Just 45 minutes from the hustle and bustle of beautiful downtown Tel Aviv is Sderot. Just 47 minutes from there is the Gaza Strip.
Location, location, location.
You know the old joke.
So who books Sderot? Answer is Avi Liberman.
Besides himself, this year, he brought Mark Schiff and John Mulrooney. Being comics on a five-city tour in Israel, Sderot was not one of the cities we were performing in. Yet, we found ourselves there anyway.
Avi has a no-nonsense approach to things. “Hey guys, they’re dropping bombs in Sderot almost every day. You want to go there for lunch?”
We were in Israel doing a series of fundraisers for Crossroads, a center for teens at risk. So we figured, let’s stick with the “at-risk” theme and head on down to a community that is at risk every day and grab something to eat.
The congregants at our synagogue back in Los Angeles, Young Israel of Century City, had given us more than $2,500 to spend in the embattled town, as they were suffering almost daily from Qassam rocket attacks.
We arrived along with the coordinator and publicist of our tour, Dena, and her husband, Jeremy, and were pretty moved at what we saw. We were shown the back of the police station with racks full of collected Qassams and just couldn’t believe how many there were. In the last seven years, more than 7,000 rockets have fallen on Sderot.
“We label each one and from what group fired them,” a cop told us.
Noam, our guide for the morning, was from the Sderot Media Center and decided that we should visit a man whose house got hit just a few days ago. Upon arriving, we saw that the kitchen was completely caved in, except for the menorah that was in perfect shape in what was left of his shattered kitchen window. He had stopped working to take care of his wife who took shrapnel in her leg.
His neighbor, a sweet, middle-age woman who we visited next, had a son who was also injured by a Qassam, and upon hearing the sirens, he now wets himself every time. We saw her again the following morning on the cover of the Jerusalem Post running with her daughter away from the school, which had taken a hit in the playground.
But enough of the tragedy (which goes on almost daily there). We were there to eat, and we were getting hungry. We first went to the falafel stand in the town square, and after ordering what amounted to about a $10 meal, gave the guy more than $100.
He smiled wide and asked whether it would be OK if he put a large sum of the cash in the tzedakah box on his counter.
“Do whatever you want with it,” we responded. “It’s not our money.”
Next, we went to an elderly woman who ran a small bakery. “How’s business?” we asked.
“When the Qassams aren’t falling, it’s fine,” she replied. “So right now, not so good.”
Mark got an apple Danish. It was three shekels. He gave her 100.
Avi then walked over and said, “I heard how good the apple Danishes were here.”
He got one and gave her another 100 shekels. John, an Irish Catholic who also wanted in on the joke, ordered a Danish and gave her 200.
The non-Jews always buy retail.
By this time, even she was laughing and couldn’t have thanked us more.
Walking into a small clothing shop, the salesman was trying to tell us that certain items were up to 30 percent off.
“Wow that’s great!” we’d say back, while Dena would be laughing in the background, knowing what we were up to. We bought two hats and paid double.
One store we went into was completely empty, and after paying 400 shekels for a pack of gum, the man graciously thanked us and told us he was closing at the end of the month if things didn’t change, because no one was around anymore.
One other market had a man who remembered Avi pulling the same thing last summer, and when Avi asked him about his two friends who were there previously, he told us they had moved away because of the situation.
Mark got a big laugh when he paid a woman for a haircut and said he didn’t have time to get one and would collect in a year, when he returned for his son’s bar mitzvah.
Even John, lucked out. Being Irish Catholic, he found some shamrock magnets in a small store and couldn’t have been more thrilled to overpay.
The second to last store we went into found Mark buying some hats for his wife, and when he paid double, the woman actually told us she was doing fine and refused, but knew where we could spend the last of our money.
“There’s an elderly Russian woman named Nina who is a seamstress,” the woman said. “She is really hurting right now. She has a small shop over there.”
We walked over, and all the woman had was some fabric in the store. She was in the middle of making a dress for someone. We bought a piece of cloth, telling her we were also in the business, and dumped all the money we had left, which amounted to about 600 shekels. After her initial shock, she offered us a receipt, but we said it was fine and she could keep it.
There’s an old saying that comedy is tragedy, plus time. Well, we can’t really make any jokes about Sderot, since the tragedy is still going on. All we can do is try and put a smile on a few people’s faces when we go there.
Lucky for everyone, that’s a smile you don’t have to be a professional standup comic to get. Try it yourself. You’ll be surprised just how good you are at it.
Go to Sderot on your next trip to Israel.