Cover Story

A Laughing Matter

Chareidi comedy duo Efi Skakovsky (left) and Meni Wakshtock, behind the wildly popular “Bardak” video skits, created “Bardak for Kids,” which were produced pro-bono and streamed by 60,000 kids. Photo: Elchanan Kotler

In the aftermath of October 7, Orthodox Jewish comics have been finding ways to keep spirits high and make us laugh.

With antisemitism reaching levels not seen in decades and Israel locked in a devastating war, what is there to laugh about? 

Well, maybe nothing, and yet despite all of this, or perhaps because of it, our homegrown Orthodox Jewish comics have been finding ways to make us laugh. 

“It’s the way Jews deal with stuff,” says Eli Lebowicz, a stand-up comic and co-founder of J-Sketch, a series of humorous skits posted on social media about Orthodox Jewish life. “Oppression fuels comedy,” says Lebowicz, who is based in Teaneck, New Jersey, and performs primarily for Jewish audiences.  

Yet finding the funny isn’t always easy.

In those first trying weeks that followed the October 7 massacre, Lebowicz and his fellow frum comics retreated into silence. 

Nor were the audiences ready to laugh. “A lot of gigs were postponed or cancelled,” says Lebowicz. 

But the urge to poke fun eventually returned, and within weeks, Lebowicz and his pals created a hilarious video called “Jersey Jewish Moms When Israel’s in Crisis,” which parodied the well-meaning but somewhat overeager Diaspora women who filled duffel bags with supplies to be sent to the front lines. In the skit, the comics, dressed in Orthodox female athleisure, pack military supplies, a half-eaten pizza slice, and a bathrobe from the King David Hotel into duffel bags. In the final shot, we see a member of the J-Sketch team, now dressed as an IDF soldier, opening the duffel bag and staring quizzically at the bitten pizza slice. 

The video became a huge hit on Jewish WhatsApp groups—people needed to laugh even in this situation. “People need a break,” observes Lebowicz. “Comedy is a catharsis and an outlet.”

The resurgence of antisemitism has also inspired our comics. “A lot of people are saying ridiculous things [about Jews],” says Lebowicz. 

Of course, poking fun at our enemies is an old Jewish tradition. “Sarcasm is the Jewish people’s other Lashon Hakodesh,” observes Lebowicz. “Look at Eliyahu on Har HaCarmel,” he says, pointing to the prophet’s razor-sharp takedown of the idolatrous prophet with whom he competed for the nation’s loyalty. 

Comics have also boosted the morale of Israeli soldiers on the front lines. Los Angeles–based comic Avi Liberman, who was born in Israel, brings his show to IDF soldiers, traveling to bases all over Israel together with popular Israeli comic Yohay Sponder. The host of the long-running “Comedy for Koby” tours, which has top US stand-up comedians performing in Israel to raise funds for the Koby Mandell Foundation summer camp, Liberman has also performed for American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and understands the vital role a good joke or set can play in wartime. “After a show in Iraq, a soldier told me I saved lives. I didn’t get it, but he said that soldiers’ reaction times are quicker when they are in a better mood.”

Yair Jacobi is a stand-up comic and cofounder of the Underdos comedy troupe, which has more than 75,000 YouTube subscribers. As his army service, he visits hospitals, rehabs and army bases alongside singer and cantor Yitzchak Meir, brother-in-law of media personality Sivan Rahav-Meir.

It isn’t easy. 

The Bardak team has also found humor in the grim reality of living under the threat of Hamas’s missiles. One skit takes place in a bomb shelter.

“First, we listen to their stories,” says Jacobi. “Then, if it’s a fit, I do my job.” It’s not simple to find the right words to make a wounded soldier laugh. Sadly, some soldiers are too ill and others too depressed to laugh. “You can’t just tell mother-in-law jokes. You need to understand the situation,” says Jacobi. He notes that these soldiers use their humor to cope. “I’ve heard amputees joke about losing weight. I can’t tell such jokes, but they can joke about their situations.”

