’s typical audience in Israel is Birthrighters, young people on long term programs in Israel, and of course, other English-speaking immigrants that made the plunge to make aliyah, or become Israeli. When I asked Lovitt what the rudest reaction he ever received from an audience member was, his response portrayed what his typical audience looks like. “I’m not really performing in comedy clubs in front of drunk rednecks. Morty Robiniwitz at Congregation Beth Jewface isn’t throwing bottles at me.”

Although Lovitt first performed stand-up in 1997 in New York City, he did not make comedy a full time gig until he moved to Israel in 2006. When I asked what motivated him to do stand up more seriously here, he answered, “You’re a big fish in a small pond here. Maybe it’s intimidating to do it in NYC. It’s rewarding here, and you can’t exactly do jokes about pushing your way onto an Egged bus [outside of Israel], and people really appreciated it here. There was a community that really connected.”

Lovitt always had a strong connection to Israel. He grew up attending Jewish summer camps, spent a gap-year in Israel on Young Judea, and worked in Jewish organizations before he made aliyah. When asked what prompted his decision to move to Israel, he said the same thing many idealistic Zionist immigrants tend to say. “I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life asking ‘what if?’ I wanted to give it a shot.” This brave, soul-searching attitude also helped give him the courage to plunge more seriously into comedy. As he put it, “I never thought in a million years I’d be a self-employed freelancer. One interesting thing about making aliyah is once you immigrate, everything else you could ever do is less scary; you’ve already immigrated to another country. No one comes to not do a meaningful job. Once you’ve broken down that barrier, the other things are much less imposing.

“I have a joke about how I can never shock my parents again: ‘Mom and Dad, I’m making aliyah.’ ‘What?!’ ‘Mom and Dad, I’m doing stand-up.’ ‘Oh. At least you’re happy.’”

One impressive aspect of Benji’s writings and performances is that he manages to make “Jewish” humor funny and not corny. His jokes are offensive enough that his audience is amused without being so offensive that they are put off by him. This is a challenging task in approaching material about Israel, which tends to make Jews (as well as everybody else) feel polarized.

A great example of this PG-13 brand of Israeli humor was a Facebook status Lovitt wrote during Operation Pillar of Defense in November. As rockets were pounding the South of Israel, many Israelis in central and northern Israel offered their homes to Israelis living in the South. Lovitt, a 37-year-old Tel Avivian, took this kind offer a step further: “Anyone in Southern Israel need refuge this weekend? Let me know if you need a place to crash. Especially if you are female, single, and between the ages of 29 and 37.

I am here for you.”

In fact, Lovitt hesitantly exclaimed, “Operation Pillar of Defense was my best week ever on Facebook.” For Lovitt, frustration breeds humor. “I wrote a lot of statuses, but one in particular was quoted by The LA Times, how when the siren goes off and you’re on the crapper, you just gotta laugh. I was saying something that a lot of people were thinking, being caught in a “sh**ty” position (no pun intended), and people laughed.

“I feel weird saying that Operation Pillar of Defense was my best week ever on Facebook. Some people said ‘I wouldn’t have made it through this week without Benji.’ That’s how I know I’m doing a good thing. Is the best word for how I felt ‘perverse’? I had a duty to rise up and make my fellow Jews laugh and bear this week.”

However, when I praised this “not-too-offensive” aspect of Lovitt’s work, he wasn’t as comfortable with the compliment. “I don’t really talk about politics. I probably should. I want to write more about social commentary. If I’m not offending enough people, I’m probably doing something wrong.”

One of Lovitt’s current goals is to move away from typical new immigrant humor towards more social commentary. As Lovitt explained, “there are only so many times you can make fun of bad English on menus.” The best proof of this new approach is a blog post titled, “BBC, I’m the Capital of Your Mom,” where he criticizes the BBC for not listing any capital city in Israel (every other country had a capital) days before the Summer Olympics took place in 2012.

What’s next for Lovitt? In April, he will be performing for various Jewish groups in the American Northeast. Perhaps some of you D”ash readers will see him there.

Contact Benji Lovitt at www.benjilovitt.com if you want to book a show, book a youth leadership workshop, or rent his room in Jerusalem.

‘Anyone Who Says Differently, Is An Idiot.’


In this month’s edition of D”ash, the Jerusalem Post youth magazine that I edit, I introduced a fun new feature to the magazine. It’s a single-page feature called “So Random!” where we interview every day Israelis. No one famous: just regular people. Each interview will include the same random, personal questions. In 15 minutes, we want to capture the essence of the interviewee as best we can.

