The half bathroom in my apartment in Jerusalem is your basic W.C.: there's a toilet, and a door, and a window that opens onto one of two balconies. But there's also something else there: a faucet, about mid-calf length from the floor, for no apparent reason. And - until I fixed it a few days through brute bicep strength - it dripped. Not enough to cause a flood, or even notice for the first few days: but after I put a receptacle under it, I can tell you that it collects one honey jar of water every 1.5 to 2 days.
I'm telling you this for two reasons: first, to show you that Israel is quirky, and second, to recommend that if you ever visit this W.C., and the faucet is dripping, be careful not to knock over the jar.
But back to that first reason...on the cab ride back from the airport, I saw a driver literally drive from the congested road, over to the sidewalk, onto the sidewalk, and then continue driving on the sidewalk for a full block. I asked the driver in Hebrew, "Is that legal?" And he said, "It shouldn't be legal, in this religious neighborhood, but they walk around like that anyway." Puzzled, I looked out the window and saw what he saw: women in tank tops.
Americans and Israelis (and I include in that term people who have made aliyah and cast their lot with the citizens of Israel) see things with different eyes. And although I am not an Israeli citizen, I have made enough trips here, and speak the language well enough, to see through both perspectives. I know that "icecafe" is not the same as "ice coffee," that the so-called first floor of a building is usually on the actual second or third floor of that building. And I have since learned that the faucet is there so you can "do sponga," which is pushing a rag around the floor on a squeegee - the Israeli approximation of mopping. I love these little differences, as do many of the American observers who visit or live here. We know that in Israel, you start with comedy, even before you add comedians.
As observers of human interaction and the world around them, comedians who come to Israel find it to be a richly hilarious experience. With his regular comedy missions to Israel featuring top Hollywood comics, comedian Avi Liberman (whose birthday is actually today) is providing his funny friends with fresh material while raising funds for the Koby Mandell Foundation, which helps victims of terror.
I've been to at least three of Avi's tours, and there's always something fresh happening. The first time, I traveled with them to the City of David, and waited endlessly for Craig Robinson to come through Hezekiah's tunnnel (he had turned back and gone to the Arab shuk instead). Last summer, I was kidnapped from the Beit Shemesh show by the van-ful of comics and taken to Tel Aviv before catching a ride back to Jerusalem. And this year, I invaded the green room before the show and broke pita and drank wine with them afterwards. This year's crop was charming, smart and funny - Johnny Sanchez, hilarious in his own right, was more than happy to laugh at my jokes as we wondered over giant glasses of cheap wine at how similar the words "canine" and "Canaan" were; Wayne Cotter and I talked Jewish guilt, comedy and parenting; and Bob Zany lived up to his name (which I still think is a pseudonym), explaining the jokes as he went to the guffawing audience members.
The crowd in attendance was fresh off a week of being beaten in the media in the wake of the flotilla debacle and only two weeks before the 4th anniversary of Gilad Shalit's kidnapping - they came ready to laugh, at something else. This became clear during the Q&A - opening the floor to questions, Avi called on someone in the crowd who asked the comedians what they thought of the flotilla situation - the question was met with a chorus of boos from the audience. Avi handled the moment masterfully (see clip).
Later, Avi tells me that all week, political questions had been booed. During the rest of the week, audience members have to confront all the issues that come along with living in this quirky country. But at the shows, they were looking to support a cause and have a good time. The truth is - especially in a place with so much conflict - comedy is all around. It sometimes takes an outsider to point it out.