While Sarah is in Israel to attend her nephew’s bar mitzvah, Sarah also was a featured guest December 18 at the Jerusalem Jewish Film Festival. This is primarily Renee Ghert-Zand’s Times of Israel report on her appearance, with some additional information from Debra Kamin’s 12/19/14 Variety article:
Sarah Silverman and her raunchy brand of comedy lit up the Jerusalem Cinematheque as she made a special appearance at the Jerusalem Jewish Film Festival on Thursday evening, the third night of Hanukkah.
The provocative funnywoman accepted an achievement award from the festival for her contributions to film, television and new media, and also engaged in a freewheeling on-stage interview with Israeli comedic actress and TV host Einav Galili that followed a screening of her 2013 HBO special, “We Are Miracles.”
Prior to the screening, the comedian was honored with an achievement award, presented by Cinematheque founder and Jerusalem film maven Lia Van Leer, who told Silverman, “You are a miracle!” Silverman was given a gold Chanukah menorah, which she joked looked like a pair of brass knuckles before slipping it onto her right hand to prove her point.
The standing-room-only audience, comprising mainly young people drinking beer from bottles, was clearly appreciative of Silverman and predisposed to her comedy, which involves an abundant use of expletives and tackles controversial topics like racism, sexism and religion.
With regard to the latter two topics, Silverman, dressed in skinny jeans and a puffy ski jacket, did not mince words in expressing her anger at discrimination against women at the Western Wall, where she had been earlier that evening. The comedian had joined her sister, Jerusalem resident Rabbi Susan Silverman, and other Women of the Wall activists for Hanukkah candle lighting at the Wall’s women’s section.
It was the first time that women had kindled Hanukkah lights at the Wall, and it was only possible for them to do so after Women of the Wall leaders lodged a complaint with police to gain access to the area with menorahs.
“I went to the Kotel with Women of the Wall today and we lit candles and sang Hanukkah songs,” Silverman told the audience, using the Hebrew name for the Western Wall.
“I can’t believe that’s a big deal.”
The outspoken Silverman expressed her outrage about what she perceives as discrimination against women at the holy site in general. She found it absurd, she said, that the women at the gender-segregated prayer site were relegated to a much tinier space than the men, and that it was impossible to enter the site without wearing modest dress.
“I come from a family of rule breakers and people who are like, I don’t get the whole thing,” she told the audience. “Everyone said when you come to [to the Western Wall] you’re going to feel so connected, but then, there’s like this much room for the men,” she said, showing a wide space with her hands, “and this much room for the women,” she added, pushing her hands together. “You’re perverts and we have to wear unflattering length skirts because of that? That’s you. That’s your thing.”
This is the 44-year-old Silverman’s second visit to Israel. She is currently in Jerusalem for her nephew Zamir’s bar mitzvah.
“He’s a man now. Well, at least a man who can’t wait to open presents,” she quipped.
In her conversation with Galili, Silverman gave the impression that she was at once comfortable and uncomfortable talking about herself and her creative process.
At the very least, she expects people to pay attention to her when she speaks from the stage. Annoyed with teenagers in the audience (even those in the front rows) constantly on their smartphones during the program, she reprimanded them
“Turn off your phones and have a life experience. You won’t remember that tweet you just sent, but you’ll remember this, because I’ve just scared you,” she told them.
“Go express yourself, but just not in front of me when I have a microphone.”
Silverman fielded questions from Galili and the audience about how her Jewish identity informs her comedy. Having grown up in New Hampshire in a family that was not at all religious, she said she nonetheless felt very Jewish. She labeled her upbringing as more “Jewy” and Democrat than Jewish, an American concept somewhat foreign to Israeli Jews.
“I think Jewish people are expressive,” she said. “Our guilt is famous, while Catholic guilt is torture.”
Silverman admitted that although she can come off as cynical, she is actually naive in some ways — especially when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
‘I know I am polarizing. I’m not for everybody… I like talking about things that are serious, dark, tragic and hard to process’
When she was in Israel for the first time three years ago, she did a couple of shows. At one performance in Tel Aviv, she asked if there were any Palestinians in the audience. There was no response.
“So, someone explained to me that Palestinians could come to see her perform, but they probably didn’t bother because it would mean spending, like, eight hours going through checkpoints,” she said.
She also explained, “I had these T-shirts I was going to bring here. They said in Hebrew and Arabic, ‘be brave and love each other.’” She had been planning to pass them out in Israel until her boyfriend, Michael Sheen, explained that the situation was a little bit more complicated than a slogan on a T-shirt.
“He was right. Like I’m this girl from LA who lives in a doorman building, and I’m going to tell people here to love each other?” she said.
“I guess, yeah, if I was a Palestinian or an Israeli and I saw you in that T-shirt I would probably be like, fuck you,” she admitted. “But I brought them with me anyway, because they look good on my boobs.”
Asked about her relationship with the recently deceased Jewish comedian Joan Rivers, whom she knew personally, Silverman said that she adored her. She especially liked that Rivers used her age to her advantage and became even more hardcore as time went on.
While she doesn’t plan on undergoing plastic surgery like Rivers, she does want to keep doing comedy at least as long as Rivers did.
“I want to grow old this way, like Ruth Gordon and Joan Rivers,” added Silverman, who also commented about how hard the comedy business can become for women as they age.
‘I want to grow old this way, like Ruth Gordon and Joan Rivers’
“When you are a woman and old enough to have opinions, you are encouraged to crawl under a rock and die,” she claimed.
Silverman, of course, has no intention of doing any such thing.
“I know I am polarizing. I’m not for everybody… I like talking about things that are serious, dark, tragic and hard to process,” she explained.
“But I’m a comedian and I put it all into the light for people to see.”
Sarah courts controversy in Jerusalem