This first one was really amusing. To give you a taste the headline of this post, as well as the article itself, is a direct quote from the interview: ‘Anyone Who Says Differently, Is An Idiot.’

Let me know what you think, as well as questions you’d like to include in this feature.


Hebrew update: Some progress and a dirty joke

*Warning: There’s a little bit of strong language later in the piece. For those that don’t want to proceed, don’t. For everyone else, you’re probably now more titillated to read the piece (That was a pun).

Yes, I have been hibernating and studying and not just hibernating and wasting time, although I have been watching a good deal of Glee lately. There have been ups and downs, which have been mostly psychological: Am I actually improving? Did I start learning a foreign language too late in life to speak it without making a lot of mistakes? Will this agony ever end, or more specifically, when will those coworkers down the hall stop making fun of my Hebrew?

Thankfully, once I stop beating myself up, I can see that my studying is producing results. For example, a while back during Purim, I spent the weekend with a bunch of Israeli friends in Sde Boker. For the first time, I was able to actually speak in Hebrew for almost the entire weekend! I was both able to understand the majority of conversations and quick enough to respond most of the time. This was a huge step for me. Because I have been able to continue speaking in English, especially at work (I work for an English-language newspaper, after all), sometimes it’s been hard to gauge how far my Hebrew has come. This weekend was a much-needed ego boost.

This year, I dressed up as Ashton Kutcher for Purim. People say there is a resemblance: You be the judge.

Also, when I stay with Uri at his family’s place, he often has conversations with his parents in the living room while I’m chilling in his room, which is a door away. He’ll then translate these conversations for me, especially if he’s talking about something that relates to me. Gradually over time, I’ve been able to understand more and more of their conversations. Last time, every time he came back he would start to translate and I would say, “Yes Uri, I heard.” He then pointed this out: “Laura, you can understand everything now! We can’t hide anything from you anymore!” I certainly hope that’s true…

But, with progress, there are always funny language mistakes along the way. This one has to be the best Hebrew mess-up I’ve had in Israel lately, and perhaps, ever. I was at a bar with a friend and trying to explain that another friend had recently gotten engaged. However, instead of saying “Hee hayta me’oresset,” which means she got engaged, I said, “Hee hayta me’onnenet.” They both sound similar, and I had learned both words within a few days of each other. When my friend started bursting with laughter, and asked, “Hee hayta me’onnenet al ma?” (“al ma” means “about what?”), I understood that I said the other word… which meant that I told him, “She was masturbating.”  I can tell you this: I’ll never forget either word now.

Lesson learned? Humiliation is the best way to remember the difference between love and masturbation. Or, just acquire a new language. You choose.

A picture of a drunk guy for good measure (Courtesy of Bistrosavage).

My blog is today’s top Jerusalem Post blog!

As some of you may know, I started writing a personal column for the Jerusalem Post Lite in June on a trial basis. Well, it received such strong feedback that they decided to make it a permanent blog on Jpost’s website!

My first post is actually today’s top featured blog!


The blog is titled, “A new take on native,” and is a way for me to share my perspective on Israel as a new immigrant. Specifically, I described fresh observations that might be new or insightful to Israelis. It will be in their “aliyah” section, which refers to blogs from new immigrants.

Before sharing my first post widely, I realized there were a few cultural things I needed to explain to audiences outside of Israel.

1) I use the term, “making aliyah.” This term refers to the process in which Jews outside of Israel can become citizens of the State of Israel based on Israel’s Law of Return. Some consider the Law of Return controversial in comparison to the Palestinian right of return. To be fair, I use the same source to explain both sides: Wikipedia (on an unrelated note, I am writing about Wikipedia soon because I went to their annual conference in Haifa and got to interview Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia’s founder!).

At this point, I am considered a dual citizen of the United States and Israel. On a personal level, I made aliyah mostly for practical reasons: I liked living in Israel and knew that I wanted to live here for a long time. Given the option, I preferred becoming a citizen to remaining on a work visa status because it made my life easier financially as well as legally.

2) Part of becoming an Israeli citizen can mean a mandatory military service. All Israeli women under the age of 22 and men under the age of 26 are obligated to serve in the Israel Defense Force unless they go to a Yeshiva, are married, have children, have a suitable medical reason or are Arab-Israeli. Because I became a dual citizen at the age of 26, I was not obligated to do this.

3) “Sabra” is a reference to native Israelis.

Hope you enjoy this humorous first piece, “My boss punched me. With love.

