In this week’s post, I’m sharing an article I recently had published in the Jewish Journal –
The most recent conflict revealed the mettle and elasticity of Israelis and brought some of the country’s funniest citizens to the forefront.
By Tamar Dunbar
Uri Cohen (left) and Benji Lovitt
Being able to find humor in the worst of situations has been key to Jewish survival. No matter where we settled, the Jewish people have been persecuted. Now we have our homeland back, but it’s in a pretty bad neighborhood. When you’re used to a life of terror, you can either become hardened and cynical or you can find comedy in everything.
The latest conflict with Hamas was the first war in Israel since I made aliyah from Los Angeles six years ago. I’ve found that the Israeli persona is truthful, forthright, and direct. Nothing is sacred. There is no running away from political incorrectness. What you see is what you get. While sometimes brutal, it’s also refreshing. This most recent conflict in particular revealed the mettle and elasticity of Israelis and brought some of the country’s funniest citizens to the forefront.
I first ran across Uri Cohen on Instagram as I scrolled through my feed. I saw an Israeli guy in an IDF uniform ranting about being called up for reserve duty for the fourth time this year, and I thought it was hilarious. We were leaving behind our pandemic lockdowns and facing yet another political election, but his posts about his life in Israel were uproarious. I had to get to know Uri.
Uri is a rising comedian and online social influencer. This 28-year old gever is sometimes brash, totally authentic, and has a huge heart. When not working as a security guard for Birthright visitors, tour groups and school groups, or doing reserve duty, Uri is posting on Instagram and TikTok and increasing his fan base with his unique style of comedy.
Who would have thought a young guy could also become a shadchen, or matchmaker? In response to the meetup, dating and hookup app, Tinder, Uri created his own dating site on Instagram: Jewuri (aka Tinduri), where young Jewish singles from all over the world can post photos and brief descriptions of themselves in hopes of finding a match. What started as a joke soon became a way of meeting one’s soulmate. Uri sees this as a way of perpetuating the Jewish people. Nothing pleases him more than “getting people together: sometimes they get married and that leads to making more and more Jewish babies. That’s just wonderful!” He hosts social events once a month in locations throughout Israel—and, yes, it’s all legal and done in a spirit of fun.
This past May, things got real as Hamas started their massive rocket barrage into the heart of Israel. It’s said that there are no atheists in foxholes, but what about comedians in bomb shelters?
IT’S SAID THAT THERE ARE NO ATHEISTS IN FOXHOLES, BUT WHAT ABOUT COMEDIANS IN BOMB SHELTERS?
Uri was called up yet again for reserve duty as a medic. But he also became a kind of lead sapper for the IDF. A real sapper goes to the site of an unexploded bomb, something that has incredibly lethal potential, and bravely diffuses it. But instead of taking apart physical bombs in the field, Uri worked from stairwells and bomb shelters, bravely fighting antisemites and anti-Zionists who call for the destruction of Israel with his unique brand of online humor.
He responded nightly to Hamas’s threats of incessant bombs with his signature swagger: “Yo! Jihadists! You know you promised to send rockets tonight at 9 pm. But listen. I have a date with hot IDF girl. Believe me. She is bigger bomb than all the rockets you send. So please. Make it 12 tonight.”
“YO! JIHADISTS! YOU KNOW YOU PROMISED TO SEND ROCKETS TONIGHT AT 9 PM. BUT LISTEN. I HAVE DATE WITH A HOT IDF GIRL. BELIEVE ME. SHE IS BIGGER BOMB THAN ALL THE ROCKETS YOU SEND. SO PLEASE. MAKE IT 12 TONIGHT.”
When the missiles did not let up for days and it was Uri’s birthday, he created a post thanking Hamas for sending up fireworks in his honor. “Hey. It’s a celebration! They are celebrating me! Gee thanks for the fireworks, guys!!” He took the footage of bombs exploding over the Tel Aviv skyline and choreographed it to the “Star Wars” theme.
His fan base began to grow exponentially, along with his haters. Humor turned into hasbara, diffusing hate bombs with education, explanation, and reproachment, Uri Cohen-style.
Underneath one of his video clips, we see an Instagram comment calling Uri a colonizer and a baby-killer, telling him to get the f–k out of Palestine. In the video, there are tears streaming down Uri’s face. “Wow,” he says. “That hit me so hard.” He continues, as he wipes the tears from his cheeks, “I don’t think I can take it.” Then the camera pans down to the knife in his hand, cutting an onion. “That’s a huge piece of onion. Wow.”
Uri knows that he has haters, but he never shows anger. “That’s what they want. They want to expand the fight. And most of the times these people are not even from Gaza or Palestinian, and they don’t know the facts. So you have to find a way to turn it around. I make them laugh. I make the best of a difficult situation.”
One commenter wrote, “Go back to your countries and leave the rest of Palestine immediately, you thieves. We will liberate Palestine soon,” to which Uri posted a video response. “Yo, bro. I’m truly sorry,” he says in the video. “It was misunderstanding.” He throws up his hands. “I’m immediately leaving. Just please. I only need 5 minutes. To pack a suitcase—and have sex with my girlfriend. And I’m leaving.” He walks out the door, muttering, “And they say Israelis have no patience.”
