Schvitz and giggles: it’s the best of the Jewish and Israeli shows at this summer’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe
After a year of bad news stories around antisemitism, it's heartening to report that Jews are happy to be big on the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, celebrating meeting points – and differences – and gleefully sending themselves up. This year the J-word is out and proud in the titles of shows, including Susie K Taylor’s Jewbana (8-24 Aug), about her "crazy Cuban and Jewish family", and Jew-O-Rama (3-25 Aug) from Aaron Levene, who's returning to Edinburgh for the third year running.
Rachel Creeger is not afraid to use this most iconic of Hebrew words for her show, Hinayni (31 Jul-26 Aug), which is the devout Jew’s answer when called by God (see Adam, Abraham and Moses for a start). But "is Rachel ever honestly present in the moment?" she wonders. It's funny how seeing herself in someone else's reflection sparks thoughts she only admits to herself in the middle of the night. Or on stage. Sometimes it takes a little darkness to shine a light on the truth.
The Israelis are back on the Fringe, too, and if you ever doubted the fact that Israelis have a fine sense of humour, check out Boycotted: Comedy from Israel (2-26 Aug). Gill Rosenberg, David Kilimnick and Ofir Kariyo – self-dubbed the "most Arab Jew you'll meet" – present the funny side of life in Israel and a perspective of Jews in the Middle East. Meanwhile, in his solo stand-up show, The Rabbi Preaches (2-26 Aug), Kilminick talks of his love for community life, not just in Judaism, but in all religions.
Who’s the Daddy Pig? (3-25 Aug) is the distinctly unkosher offering from Philip Simon, but the pig in question is called Peppa and Simon (2015's Jewish Comedian of the Year) voices the porcine paterfamilias in the stage adaptation of the uber popular children's cartoon. Join Simon for an hour of award-winning comedy about dating, parenthood and, of course, Peppa Pig – just don’t bring the kids!
Another Jewish Comedian of the Year, winner of 2017's title, Aaron Simmonds presents Disabled Coconut (31 Jul-26 Aug). He's a comedian who's going places – places with wheelchair access that is. He'll be discussing how it feels to be trolled online for not being disabled enough.
Next up, you may know him as the comedy legend (or pillock – delete as appropriate) who handed Theresa May a P45. Or you may know him as the BBC’s character comic Lee Nelson. Now get to know the man behind the stunts – the “hilarious little Jew Simon Brodkin” – in his debut stand-up hour, 100% Simon Brodkin (31 Jul-24 Aug).
Things get sinister in Marlon Solomon's Conspiracy Theory: A Lizard’s Tale (1-25 Aug). Having already won Best Spoken Word artist at the Greater Manchester Fringe, he'll be testing his mettle at the Holy Grail of UK comedy: Edinburgh Festival Fringe, talking about his Jewish heritage, which didn't bother him until he discovered there were people he knew who didn't believe the Holocaust happened. Follow him into the conspiracy underworld on a darkly comic journey.
Then it’s back to the sunlit uplands of celebratory comedy with Daniel Cainer and his show, Signs & Wonders (31 Jul-26 Aug). The multi-award-winning musical storyteller behind Gefilte Fish & Chips, as well as songs for Dillie Kean and Maureen Lipman, presents rhyming, wordplay and haunting tunes you won't forget any time soon. For anyone who's ever wrestled with their home, heritage and heart. There’s also more storytelling from Ben Van der Velde and his hour, Fablemaker (1-25 Aug). Past shows have featured jokes centred around Van der Velde’s Jewish background, current affairs and personal stories of classic self-deprecative humour.
And the Fringe would not be complete without the real (grand?) daddy of Jewish comedy, Ivor Dembina, back for his 7th consecutive year with Old Jewish Jokes (1-25 Aug), the UK’s longest-running ever Jewish comedy show. Basing it on a true story, Dembina promises "a modern Jewish comic's life with great kosher gags". Hard-working Dembina also shares The Joy of Jokes (1-25 Aug). Truthful stand-up, funny stories and a few ad-libs plucked from brand new, old and very old material. And the best bit? Admission is free, gentiles half price! And that's not just a sample of Dembina’s wit, because, like many of the Jewish acts we've highlighted here, Dembina is appearing on the Free Fringe, in which many artists throughout the festival take part. Audiences pay nothing up front and show their appreciation by putting money in the "retiring collection" at the end.
Finally, leaving the comedy events behind, here are two beguiling shows that find other ways of celebrating a shared heritage. First up, in the theatre programme, Jottings from the Queen of Sheba (14-25 Aug). This is a solo show from Blazing Grannies (aka F Mary Callan), which invites you to "daydream with the Queen of Sheba on her epic visit to King Solomon’s court, to relive the family stories shared by three faiths: Jewish, Christian and Muslim" and asks the vital question: "Can ancient wisdom address modern turmoil?" Then in the music programme you'll find Notes from Shetland to Shanghai (19-24 Aug) by Sophie Rocks. Following her Fringe debut last year, Rocks returns with a moving musical and spoken word homage to immigrants worldwide, exploring the impact of migration on people from countries such as Canada, Holland, Israel and China, with music influenced by both tradition and modernity.
By Judi Herman