facebook-pixel

Commentary: How to make Jerry Seinfeld cry

Comedian’s reaction to Israel-Hamas war is as far from yada yada as you could ever imagine.

(Willy Sanjuan | Invision | AP) Comedian Jerry Seinfeld, shown in 2019, has drawn flak for his reaction to the Israel-Hamas war.

Now if there’s a smile on my face

Don’t let my glad expression

Give you the wrong impression

Don’t let this smile I wear

Make you think that I don’t care

When really, I’m sad

Hurtin’ so bad.

— “Tears of a Clown,” Smokey Robinson and The Miracles

I love Jerry Seinfeld.

I have pretty much committed certain episodes of “Seinfeld” to memory. Many of them are moments of comedic genius. Some are brilliant as satire. Consider: Jerry making out with Rachel, his observant, shellfish-avoidant girlfriend, during “Schindler’s List.” I have always believed this was a far more sophisticated statement about Jewish identity than even he might have recognized.

The late NBC executive Brandon Tartikoff initially had his doubts about “Seinfeld.” He thought that it was “too New York, too Jewish.” That was certainly true of most of the actors: Seinfeld, Jason Alexander, the late Jerry Stiller, the late Estelle Harris. Michael Richards: Sorry, no. Wayne Knight, who played Newman, thankfully, no.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus? It’s complicated. She is a member of the Dreyfus family — one of the oldest Ashkenazic Jewish families in the world and a distant relative of Captain Alfred Dreyfus, whose trial on trumped-up treason charges was an impetus for Theodor Herzl to create political Zionism. But, as for Julia, her Jewish identity is part of her family tree, and it is, at best, partial.

Jerry Seinfeld provided me with a soft, bittersweet memory as well. Six years ago, Jerry performed in Hollywood, Florida. We took my father to see Jerry, to celebrate his 97th birthday. It was to have been my late father’s last true night of entertainment and unrestrained laughter.

Finally, Jerry and I are the same age. We were contemporaries as we grew up on Long Island.

But, just the other day, I developed a new level of love — no, profound respect — for Jerry Seinfeld.

Jerry appeared as a guest on Bari Weiss’ podcast, “Honestly.” As you might imagine, it was a hysterically funny conversation, which often reduced me to tears of laughter.

But there would be another kind of tears as well.

Right after Oct. 7, Jerry and his family visited Israel. They visited wounded Israelis.

Previously, Jerry had signed a letter that condemned the actions of Hamas, calling them “barbaric acts.” Anti-Israel students at Duke University staged a walkout on Jerry’s commencement speech. At his show in Norfolk, Virginia, demonstrators called him a supporter of genocide. When Bari Weiss delivered the State of World Jewry address at the 92nd Street Y, Jerry was seen leaving the event, with demonstrators haranguing him.

Go, now, to Bari’s interview with Jerry on “Honestly.” The segment in question starts at around 40:00.

Bari asks Jerry about his trip to Israel. He described it as “the most powerful experience of my life.”

Then, Jerry loses it.

Listen to the podcast, and you will hear him fumble with his words. Then, you will hear his tears, and then you will hear a lengthy audible silence.

Upon hearing those tears, and that audible silence, I stopped myself in my tracks, and I, too, wept.

I wept again this past Shabbat. The entire Jewish people wept as we celebrated the rescue of four Israeli hostages in Gaza, including Noa Argamani, the festivalgoer who was filmed screaming as she was carried away by terrorists on a motorcycle. Noa was able to visit her dying mother.

Tears of pain: The father of another rescued hostage, Jan, was found dead Saturday, the victim, his sister said, of a broken heart.

Jerry Seinfeld’s fumbling with his words; his silence; his tears — all of them contain the pain, the anguish and the hopes of this broken people.

At a time when we need Jews who are famous to be famously Jewish, and outspoken, Jerry Seinfeld epitomizes that.

One last thing.

For our sake, and for the sake of our young people, let us make sure that the show of American Jewish life does not wind up to be a show … well, a show about nothing.

Let American Jewish life be about something.

Something big, something deep, something eternal.

Something worthy of Jerry’s tears — and our own.

(The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)