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The Koby Mandell Foundation stages a 'Comedy for Koby' performance in Israel, Jan. 17, 2024. Photo by Tamar Lustman.
The Koby Mandell Foundation stages a 'Comedy for Koby' performance in Israel, Jan. 17, 2024. Photo by Tamar Lustman.
featureIsrael at War

Bringing laughter to the war zone

“When you bring joy back into people’s lives, they can recover better,” says Comedy for Koby publicist of the Koby Mandell Foundation's plan to stage the act throughout Israel.

Graphic designer Kim Glassman’s first reaction when she heard of the Koby Mandell Foundation’s plan to stage Comedy for Koby performances all over Israel during the war was, “What? Who do you think you are, Bob Hope?” (The comedian famous for entertaining U.S. troops during World War II.)

Glassman has been designing all the publicity material and programs for the popular comedy benefit series on a pro bono basis since its beginning 15 years ago. 

After she got over the initial shock at the idea of running a comedy event when Israelis are traumatized, mourning and feeling battered, Glassman told JNS she realized that comedy was exactly the antidote needed right now.

“When you bring joy back into people’s lives, they can recover better,” she said.

That’s the same message foundation director Eliana Mandell Braner is emphasizing these days. 

The Comedy for Koby tour brings three well-known American comedians to Israel three times a year, led by Jewish comedian Avi Liberman. The current series, featuring Brian Kiley, Butch Bradley and Peter Berman, runs between Jan. 16-22 in six venues across the country. 

The tour benefits the Koby Mandell Foundation, whose mission is to provide comfort and healing to bereaved Israelis, particularly victims of terrorism.

“Comedy for Koby is really what the foundation is all about—taking a tough situation and making it lighter. That’s what we do for the families we work with. We need it now more than ever,” Braner told JNS.

Braner said she has come to realize how important the event is for English-speaking Israelis. “It’s one time when they can come and laugh, relax and enjoy themselves while contributing to a very good cause. Especially now with the war that no one knows how long it will last, everybody coming to the show is somehow going through it and it’s important to keep up our morale. Comedy for Koby is an amazing way to do that.” 

Until now, the foundation has been running retreats, camps for kids, offering creative therapy and support groups for those who have been through or lost a loved one to a terrorist attack. Now it is doubling its programs to reach out to the thousands of Israelis affected by the brutal events of Oct. 7, 2023, and their aftermath.

Oct. 7 brought it all back to those who were victims of previous terror attacks, Braner noted. “I couldn’t function at first,” she admitted.

Braner, now a mother of four whose husband is in the Israel Defense Forces reserves, was 10 years old when her older brother Koby and a friend were murdered by Arab terrorists near their Tekoa home. Immediately after the start of the war, Braner told JNS she deleted her social media accounts so she wouldn’t have to see the evidence of Hamas barbarism.

“The people of Israel and bereaved families are going through so much pain,” she said. “It’s only just beginning. They don’t really understand yet what really happened to them and how hard it’s going to be, and we just need to shower them with so much love. They’ve seen so much pain and so much darkness that we have to counter that with so much love. The way to do that is just to be there with them. To sit with them, listen to them and allow them to be together. The foundation gives them the space to sit and talk and be together and heal together.”

Because of the massive number of people affected and the fact that Israel is in the middle of an ongoing war, it means that the healing process can’t start, Braner explained.

Avi Liberman, the U.S.-based comedian who leads every Comedy for Koby tour and recruits others to join him in events that benefit the foundation, has been in Israel since the war started. 

Liberman told JNS he’s been staying busy cutting vegetables for meals for soldiers, distributing charity money and polishing his act in front of English-speaking audiences in Tel Aviv. “Unless you’re in a tunnel shooting at Hamas terrorists, everyone here feels that they’re not doing enough,” he said.

Liberman admitted that his ulterior motive with the comedy tour is that the comics come to Israel, have a great time and become emissaries for Israel. “They go back and bust a lot of what you see in the news,” he said.

Braner explained that many of the comedians make a strong personal connection when they’re in Israel, and they stay in touch. At the beginning of the war several of them sent videos of support. She hopes to take the comedians on the current tour to “Hostage Square” in Tel Aviv to meet some of the families of the captives. “These guys are here on purpose because of the war,” she said.

Liberman notes that most of the comedic community is pro-Israel and there’s not much of an argument with it. “Part of being a comedian is to break down the information and try to find something funny there, so if you break down the information about the war, what are you going to do? Alienate your Hamas fans?” he asked.  

Both Braner and Liberman agreed that “this isn’t just a regular tour. This is the solidarity tour, a resilience tour. At the end of the day, you’ve taken something that was a tragedy and turned it into a positive.”

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