US comedian Joe Matarese performs in Israel. (Yissachar Ruas) (Yissachar Ruas)
joe matarese
Comedy for Koby

Comedians in 2015 tour (L-R): Avi Liberman, Modi, Joe Matarese and Brian Kiley. (Yissachar Ruas)

Two popular comedians from the US, in Israel for the first time, fell in love with the people of Israel. They were also surprised at how safe they felt here.

On May 8, 2001, Arab terrorists murdered 13-year-old Koby Mandell and his friend Yosef Ishran near their home in Tekoa, Israel, which is located in the region of Judea and Samaria. Koby’s parents, Rabbi Seth and Sherri Mandell, created The Koby Mandell Foundation to help others who have suffered tragedy to translate the pain and suffering into positive personal growth.

Programs run by the Foundation include, for example, healing retreats, individual grief therapy, and Camp Koby and Yosef, a summer camp with light therapeutic programming for children and teens who have lost a loved one.

Another initiative is Comedy for Koby, which runs twice yearly for over eight days in seven cities across the country. Proceeds go to the Koby Mandell Foundation.

Founded by Israeli-born comedian Avi Liberman – a favorite entertainer in popular comedy clubs from Los Angeles to New York – together with The Koby Mandell Foundation, the comedic event has more than doubled in size since its first run in 2009 and now performs for over 2,500 English speakers.

Rabbi Seth and Sherri Mandell

Rabbi Seth and Sherri Mandell address audience at Comedy for Koby. (Yissachar Ruas)

This year’s Comedy for Koby ran May 25 through June 2 and included Liberman and three other sought-out entertainers: Emmy Award-winner Brian Kiley; Joe Matarese, who performed at several prestigious events, including America’s Got Talent, where he received a standing ovation from the crowd and all four celebrity judges; and Modi, who was voted one of the “Top 10 Comedians” in New York City by the Hollywood Reporter and BackStage.

Modi and Liberman are familiar with the Israeli scene, but for Kiley and Matarese, the Israel tour was a brand-new experience. It was their first visit to the Holy Land.

Materese, an Italian-American, told United with Israel (UWI) that he was slightly apprehensive about his choice of skits, as some were based on American, rather than Jewish or Israeli, culture.  “I didn’t know which jokes were going to work and which wouldn’t. It was a challenge,” he said.

He need not have worried; the crowd loved him, and Matarese felt the warmth. Indeed, the show was first-rate, and the audience was in stitches.

“The people like to laugh,” Matarese said. “They’re so friendly and so appreciative.”

Comedy for Koby

Comedian Brian Kiley: “I can see why people would want to move here.”

The only time you feel that kind of appreciation during a show in the US is at a rehab[ilitation] center or if something horrible had happened,” he quipped. “It feels like one big family – and the food is insanely, incredibly amazing.”

Kiley, an Irish-American Catholic, told UWI that he hopes to return for another visit, but next time with his wife.

“People were warning me that it would be dangerous here,” he said. “It’s been very safe and I think there’s a real sense of community here throughout the country. I’m so impressed with the spirit here,” and, referring to the impressive number of immigrants from English-speaking countries, “I can see why people would move here.”

By: Atara Beck, United with Israel
(With files from The Koby Mandell Foundation)