At Jerusalem Jewish Film Festival, Sarah Silverman Doesn't Hold Back

The stand-up comedian talks about growing up 'Jew-ee' in New Hampshire, and admits that she's probably a little nave about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Danna Harman
Danna Harman
Sarah Silverman in the Jerusalem Cinematheque.
Sarah Silverman in the Jerusalem Cinematheque.Credit: Nir Shaanani
Danna Harman
Danna Harman

Stand-up comedian and writer Sarah Silverman admitted this weekend that she was probably a little nave about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Silverman is in Israel for the 16th annual Jerusalem Jewish Film Festival – and her nephew Zamir’s Bar Mitzvah.

“He’s a man now. Well, at least a man who can’t wait to open presents,” she joked to a packed audience at the Jerusalem Cinematheque, who had shown up for a screening of her 2013 HBO special “We are Miracles,” and a chance to hear her speak.

In preparation for her visit, Silverman, who came on stage in skinny jeans and a puffy ski jacket, told the crowd that she had designed and mailed some peace-themed T-shirts to – the first sign of a problem – her sister’s old address.

“Yeah, I sent them to Suzie’s old address,” she sighed, referring to her sister Susan Silverman, a reform rabbi who lives in Jerusalem with her husband and five children, including said Bar Mitzvah boy. “So whoever lives there has $400-worth of T-shirts I made.”

The T-shirts, Silverman continued brightly, read -- in Hebrew and Arabic, with English on the back -- “Be brave and love each other.”

“I was so proud of it,” she recounted. “I told my boyfriend, ‘I made these T-shirts!’” And he is like ‘Umm, that’s nice,’ And I’m like ‘what?’ And he’s like, ‘What, this girl from West Hollywood comes from her doorman building to Israel and says (whiny voice) 'You guys, come-on!!!! Just get along!’”

“I think it’s a little more complicated,” she concluded mock-sheepishly. “I think maybe if I was a Palestinian or an Israeli and saw you in that T-shirt, I would be like 'Fuck you.'

“But I brought some anyway,” she concluded. “Because I think they look good on my boobs.”

During her previous – and first – visit to Israel three years ago, she asked an audience in Tel Aviv whether there were any Palestinians in the crowd.

“It was such a stupid question!” she reflected in her talk. “I was so nave. Yael, the show manager said, ‘You know, a Palestinian COULD come here if they really wanted, but it would take them about eight hours, you know, getting detained along the way and all.”

Growing up 'Jew-ee'

Silverman noted she did not so much grow up “Jewish” as “Jew-ee” in New Hampshire, and that when her sister Susan told their dad she wanted to be a rabbi, he said, ‘I didn’t know you were Jewish!’ (“My sister always says it best,” she added. “We all thought growing up Jewish in New Hampshire just meant you were a Democrat!”)

“I’m not very worldly,” she shrugged. “This is my second time in Israel and I’m like ‘Wait! This is how far from my apartment?” She paused. “But I made it.”

On Thursday, Silverman hit the women’s section of the Western Wall with Susan and other members of the Women of the Wall organization to light Hanukkah candles on the third night of the holiday. It was the first time women had officially lit candles together at the holy site, and it had to be coordinated with the police, as well as the Wall rabbis and administrators.

Silverman joked – thought not really - that she didn’t quite get it.

“It was very special. We lit candles and sang Hanukkah songs on the women’s’ side of the Koteland, umm,” she paused, “I just can’t believe that’s a big deal, but that WAS a big deal. It reallyyes.”

She came to a little thoughtful stop and then re-launched. “Well, I don’t get the whole thingThere is this much room for the men [she indicated a lot of space] and this much for the women [a lot smaller] I’m just like “Fuck you.”

“Yes,” Silverman concluded with a little smile. “We come from a family of rule breakers.”

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