Laugh Tracks Chabad's Funny Side

Laugh Tracks Chabad's Funny Side

Marc Salem will be performing at Chabad's Comedy Fest.

by Dvora Lakein - Montreal, Canada

June 10, 2009

( A sold-out crowd of 700 Montrealers, all in search of a good belly laugh, will pile into the Oscar Peterson Concert Hall Sunday. The Jewish Comedy Fest, to aid Chabad of NDG and the Loyola campus, will feature two Jewish comedians and a world-renowned mentalist. Montreal’s own Joey Elias will share the stage with Yisrael Campbell from Jerusalem and Marc Salem, direct from Broadway. Chances are, it will be a funny night.

“Montreal is a humorous city,” explains Rabbi Yisroel Bernath of his decision to present comedy for the evening’s entertainment. “It was a natural choice.” Bernath and his family moved to the NDG (Notre-Dame-de-Grâce) neighborhood six months ago to serve that budding hip community and the students of Concordia’s Loyola campus. Soon after settling in, Bernath envisioned an event that would both empower students and reach out to other young Jews who may not have heard of Chabad’s presence.

One meeting, and 30 enthusiastic volunteers later, the Jewish Comedy Fest is ready for the stage. The evening is created almost entirely by volunteers, (some with useful degrees in marketing and journalism), who have created a media whirlwind in Montreal’s newspapers and television. An enticing ad, playing on the city’s largest station, Global TV, is responsible for most of the evening’s reservations.

In the 30-second advertisement, Rachelle Segal, Sunday night’s emcee, invites people to attend “a night of comedy with a Jewish twist.” In her professional life, Segal emcees for major events around Montreal and hosts television and fashion shows. Come Sunday, she hopes to “get the crowd going” with a “little shtick and a little shpiel:” classic Jewish humor techniques. The show, believes Segal, is a great way to unite Jews and to get them involved.

“The typical young Jew that I know won’t attend a class, but they will come to a professional show,” Segal says. “There will be elements of Judaism without it being too overbearing. There’s a definite positive vibe when you’re involved with the Jewish community.”

Joey Elias agrees. The six foot four stand-up comedian, a local icon, is excited to be one of the evening’s headliners. And not only because he will get another shot at self-deprecating humor (many of his jokes focus on his size and accompanying klutziness). Elias hopes the program will give “young Jews a sense of community.” At a certain age, he says, English-speaking Montrealers pack out of town to bigger cities like New York and Toronto. This event, he hopes, will help instill in them feelings of pride, and responsibility.

“Really we are all part of a puzzle,” he says. “If even one person leaves, then everything falls apart. And that is what Chabad is working to combat here.” Both Segal and Elias attend some of Chabad at NDG’s programming and classes.

According to Elias, it is humor specifically that has the power to keep people connected. Elias, who also works as an actor and radio host, says that comedy is a Jewish specialty. “I once overheard two Holocaust survivors talking about how they tried to make each other laugh in the camps, just to get through the day,” he recalls. “With everything our people have been through historically, it is good for us to laugh once in a while.”

Last year, Mireille Alvo attended her first class with Rabbi Bernath. She came at the advice of a friend and since then, she has been bringing more and more young professionals into the fold. Alvo was a clear choice for Bernath when he was forming the comedy fest’s initial committee. She helped recruit more volunteers and is currently working on the evening’s ad journal, a cross between a who’s who of donors and a joke book.

“Since I met the rabbi, religion has become a little more important in my life,” Alvo divulges. “It is amazing how that positive energy can change a life.”  

Like the others so happily involved in Sunday’s venture, Alvo is motivated to, “raise money for a good cause and provide the community with something it has been missing for a long time.” Monkland Village, the center of NDG and the hub for everything youthful and fun, is filled with Jews. Alvo hopes Sunday’s event will get them laughing and tempt them to discover more of their Jewish heritage.

Laughter, then, may be the best medicine for this growing community.

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