The bomb is once again diffused, with even the original commenter admitting that Uri is actually funny and suggesting that perhaps Israelis are cool after all. So Uri invited him to his next social event.
Of course, Uri couldn’t pass up the opportunity to make fun of the army rations he was served for Shabbat dinner. Cold schnitzel, limp chips, and a dollop of hummus. He invented the saying that went viral: “More Hummus. Less Hamas.” Within a week, the words could be seen on posters as far away as Paris, New York and Los Angeles.
Uri’s humor is a mixture of seriousness and sarcasm. He became outspoken about the anti-Israel posts by his former fantasy girls, pop icons Bella and Gigi Hadid, Dua Lipa and Mia Khalifa. It was truly a sad day for Uri when he deleted Dua Lipa from his playlist.
What makes his videos and posts so much fun is that they are interactive. Offering quizzes, ways to respond to his posts, and opportunities to ask him questions makes his site personal—and he responds to all of his messages. He pokes fun at himself: “My IDF service is 1% protecting the country; 99% Instagram pictures.”
Uri was not the only one diffusing bombs with humor during the most recent conflict. Countless memes, all darkly humorous, were posted on social media platforms. There were charts on what to do when you hear the Red Alert siren going off, signifying an incoming volley. The conflict also saw the emergence of drinking games for every time you hear a rocket or every time you have to unfollow a former friend for posting an antisemitic comment.
After a year in isolation, meet-ups with strangers in the bomb shelters were a good reason to laugh. Some played games in which each person had to guess what others had been doing prior to arriving at the shelter by noting their attire. Others created online gambling pools to speculate on how long the conflict would last and what the terms of ceasefire would be. Being able to laugh in the heat of an intense conflict was helpful. We laughed at ourselves, our situation, and our enemies. And as a result, we came out of it stronger and more resilient.
Liel Eli, another Instagram and TikTok influencer, made a humorous video of young California socialites trying to be trendy. It was filmed poolside against the backdrop of a Beverly Hills villa, where Liel played the roles of multiple silly, American Israel-haters who had absolutely no idea about any of the facts behind the propaganda. It was so funny that it landed her spots on the local news stations.
“The Daily Freier” is an online Tel Aviv publication that showcases biting satire. There is absolutely nothing off limits to these Anglo-Israeli jokesters. In Hebrew, a frier is a naïve shlemiel who constantly gets taken advantage of. Sample headlines include: “Three of Ilhan Omar’s Ex-Husbands/Brothers Feared Missing in Gaza Tunnel Collapse,” “Victory: IDF Weaponizes its Inability to Write a Proper English Sentence,” and “Anything Happen in Israel This Week? by Chuck Schumer” All of these headlines suggest that there is no political correctness in Israel, and that’s part of what makes it so funny.
Benji Lovitt is an American-Israeli author, comedian and hasbara expert who tours the U.S. regularly to educate groups with his unique blend of humor and encourage aliyah. In 2006, Benji made aliyah from Dallas, Texas during the Second War with Lebanon, so he has racked up points as a conflict survivor. He’s written for Times of Israel and The Jerusalem Post among others. Reading his annual “Things I Love About Israel” column helped us make the decision to move to Israel, so when we heard he’d be performing in Tel Aviv recently, we just had to go.I was able to speak to Benji after the show.
“There’s so much happening all the time here,” he said, “that there’s never a shortage of material. And the great thing about this country is that there are no taboos. And during wartime, that’s when the country is most in need of laughter. It dispels the stress everyone is under.” As a result, he created a chart on what to do when the emergency siren sounds—poking fun at Israelis who put their cars in cruise control and start filming the sky on Facebook Live.
Benji kept us in stitches with his latest news updates on the conflict. “A rocket just fell next to the IKEA in Rishon L’Tzion. At least the furniture is already in parts – KÄSSÁM Kitchen Storage Unit….hmmm I wonder if Sweden will retaliate?” And a day later: “Rockets and Iron Dome shrapnel are said to strike several Israeli cities. Just what the economy needs, another strike!” And toward the end of the conflict: “85 year-old Mahmoud Abbas and 78-year-old Joe Biden spoke on the phone this weekend for the first time since Biden took office. Topics discussed include a ceasefire, diplomacy and prune juice.”
One of the greatest experiences we’ve had during our time in Israel has been witnessing the strength and determination of the Jewish people. We have fallen even more deeply in love with this country. Still, I’ve asked everyone—do we get a special pin or at least a certificate to say we’ve survived our first official conflict? And the answer I’ve gotten from everyone: No. Not this time. But the third time: ice cream!
Tamar Dunbar made aliyah from Los Angeles to northern Israel six years ago where she works as a freelance journalist and blogger at israeldreams.com.
You are a talented writer.
I think Benji is from El Paso, but maybe I got confused.