Shame on Comedian Alex Edelman. Way Too Soon!

After the last few days, months really, of witnessing the events on Columbia’s campus, of bridges and airports shut down by protestors, of reading how a Yale student was poked in the eye by a Palestinian flag, of the near stabbing of Israeli soldiers at a West Bank check point, all in the week after the insane Iranian missile barrage, the last place I thought I’d feel under attack is by another Jew on national TV.

Okay, it wasn’t the same kind of attack. But when comedian Alex Edelman appeared for a segment on the CBS News Sunday Morning show, he attacked the very Passover traditions we’re about to celebrate Monday night.

Given that Jewish soldiers are dying in large numbers to protect the one safe space in the world where we can carry on such traditions, his comedic timing in how he described the Seder experience couldn’t have been worse.

Literally the world over, Jews are under attack for being Jewish, an identity for many largely tied to the Jewish religion. For other Jews who claim to be “culturally Jewish,” they should remember that the cultural and secular western social values Jews hold dear, in one way or another, all come from Judaism.

I better get it out of the way now. Yes, I have a sense of humor. A pretty good one in fact. And no, I’m not above laughing at myself or our own people. After all, Jews definitely do things that make it easy to have an innocent laugh over. Emphasis on innocent, aka, harmless, innocuous. We don’t need to make fun of ourselves on national television when Anti-Semitism is at its highest level since Germany in the 30s. And that’s not a bar you want to be compared to.

Speaking of humor, it’s funny how the world has a way of reminding us that we’re Jewish. Since 10.7, that, “Hey, wait a second, I’m Jewish!” emotion for many has boiled to the surface and Jewish pride is at levels we haven’t seen since after the Six Day War. So why rain on that for cheap jokes about your own personal experiences?

We get it, you grew up a certain way that wasn’t to your liking, or because of your sexual orientation, you struggled to feel accepted by all parts of the religion and walked away, even though such sentiment is changing. But none of that is an excuse to bash Jewish tradition to millions. Given the global Jewish psyche right now, going positive and supportive would’ve gotten you a standing ovation. Instead, Alex, I’m booing you big time.

Why is this really bothering me? Ok, I’ll get to it. Why so many Jews aren’t affiliated these days or intermarry or feel the way they do about Judaism is complex and the result of so many circumstances over the past 200 years. Though too often, comedians like Alex Edelman or Larry David validate how people feel by using their enormous and influential platform to put down important aspects of what it means to be Jewish.

If you’ve had bad Jewish experiences growing up, blame your Hebrew School, blame the rabbi of your Temple for being boring, blame your parents for not making it meaningful or for sending the loud and clear message that none of it matters by not doing at home what you did in Hebrew School. Don’t blame the religion itself. It’s the spiritual leadership that has failed miserably in how they’ve presented Jewish tradition so uninspired to countless children, who as a result, after thousands of years of continuity, have walked away.

As I said, a lot of blame to go around at all levels of the spectrum, and I’ve barely scratched the sociological surface. Needless to say, it’s always been difficult to be Jewish in a non-Jewish world, and it’s clearly gotten much harder.

As unhelpful as they are, Alex Edelman’s comments aren’t nearly the cause of why people feel the way they do about being Jewish. But if more people like him used their podium to say something positive rather than negative, maybe the pride people felt before 10.7 wouldn’t have been so low in the first place.

About the Author
Steven Berkowitz lives in New York City, writing advertising by day, and by night, sharing thoughts he hopes connect with the broader Jewish world. He hopes his next piece will be a lot funnier, and says, "Sorry about that!"