November 15, 2007
My sister Sarah
(Page 2 - Previous Page)Liberal values and arts replaced synagogue life. (Most years we joined the Reform Temple but very rarely went, except when my father was social action chair.) The soundtracks of our ranch house -- on a quiet street in the middle and upper middle class North End of Manchester, N.H. --were the records "Pearlie," "Godspell" and "Hair." Our father, a retailer, was a social worker by training and would one day return to it. Our mother, McGovern's personal campaign photographer, later founded New Thalian Players -- a theatre company in Manchester.
Thus we lived anachronistically. It was this worldview that Sarah brought to "Saturday Night Live" when she was only 21. Her big debut was a report on "Weekend Update" in which she recounted the news of her life. This included the now classic joke about me: "My sister Susie got married and they took each other's names, you know? So now she's Susan Silverman-Abramowitz. But they're thinking of shortening it to just 'Jews.'" Silence, then a strong, but evidently uneasy laughter followed. Oh, the days when that caused discomfort. Now her talk is more shocking than that at a bat mitzvah. Let me explain.
After our oldest daughter, Aliza, read and interpreted Torah before her family and community, my sisters -- her aunties -- each stood at the microphone to speak to her. They had all attended her birth, and Sarah described it in detail -- only leaving out the part in which she, Sarah, passed out cold. (Out of the corner of her eye, the doctor noticed that Sarah had turned green, and called out, "She's going down. Somebody grab her." Laura caught her.) Sarah put her arm around her bespectacled niece and said, "When you were born, Aliza, I watched your head come out ... [she went on with some detail, but I will leave that to your imagination] and I thought, "Where did she get those little glasses? With such tiny windshield wipers?" I'm not sure the word vagina had ever before been used -- at least as many times -- in addressing a bat mitzvah on the bimah. I was mortified. And tickled.
It is to Sarah's credit that she makes it to so many family events. She is a hesitant traveler -- to the point where she flew all seven of us to the United States so she didn't have to come to Israel in order to see us. Laura and Jodyne are both coming this year -- Laura for the third time and Jodyne for the second. We hope to persuade Sarah and her boyfriend Jimmy Kimmel to come. But they make appearances in other ways. An obscenely giant box arrived -- as I was writing this! -- full of Chanukah presents for the kids. A gift arrived at the hospital for our son, Zamir, within hours of our arrival, after he suddenly lost his hearing. (He had a progressive hearing loss and will now hear with the assistance of technology.)
Despite not having been here, Sarah is concerned about Israel -- both its well-being and its behavior as a moral actor on the world stage. Recently Sarah e-mailed and asked what Yosef (my husband) and I were doing to make sure Sudanese refugees found sanctuary here. I wrote back with a list of what Israeli organizations were doing on behalf of the refugees here, and how Yosef was involved. I also reminded her not to be too hard on Israel -- Sudan is an enemy state and terrorism is a very real threat, so if Israel is hesitant and cautious, it's understandable. There is a tension between the government's job to protect the nation and the popular desire to take in refugees. The latter urge should, and I believe will, prevail, but the former cannot be ignored.
Sarah wrote back, impressed at all Israel was doing to give safety to refugees (a small example: two Sudanese families live on our kibbutz, and other kibbutzim have welcomed many such families) and said, "God, the U.S. is freaking out over Mexicans -- and all they want to do is clean our houses."
It is fitting that Sudanese seeking refuge live on Ketura, home to the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, where people of many cultures call upon humanity -- like the biblical prophets did on this same land so long ago -- to make the earth a sanctuary for all life. And I am proud to say that at their benefit for the Arava Institute my sisters Sarah and Laura will use obscenity, racism and sexism to proclaim this conviction. Like the ancient prophets did. Sort of.
Rabbi Susan Silverman lives with her family on Kibbutz Ketura. She is the co-author, with her husband, Yosef Abramowitz, of "Jewish Family & Life, Traditions, Holidays and Values for Today's Parents and Children" (Golden Books and St. Martin's Press). She is currently at work on a memoir and theology of adoption called "Blessed Are They Who Dwell in Your House." Her office is located in the Arava Institute's building.
Sarah Silverman, the cast of her Comedy Central TV series "The Sarah Silverman Program," including sister Laura, and Roseanne Barr will star in a live benefit performance, "Comedy Without Borders," on Thursday, Nov. 29, at 8 p.m. at Bovard Auditorium at USC. For more information, call (877) 725-8849.
The Silverman-Abramovitz bat mitzvah album: From left, sisters Susan, Jodyne and Laura Silverman; the bat mitzvah Aliza Abramovitz; her aunt Sarah; and Yosef Abramovitz. The Abramovitz children in front are, from left, Zamir, Ashira, Hallel and Adar.
Ashira, aged 4, blows a balloon for aunts Laura (l) and Sarah.
The Silverman sisters: (top) Susan, Sarah (front), Jodyne, Laura (w/ arm around Jodyne) circa 1979 in Bedford, N.H.
Sarah Silverman at the Arava Institute benefit show 11/27/2007
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