SSDS performance marks Liberman’s first trip to St. Louis

BY MIKE SHERWIN, STAFF WRITER

When Jewish comedian Avi Liberman sets foot in B’nai Amoona on Mar. 10 as the featured act of the ‘Main Event’ fundraiser for Solomon Schechter Day School, it will mark his first visit to St. Louis.

The comedian has built up an ever-increasing number of television performances, including appearances on Comedy Central’s Premium Blend, Make Me Laugh, and on the Late-Late Show with Craig Ferguson. Liberman performs regularly in Los Angeles, where he currently resides, and he has appeared at comedy clubs around the country.

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In fact, after the organizers of the ‘Main Event’ booked Liberman after consulting with entertainment agencies, they realized that co-chair Jenny Wolkowitz’s parents had actually seen the comic perform in Las Vegas. Wolkowitz is a member of the Jewish Light Board of Trustees.

And, as it turns out, Liberman has a connection with Solomon Schechter: Michael Raileanu, assistant head of school at Schechter, was Liberman’s camp counselor during Liberman’s childhood in Texas.

Although Liberman lives on the West Coast, he was actually born in Israel, where he lived for the first few years of his life before his family moved to Houston. After graduating from State University of New York – Binghamton, Liberman said he realized that he wanted to be an actor, and headed out west for Los Angeles. His appearance at a school fundraiser is a good fit for the comedian, whose part-time day job is as a teacher’s aide at Sinai Akiva Academy in Los Angeles.

However, Liberman said in a phone interview that while his school has been extremely accommodating in giving him time off when necessary for shows on the road, auditions and television appearances, this may be his last year working in a school setting.

It’s not because of a lack of love for teaching, but rather, Liberman would like to spend more time on a project that has become a main focus in his life: sending American comedians to perform benefit shows in Israel.

After visiting Israel during the height of the second intifada in 2002, Liberman saw a need to provide some much-needed relief to the violence-weary Israeli public. He found a worthwhile cause in a Jerusalem organization, Crossroads, which helps homeless and drug-addicted teens, and he set out to recruit American comics to go on a tour of Israel and the proceeds from the performances were donated to Crossroads.

Liberman rounded up three other comedians, Wayne Federman, Gary Gulman and Dan Naderman and the four traveled in 2003 on the tour, called “Stand Up and Laugh: The Best of America’s Young Comedians.”

Liberman has organized subsequent tours, once a year ever since, which he is planning to increase to at least twice a year if he can raise money from donors.

He said its a challenge getting well-known comics to work for a week in Israel for what Liberman said is essentially a stipend for food, when they are used to making much more. And, Liberman said he gets the the comics to Israel by trading performances for airplane tickets.

As an observant Orthodox Jew, Liberman said although he worried early in his career about conflicts with performing shows on Shabbat, “Ninety-nine out of a hundred times, it’s not a problem.”

“Even when I work Vegas, ideally would I like to not perform on Friday night? Obviously. But I just go down to the show room, and I do the show and I go back to my room,” he said.

Liberman said there is a group of observant comedians, including Mark Schiff, who opens for Jerry Seinfeld and attends the same synagogue as Liberman, and Elon Gold, who had his own sitcom, who are friends and help each other out.

“If you want to take off on Rosh Hoshana and Yom Kippur, you can explain it pretty easily to the non-Jewish world, but things like Sukkot are really tougher ones,” he said.

“Elon Gold called me once when he was taping a sitcom on the Fox lot, which is close to the Jewish neighborhood in Los Angeles. He said, ‘Avi, I need an early minyan, is there one?’ And so he would come to my shul at a seven o’clock minyan, and he’d be finishing when I came for the nine o’clock minyan, and he’d be walking back to the lot for his show since he didn’t want to drive,” Liberman said.

“There’s kind of a close-knit society of those of us that are Shomer Shabbat. Each of us have our own little stories about trying to remain observant in a non-observant world,” he said.

Liberman will be the featured performer at the “Main Event” at 7 p.m. on Mar. 10 at Congregation B’nai Amoona. For tickets, contact Solomon Schechter at 314-576-6177.