Sometimes we sow seeds in life and don’t get to appreciate the harvest. Recently, I had the privilege to experience the result of my sowing seeds close to a decade ago, and seeing the full impact of the harvest today.
In what seems like a lifetime ago, I connected with Avi Liberman, a well-known comedian whose career was (and is still) taking off. During the beginning of what’s known as Israel’s “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, and giving 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 very 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. It became a cultural highlight to which we looked forward every year.
One day, we ended up on the same flight to New York 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 non-profit he had been working with. He was looking for a new partner and beneficiary. He asked me if the organization I was working with then 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 fundraising 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 punch line 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 across the US, 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 which traumatizes all Israelis, and creates higher level of fear and insecurity particularly among families of those who have already lost a loved one. This week’s terror attack in Orlando and last week’s terror attack in Tel Aviv are sad, vivid and unwanted reminders.
As a benefit for The Koby Mandell Foundation, 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 and are delighted. Sometimes people miss a tour and express how they really regret it. That’s not ever the case with someone missing a typical fundraising 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 boys comparing stats on the back of baseball cards of our favorite players.
The recent Comedy for Koby tour did not disappoint. Many said this was one of the best.
Thanks to Ryan Hamilton, we will never look at hot air ballooning, gym membership, or online dating the same. Ty Barnett taught us what it’s like to be a real man, the importance of body wash, and the dangers of Pilates. And because of Sarge, we will never look at a black and white cookie or chocolate babka as before, always fear the consequence of making a mess before (or after) the cleaning person — “the girl” — comes, and it’s safe to say nobody’s ever laughed so hard at the Schindler’s List violin solo. And, of course, Avi, with his intimate knowledge of Israeli life, gave us the opportunity to laugh at ourselves, over and over.
I’ve always been proud to have been the matchmaker that connected Avi with The Koby Mandell Foundation, and knew that Comedy for Koby was a success. Attending the first and last show of the recent tour, and one in the middle, I got to see this all the more vividly. Israelis deserve a night out like this. Even when things are “quiet,” we need a good laugh. Laughter is therapeutic and, as a show that benefits families of terror victims through an array of therapeutic programs, it sustains this, and brings healing full circle to those in need.
Thanks to Avi, the comedians, and all the sponsors and donors. May we continue to have the opportunity to laugh through Comedy for Koby, but perhaps a little less reason to need to do so whether in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Orlando, or anywhere else.