July 15, 2024
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July 15, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Sometimes we sow seeds in life and don’t get to appreciate the harvest. This year, I had the privilege to experience the result of my sowing seeds a decade ago, and seeing the impact of the harvest today.

What seems like a lifetime ago, I had connected with Avi Liberman, a well-known comedian whose career was (and is still) taking off. During the beginning of the second intifada, Avi resolved that his response was to fight terror with laughter. He planned and implemented a comedy tour in Israel, bringing three other comedians with him. This gave Israelis an opportunity to get out and laugh, experiencing levity during a period that was scary, marked with terrorists blowing up buses or other public places almost every other day. It was a time of fear, thousands of victims and not much to be happy or laugh about.

If Avi couldn’t stop the terrorism (he would have if he could have), at least he’d change the mood. His comedy tours benefited an Israeli organization that helped at-risk youth at a time that all Israelis were at risk. The shows were a welcome and necessary respite. It became an event to which we looked forward every year.

One day, we ended up on the same flight to NY and, at baggage claim, Avi expressed that the tour had become so popular, with so much more potential, that he felt it had outgrown the smaller nonprofit he had been working with. He was looking for a new partner and beneficiary. He asked me if the organization I was working with would be interested. I jumped on it enthusiastically and promised him an answer shortly. To me, it was a no-brainer.

However, the organization’s leaders didn’t get it, didn’t understand the need for Israelis to have a respite and go out and laugh, and didn’t understand the unique potential. Despite Avi’s years of success in building an event that had become a highlight of Israel’s cultural calendar, and in a way that’s so illogical that it could be the punchline of one of Avi’s jokes, they declined and said “What if nobody comes to the shows?”

I had already committed to help Avi. I wasn’t going to let him down as my word is as good as his delivery. So I quickly called my friend Rabbi Seth Mandell whose son, Koby, had been one of the early victims of the second intifada. This brutal murder of an American teen in Israel struck the hearts of millions, Avi included, and was part of the reason for his determination to bring a comedy tour to Israel. In Koby’s memory, his parents established The Koby Mandell Foundation to provide therapeutic services for families of victims of terror, particularly widows, mothers and orphans.

Seth got it and made a decision in record time that was the catalyst for what’s become “Comedy for Koby,” a now twice-a-year comedy tour throughout Israel attracting thousands. Avi might have better things to do than organize a comedy tour throughout Israel, but he’s all in. It’s his profession, and it’s his passion. Unfortunately, adding to his commitment is the reality that rarely a year goes by without some war or wave of terror that traumatizes all Israelis, and creates higher level of fear and insecurity, particularly among families of those who have already lost a loved one.

As a benefit for The Koby Mandell Foundation, www.kobymandell.org, Avi has been able to attract dozens of top comedians to come to Israel, most for the first time. The impact of coming to Israel and entertaining thousands, while helping families of terror victims, leaves an indelible impact on the comedians. It’s expressed sincerely, effusively and repeatedly.

And the impact of the comedians on Israelis is also indelible. Thousands attend each tour. Sometimes people miss a tour and express how they really regret it. That’s not ever the case with someone missing a typical fund-raising event. They may feel guilty, but not actual regret. And the Israelis who attend Comedy for Koby religiously are so impacted that we talk about past shows and comedians as if we were little kids comparing stats on the back of baseball cards of our favorite players.

Now, Comedy for Koby is the latest export from Israel to the US. The same way Intel Israel innovates technology, Comedy for Koby will innovate fund raising, and providing tangible healing for families who have lost loved ones to terror and other tragedies.

The first Bergen County Comedy for Koby show is slated for November 12. Plans are being finalized, the outstanding lineup of comedians is set (stay tuned). The committee is in formation. Other communities have heard about it and asked when they can host a show. For information on sponsorship opportunities, to join the team to make this a success, or to pre-reserve tickets, please be in touch at [email protected].

I’ve always been proud to have been the shadchan that connected Avi with The Koby Mandell Foundation, and proud that Comedy for Koby was a success. Laughter is therapeutic and, as a show that benefits families of terror victims among an array of therapeutic programs, Comedy for Koby sustains this, and brings healing full circle to those in need.

In the wake of summer programs that have seen a record demand for children to participate in Camp Koby, and a Women’s Healing Retreat best summed up by one bereaved mother who said, “I found the me that I thought no longer existed,” the marriage between the need, the program and the opportunity will mean that Comedy for Koby in Bergen County will be a huge success. Hopefully it will be the springboard for many more shows, and likely to be an annual event in NJ.

May we continue to have the opportunity to laugh through Comedy for Koby, but perhaps a little less reason to need to do so.

Jonathan Feldstein is a former Teaneck resident who lives in Israel. He is the proud father of six, husband of one, and serves as Vice President of The Koby Mandell Foundation.

 

By Jonathan Feldstein

 

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