Holocaust humor piece published on Jpost website!

I’m pleased to announce that my Hipster Hitler piece, titled, “What are holocaust humor’s limits?“, got published in the Jerusalem Post’s main magazine! (The link only works for subscribers, so I have copied and pasted the article below.) This piece was a real labor of love: it’s the most nuanced, investigative, in-depth piece I have done to date. I’m very proud of the piece and proud that it got published in a department at the Jpost with a larger audience.

Plus, it’s one of the top three magazine articles featured on the Jpost’s website!

Screenshot of the Magazine section on Jpost's website

I guess now you can partly see why I’ve been busy and not blogging, :). The text from the article is below:


What are Holocaust humor’s limits?

08/04/2011 17:11   By LAURA ROSBROW

Negative reaction to a new webcomic featuring Hitler raises the question: when is Holocaust humor empowering, and when is it discriminatory?

What we laugh about often comes from our deepest pain. Because of this fact, the best comedians can also be the most controversial: look at Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor and George Carlin, the three godfathers of stand-up comedy in the US.

For the Jewish community, probably the most taboo example is Holocaust humor. For a long time, one couldn’t talk about the Holocaust, let alone make jokes about it. But Holocaust humor has gradually become a phenomenon among younger Jews. Some tell Holocaust jokes as a liberating way to deal with a traumatic past.

Others still find it deplorable to depict Hitler as anything other than what he was.

The newest Holocaust humor scandal concerns the webcomic Hipster Hitler. Just as Mel Brooks made light of the German dictator in the 1960s by portraying him as a hippie in The Producers, two daring Brooklyn-based writers have reinvented him as a modern day hipster – often defined as a young person who is counter-cultural, likes indie rock music, wears non-mainstream clothing, values irony, and probably lives in urban America.

In the unusual webcomic, Hitler wears T-shirts with slogans like “Weimar guitar gently weeps,” “Under Prussia” and “You make me feel like danzig.” Some Jews find it funny, particularly those familiar with hipster subculture.

Since the webcomic started last fall, it has spread quickly among many young Jews’ social networks. Some even dressed up as Hipster Hitler for Halloween, wearing Tshirts from the webcomic.

Not surprisingly, other Jews did not appreciate the humor. The Australian Jewish community, which has the highest percentage of Holocaust survivors after Israel, found the T-shirts offensive. In June, the B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation Commission successfully organized the removal of Hipster Hitler shirts from an Australian vendor’s website.

THESE REACTIONS beg the question: What should be Holocaust humor’s limits? When is it empowering, and when is it discriminatory? When I asked several young Jews – the comic’s target demographic – about Hipster Hitler, most did not find it offensive. Shay-Nitzan Cohen, for example – a 21-year old Israeli law student – said, “I think it is funny. Not haha- it-cracks-me-up-I-just-wet-my-pants funny, but more like an appreciative-nod-and-smile funny. At any rate, I don’t understand how it can be conceived as offensive.”

For him and many others, the comic does not raise any red flags. In fact, its biggest fans find it empowering.

Will Trichon, a 26-year-old writer and former community organizer from San Francisco, believes Hipster Hitler is “an acceptable form of comedy, since it belittles perpetrators of crimes against humanity and grants more power to the victims, who survived to make jokes.”

One could argue similarly for why shows like The Daily Show or Saturday Night Live are funny: They poke fun at people with power.

The creators of Hipster Hitler view the comic in the same vein.

“The best people to laugh at are deserving of mockery,” they told me in a recent interview. “You never feel bad for laughing at someone who just deserves it.”

Well, Hitler certainly deserves it.

The creators – who go by their pen names, APK and JC – admit the comic isn’t for everyone; it’s mainly for people who are aware of hipster subculture, especially New Yorkers.

The idea for the comic came when the pair set out to create the most offensive website name. One of them said, “Hipster Hitler,” and they roared with laughter; the rest is history.

As they started writing, they recalled, they began to realize how much Hitler had in common with hipsters: He was a vegetarian, a failed artist, an animal rights activist, and he made illogical decisions.

Asked what was off-limits, JC claimed the answer was easy: “We never make fun of the victims. We only make fun of the bad guys.”

Is this answer good enough for Holocaust survivors? According to some descendants, the answer is maybe not.

Emily Young, a 22-year-old from Scarsdale, New York dislikes telling Holocaust jokes of any kind. She doesn’t think Hipster Hitler is funny because, she explained, “my three grandparents who were in Auschwitz wouldn’t think it’s funny.”

