Avi Liberman

Times of Israel Gala: contrast and craziness

Highlights from The Times of Israel's anniversary celebration, a night to remember

Even breakfast started off fun. I went downstairs and lo and behold, there is the guest of honor, Shimon Peres sitting at a table right near me with three of his aides. Seeing as I was performing at the Gala later that evening, I figured, what the hell? I might as well go up and at least ask for a photo with him before he got bombarded. Not only did he agree, but we also talked shop for a bit, him telling me that he read a book about comedy, and real truth comes from jokes with a point of view. Shimon (we’re on a first name basis now) knew his stuff. I got a nice shot of me in a hoodie and him in a suit. The Facebook post elicited some nice “way to dress up Avi” comments but it’s not like I planned it. If I did, I would have gone with much nicer jeans. Even his aides were super nice, and one in particular, Eden, I kept bumping into throughout the day, and she would always stop and say hello. Luckily, Mr. Peres’ security detail at the next table over was just as friendly, not tackling or shooting me when I approached.

I went outside a bit later, and knowing that it was NBA All Star weekend in NYC, I was hoping I might also bump into a few players who happened to be staying at the hotel. Just as I round the corner outside, “Dr. J”, Julius Irving happened to be walking right next to me. He couldn’t have been nicer as he also agreed to a photo, and celebrity wise, I was good to go. I went back inside after realizing it was too cold to go outside in the first place, and right there in the lobby was Dr. Ruth Westheimer. I went from Dr. J who’s six foot six, to Dr. Ruth who I believe is two foot nine in heels, in about five minutes. She also agreed to a picture, but said I should hurry, as she wanted to spend some time with her grandson. How Jewish is that?

At about 1:30 PM, I went down to the Grand Ball Room, which would later be seating over twelve hundred loud Jews, for a sound check, and Dudi, the guy in charge made sure everything would be fine. He told me I’d be going on fifteen minutes into dinner and knowing that is basically death at a Jewish banquet, resigned myself to bombing later in the evening so I was actually kind of relaxed. If you want to truly defeat ISIS, put some whitefish and lox (or pink gold as we call it) between them and a group of Jews at a banquet and we’ll cut through them faster than Bar Rafaelli leaving early (I’ll get to that later). Noa Tishbi, who would be hosting the event, came down and she couldn’t have been more down to earth and nice, and that’s before even seeing my act, so kudos to her.

As the evening started with a super nice cocktail hour, there were other notables milling around, from Alan Dershowitz to IDF chief of staff Dan Haloutz, as well as many others. I bumped into James Oppenheim, who, along with David Horovitz, arranged the event. I went to college with James and his wife Rachel, who I also went to grade school with. James brought her, along with his three oldest kids. I think he and Rachel have about seventeen children last I checked, and between them, and bumping into many other people I know, I felt like I was at a Chabad event. As the crowd was gathering to enter, I overheard James and Rachel’s oldest say, “Can you believe our Dad did all this?” I knew your Dad in college. I can’t believe it either. In all seriousness though, knowing James, I would have been surprised if he hadn’t. He’s just that kind of guy. He has an idea that seems too big to pull off, and he makes it work. It’s very Israeli.

As we entered the Ballroom, other big shots began arriving, from Gal Gadot, the new Wonder Woman, to Patriots owner Robert Kraft, to Bar Rafaelli to former Chief Rabbi of the UK, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks. I was seated at Table 1, the same large long table as some of the celebs, since I needed to be close to the stage so I could go up there and talk to myself while Jews ate. When I got there though, I couldn’t find my name and realized I didn’t have a seat. The last thing I wanted to do was bug anybody, since it was crazy enough as it was, and even though I felt I was at least, maybe top thousand as far as VIP’s went, I figured I’d just hang on the side and soak in the experience. I wasn’t going to eat before I went on anyway.

As I was standing off to the side, Yossi Abramowitz, solar energy guru, fellow Young Judaean and husband of Rabbi Susan Silverman, came up and said hello. They were both there along with their daughter Aliza. Susan always comes to our Comedy For Koby shows in Jerusalem, and is one of my favorite people. I’ve also known her hilarious sister Sarah through comedy for years. Susan and I have a tradition of taking a photo after the shows, and I send it to Sarah, asking her where the hell she is and why isn’t she in the photo. Susan saved me by having me sit at her table, and when we took a picture, I texted it to Sarah with the caption, “And where the f@$ are you?!” Sarah texted right back, she was on her way to the SNL 40th Anniversary Show (fair excuse) along with a cute picture. She also wanted to know if Susan had done the Hamotzi yet, as she was doing it for the whole crowd on stage, and commented on how great her niece looked, which she did. Sarah’s response was even more Jewish than Dr. Ruth’s. (Susan nailed the Hamotzi by the way).

The banquet officially got under way, and while it was long, and noisy, it was also a lot of fun. After the third memorial piece to fallen soldiers and the fallen Druze police officer Zidan Saif, whose widow spoke, there was barely a dry eye in the whole place. I saw Eden, Peres’ aide off to the side, and whispered to her, “I’m on right after the Holocaust Memorial.” She cracked up laughing and thanked me saying she needed that. At one point, James was trying to get everyone seated since people were constantly flooding the middle of the floor to photograph the celebs, and no one would listen. I couldn’t resist, so I walked up to the stage and yelled at him, “Great isn’t it!” He looked back at me and said, “These people are unbelievable,” and the mike caught some of it. It made me laugh so I was good to go.

About fifteen minutes into dinner I went to the side of the stage and Dudi told me they were pushing me later to after Peres speaking, since they were running so late. Fine with me! After Peres finished, and Kochav Nolad winner Miri Masika did a song with Peres on stage, it was my turn. I was announced, and said that next week I would be in Vegas, and Peres is opening for me there too. It got a good laugh, and there was actually some focus and I had fun. I introduced a quick two-minute clip of the documentary we are working on about the tour in Israel, that David and James graciously allowed, and it got good laughs also. As the evening went on, awards were handed out to people in science such as Kira Radinsky for her work in data predictability, sports such as Derrick Sharp, Maccabi Tel Aviv legend, as well as overall achievement like to Danny Gold for his work on Iron Dome. Bar Rafaelli was supposed to receive an award but left early because she had a plane to catch. Well, that’s what I was told. Gal Gadot, a picture of class and elegance, stayed until the very end and couldn’t have been more gracious. Alan Dershowitz spoke to a noisy crowd and got them back and quiet with an inspiring speech. And even though as a Texans fan I hate the Patriots, Robert Kraft screaming Am Yisrael Chai, at least makes me wish they go 1-15, instead of 0-16 next year.

Was the evening perfect? No. Was it great and a crowning achievement? Yes. It was basically a microcosm of Israel itself. Here was a guy, James who had a big idea who no one thought would work, and not only did it work, it brought a bunch of different Jews together, to be loud, get inspired by great achievement, and of course eat. If that’s not Israel, I don’t know what is. From Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman, to Orthodox Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, from Dr. J, to Dr. Ruth, from Gal Gadot’s patience, to Bar Rafaelli’s early exit, and from a comic wearing a hoodie, to a President wearing a suit, the day was filled with extremes, opposites, lateness, memorials and laughs. Basically, it was filled with Israel, and I can’t imagine wanting to see a day filled with anything else.

About the Author
Avi Liberman is a stand-up comic who was born in Israel, raised in Texas and now lives in Los Angeles. Avi founded Comedy for Koby, a bi-annual tour of Israel featuring some of America's top stand-up comedians.