In a stand-up show on army bases, Jacobi jokes about thrice-daily prayer, teasing soldiers who aren’t regular minyan goers in civilian life about the peer pressure to show up to services in the army.

Jacobi has also performed for the families of reservists. “Everyone has been super appreciative,” he says. “People need that mental break to relax.” 

Israeli videographer Bazy Rubin, from Efrat, has turned her sharp comedic wit to the experience of women left at home as their men have gone to war. While she isn’t a comedy professional, to amuse her friends and family, Rubin started posting funny videos about her life after October 7 with four kids under the age of eight and a husband in the IDF. They were shared widely on WhatsApp groups. In her first video, she appears sitting on the floor changing her son’s diaper as she pleads to the entire Jewish nation to help her because she’s not coping at home.

“I started getting message after message, call after call, thanking me for normalizing the struggles of this time. People called me a ‘ray of sunshine,’” she says. Rubin kept on going, posting once, twice, or even three times daily. “I don’t plan it. Whenever I have a fun moment, I film it,” she says.

In one popular video, she dons her husband’s uniform, threatening to follow him into the army “for the barbecues and concerts.” She also parodies the emotional eating that has become all too common in these stressful days. “I feed my kids three balanced meals a day,” she says with smug satisfaction. As for herself, Rubin shows us where she’s at by biting into a whole challah.

Also turning their attention to the home front are the Chareidi comedy duo Efi Skakovsky and Meni Wakshtock, creators of the wildly popular “Bardak” video skits who teamed up with singers Avraham Fried and Moti Weiss, as well as a psychologist, to create kids’ shows, a genre that is new to the Chareidi world. 

Their ninety-minute-long shows, “Bardak for Kids,” which they posted on YouTube Live, offer kids coping strategies and jokes, with Skakovsky evoking side-splitting laughs with his caricature of Efiko, the bumbling magician. The Bardak team produced the shows as a pro-bono effort. “We saw it as our mission to make people feel happy and encouraged,” says Wakshtock. It worked. Each show was viewed on the live stream by 60,000 kids, mostly from Chareidi and Dati Leumi homes, and many more watched the recordings. “We got more feedback on this than for anything we had ever done,” says Wakshtock. 

The Bardak team also found humor in the grim reality of living under the threat of Hamas’s missiles. One skit takes place in a bomb shelter. As the residents, some in bathrobes with shampoo bubbles in their hair, scramble to the shelter, Skakovsky, playing a monomaniacal building manager, hits them up for unpaid building maintenance fees. 

Our comedians, referred to by the Talmud as inashei badochei (Aramaic for jesters), will have to carry on in their holy mission of making us laugh. 

“Laughter is a shared achdus. When you’re hitting the truth, you have a soulful laugh not from the face but from the kishke,” observes Jerusalem-based comic Rabbi David Kilimnick. 

And that unity flows from the deep common bond that unites all Jews.  

“There are so many ways people have responded in kindness and beauty to the evil,” says Kilimnick. “That is one thing we can all do. . . . Spread acts of kindness. That is what I learned from our people in Israel. I pray for the holy souls that have [passed on]. And I pray everybody who is out there [in Gaza]comes back safely so that I can start cutting people off on the highway again without feeling bad.”


Carol Green Ungar is an award-winning writer whose essays have appeared in Tablet, the Jerusalem Post, Ami Magazine, Jewish Action and other publications. She teaches memoir writing and is the author of several children’s books.


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Bitachon During Crisis by Rebbetzin Dina Schoonmaker as told to Barbara Bensoussan

How to Build Hope by Rabbi Larry Rothwachs

The Psychology of Hope by Rabbi Dr. Dovid Fox

Not for Naught by Rabbi Dov Foxbrunner

Responding to Crisis: A Historical Approach by Dr. Henry Abramson

Celebrating Life in the Face of Pain: One Son Married, One Son Missing by Toby Klein Greenwald

Of Faith and Fortitude: How Devorah Paley Energized a Nation by Yocheved Lavon

This article was featured in the Spring 2024 issue of Jewish Action.
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