An Israeli student (who asked to remain anonymous for his family’s sake) said he felt comfortable telling Holocaust jokes among his friends, but he was uncomfortable sharing these jokes with his grandmother, a Holocaust survivor. He also didn’t like that the comic was open to the public: “I don’t like knowing that my grandmother can see it. She wouldn’t find it funny at all.”

However, another third-generation Holocaust survivor, camp counselor Michal Shamay, 22, from Rehovot, believes the debate should be about free speech and not the comic’s potential offensiveness.

“As long as the Holocaust has not been forgotten, every form of art and humor is fine by me,” she said.

Red Bubble, the online company that was selling Hipster Hitler T-shirts in Australia, also initially defended its actions by invoking freedom of speech. However, the B’nai B’rith commission’s concern was that the Holocaust would be forgotten if acts of incitement were tolerated.

Hipster Hitler’s creators were disappointed by the scandal because they thought it came from people who hadn’t read the comic. According to them, the complainants “were not interested in reading the comic and then said the T-shirts were not okay. The comic got largely ignored, and we were just branded.”

However, Anton Block, the chairman of the B’nai B’rith commission, explained that he did not find the comic anti-Semitic.

“It wasn’t in any way speaking to stereotype Jews in a negative way. It wasn’t even a commentary on Jews at all.

It was more about making fun of Hitler,” he said.

For Block, there are several key factors that must be present for Holocaust humor to be decent: “It’s a question of who puts it on and how it’s put on. The audience needs to know the context.”

In the case of the Hipster Hitler comic, he acknowledged, the audience knows the context: The website clearly explains that it is a satire about Hitler and hipster culture. Even if one might personally find it distasteful, the context is clear and not harmful to survivors.

HOWEVER, THE T-shirts are a different story. According to Block, “when you see someone putting on a T-shirt, you might not realize this was coming from the comic.

You might think it’s someone being serious. There might be a Nazi sympathizer who sees that and likes it. They could use it to make a political statement.” Furthermore, the T-shirts could easily be misread, no matter who was wearing them.

The potential harm to survivors was too much for Block to ignore. After he received a handful of complaints about Red Bubble, the commission decided to approach the company.

To Red Bubble’s credit, it responded quickly and compassionately, agreeing to take the T-shirts off the site as a matter of sensitivity and decency to survivors of violence and trauma. The commission also developed community guidelines so Red Bubble could act responsibly in the future. These guidelines state that “victims of violence, disaster or disease, their families and communities have a right not to be subjected to material that aggravates their pain.”

I asked Block if he found The Producers funny. He admitted that he did somewhat, although he felt a little bad laughing at some of the jokes, which he thought were in poor taste. Again, the distinction for him was context related: “When Mel Brooks puts something on, it has a context. You know what you’re going to see before you get there. You understand the context 100 percent.”

He also admitted that Brooks’s Jewishness made it better, adding that he didn’t know whether that was right or wrong, but that was how he felt.

This sentiment is commonly heard among Jews, as well as among other minority groups: It’s better if the person telling the jokes about the group is an insider.

Trichon affirms this: “I don’t know that I’d like a bunch of goyim telling jokes about the camps to each other, but I myself freely tell Holocaust jokes in mixed company of Jews and gentiles.”

As mentioned earlier, the creators of Hipster Hitler deliberately keep their identities anonymous.

“We don’t want our identities to be the focus of what we’re doing,” stated APK. “In this, we feel our work should stand alone as it is.”

They also don’t believe they have to be Jewish to do this kind of humor.

To APK, “A lot of art is about having multiple perspectives.

We’re merely trying to understand Hitler and why he was ridiculous.”

When pressed about their identities, though, JC said, “Well, we can tell you that we’re both not Jewish. I’m Australian and APK is Indian. But neither of us are really anything. I try to refuse labels” – which, I pointed out, is very hipster of them.

Apparently their lack of Jewish identity didn’t matter to the Jews I interviewed. The ones who didn’t like the comic still didn’t like the comic, and the ones who did, didn’t care.

For Shamay, the writer’s identity was unimportant as long as the joke was told in the right context. Trichon went a bit further, declaring that “Jews don’t ‘own the rights’ to joking about Hitler” – i.e., the message is more important than the messenger.

Holocaust humor may remain taboo, offensive and distasteful to many, especially those directly affected by the Holocaust. But the Hipster Hitler incident seems to show that the difference between amusement and discrimination comes down to making the context behind such jokes clear – as un-ironic as that may be.