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A Jew Walks Into A White Supremacist Meeting

Yes, a very Jewish looking boy tried to pass as a burgeoning white nationalist at a far-right gathering in an apartment in Queens.
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January 5, 2022
Alex Edelman Photo by Will Bremridge

Alex Edelman grew up in an Orthodox Jewish family, and the experience equipped him with one of the things Jews need most in 2022: comedy. His new stand-up show, “Just For Us,” which I have had the pleasure of seeing twice, is a hilariously well-crafted exploration of how Edelman sees the world, which, at every corner, is as a Jew. From naughty yeshiva boys telling their classmates about the miracle of Christmas to tales of his brother representing Israel in the Olympics, the performance is a pleasant reminder of what might be our most enjoyable tradition: telling jokes. But one of Edelman’s stories in particular stands out, and has been the subject of articles and reviews across various outlets: the time Edelman thought it would be fun to attend a white nationalist meeting. 

Yes, a very Jewish looking boy tried to pass as a burgeoning white nationalist at a far-right gathering in an apartment in Queens. The story is a knock-out laugh. Edelman prefaces it by telling us he rarely gets political on stage, considering it always “bums people out,” which contributes to the innocent way he approaches the characters, including Chelsea, a white nationalist he couldn’t help but have a crush on. (“You never know….” he waxes romantically). 

Edelman is not on stage to challenge hateful prejudices with clever commentary sprinkled throughout. Instead, he portrays these people as village idiots from the point of view of a Jewish, Neil Simon-esque playwright. One character gives out a pseudonym in order to protect his identity. Another character spends years putting together 12,000-piece jigsaw puzzles. They make silly mistakes and dumb comments, lost in their own twisted worldview. Edelman is more focused on poking fun at the absurdities of twenty-first-century Nazism than in making a blatant statement on it, but as is the case with most good comedy, a message is clearly conveyed.

In times like these, who can blame us for also deploying the ultimate Jewish coping mechanism? We gain power from looking the enemy in the eye and laughing at his absurdity.

As antisemitism continues to plague this country and countries around the world, there seems to be no alternative for Jews than to make as much noise as possible. It is in our DNA to see a problem, grow paranoid about the problem, and then alert as many other people to the problem to tightly seal our community envelope of hysteria. In 2021, this was certainly warranted, whether in regard to far-right activism or violence against Jews in American streets during the conflict between Israel and Hamas. In times like these, who can blame us for also deploying the ultimate Jewish coping mechanism? We gain power from looking the enemy in the eye and laughing at his absurdity. As Mel Brooks has famously articulated, getting people to laugh at the perpetrator means that we win. A great example can be found in one of the most beloved episodes of television in the Jewish world this past year. In Season 11 Episode 4 of “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” Larry spills coffee on a Ku Klux Klan member’s robe, and then agrees to get the robe cleaned for the Klansman, but not before suggesting that the man simply wear a sheet instead. Ultimately, after a series of unfortunate events involving the cleaning of the robe, the Klansman becomes not just human but also a laughing stock.

At the white nationalist meeting, Edelman routinely responds to assertions from attendees with the catch phrase “Can you believe it?” According to him, this is a great conversation hack in order to: first, let the person know you know what they’re talking about; second, let them know you agree with them; and third, allow them to do the talking. Meghan Markle marrying Prince Harry—can you believe it? What’s going on in the White House—can you believe it? At the end of the meeting, when Edelman is revealed to be a Jew, much to the sheer horror of the other participants, he meekly shrugs his shoulders and asks “Can you believe it?” Banished from the meeting, Edelman laments his lost chance to turn Chelsea, his crush, away from a life of hatred and kiss her on top of the Empire State Building.

“Just For Us” is able to bridge the divide between politics and Shabbat dinner table jokes and teaches us all a lesson in how to fight antisemitism.

What’s especially appealing about Edelman’s show is its playfulness. It is tempting in these chaotic days to fashion a comedy out of bitterness, where jokes either “punch up” or “punch down,” but do so with an air of grievance either way. But some of the best comics of this moment are doing just the opposite, and Edelman can be counted among them. “Just For Us” feels full of joy—like a heartfelt love letter to our community. At the end of the set, Edelman reaches into his pocket to reveal a small memento he snatched from the meeting. “It’s tiny, it’s disintegrating,” but the way I see it, it’s nothing less than a Jewish victory prize.

“Just For Us” is able to bridge the divide between politics and Shabbat dinner table jokes and teaches us all a lesson in how to fight antisemitism. I want to head into 2022 addressing threats with the moral superiority I am certain the Jewish people have. It is a necessity to laugh at the world when the world scares us. Can you believe it?


Blake Flayton is New Media Director and columnist at the Jewish Journal.

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