The truth about my sis­ter Sarah, by Rabbi Sil­ver­man

SarahSil­ver­man’s sis­ter Su­san is a rabbi in Is­rael. They have a lot in com­mon… no, re­ally

The Jewish Chronicle - - Features - BY ALEX KAS­RIEL

ONE I S A f o u l - mouthed co­me­dian l i vi ng i n LA, the other is a lib­eral fe­male rabbi liv­ing on a kib­butz in the Negev. But ac­tu­ally, Sarah Sil­ver­man and her sis­ter, Su­san, are not so dif­fer­ent. The US Emmy-winning per­former, fa­mous for her con­tro­ver­sial gags in­clud­ing a ca­reer-defin­ing YouTube pop video in which she claims to be sleep­ing with ac­tor Matt Da­mon, is known for her lib­eral views — as is her older sis­ter. Both sib­lings hope their work will help to change so­ci­ety for the bet­ter.

While Sarah Sil­ver­man’s ironic gags at­tack is­sues such as racism and sex­ism, her sis­ter’s re­cent book, Blessed Are They Who Dwell in Your House, is about the ben­e­fits of adopt­ing or­phans from around the world.

“I felt this way, ever since Sarah started do­ing com­edy in New York 15 years ago, that she has a prophetic voice,” says Rabbi Su­san, 45, who lives on Kib­butz Ke­tura with hus­band Yosef Abra­mowitz and five chil­dren, two of whom are adopted Ethiopian or­phans. “She says the truth as she sees it. It’s not that dif­fer­ent to what I do — I just don’t use irony.”

Mean­while Sarah Sil­ver­man, 37, has de­scribed her sis­ter as “su­per-du­per crazy Re­form” and reg­u­larly men­tions with glee in in­ter­views the fact that Su­san is a rabbi.

“Some­times I’ll be work­ing in the cheder ochel [din­ing room],” says Su­san. “I’m cov­ered in gloop, it’s late at night, and I’m sweep­ing the floor, and I think, ‘I won­der what Sarah is do­ing right now?’”

One of four sis­ters — Jody and Laura are both Hol­ly­wood screen­play writ­ers — Su­san says: “We were re­ally lib­eral, and so our par­ents talked a lot about pro­gres­sive is­sues like racism and sex­ism. We were al­ways the only Democrats around be­cause we were the only Jews around.”

Their fa­ther, Don Sil­ver­man, trained as a so­cial worker but went on to run a re­tail busi­ness. He and his wife Beth, the di­rec­tor of a com­mu­nity the­atre, were heav­ily in­volved in the Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial elec­tion cam­paign of Ge­orge McGovern in 1972.

“It was a huge part of our lives,” says Rabbi Su­san. “Th­ese val­ues were re­ally cen­tral to all of us. When I was fin­ish­ing col­lege and I met my then boyfriend, now hus­band, Yosef, through the [an­ti­a­partheid] di­vest­ment move­ment at uni­ver­sity, I re­alised that all those val­ues that I had, had a Jewish source. So I be­came in­ter­ested in Ju­daism and went to rab­binic school.”

Su­san is not sur­prised that her sis­ter wound up as a co­me­dian. She says Sarah al­ways traded on her sig­na­ture com­bi­na­tion of cutesy and shock­ing.

“She was al­ways adorable and funny,” says Su­san. “One of my clos­est friends has a favourite mem­ory of her from when we were at col­lege at Bos­ton Uni­ver­sity. I was 18 and she was 11 or 12. I took Sarah with me on spring break to Florida. We were on the beach, and she pulled out a ci­gar and started smok­ing it. It was com­pletely un­ex­pected. At 11 or 12 she was tiny — she looked like she was eight or nine. It was hi­lar­i­ous. She was al­ways vy­ing for at­ten­tion. The fun­ni­est story was that when our par­ents told us they were di­vorc­ing we were all cry­ing. Be­ing the youngest, we all gath­ered round Sarah and said, ‘It will be OK,’ and she said, ‘No. I’m cry­ing be­cause I’m danc­ing and no­body’s watch­ing me!’”

Su­san also re­mem­bers how Sarah first learned how to make peo­ple laugh, aged two.

“First of all, she was just so cute … and re­ally hairy for a lit­tle kid,” she says. “We al­ways used to say, ‘Oh sis, you have lovely arms and legs,’ be­cause we were afraid that peo­ple will make fun of her. Her fa­ther, my dad, used to hold her on his lap when she was two, and she had th­ese big brown eyes and this hair cut at ear’s length and she looked like a lit­tle mon­key. And he would make her say: ‘Bitch! Bas­tard! Damn! Shit!’ and peo­ple would be laugh­ing hys­ter­i­cally.

“My fa­ther had a funny sense of hu­mour and it just re­ally worked. We were so de­lighted by it be­cause it was just so funny. My grand­mother would be mock hor­ri­fied, but Sarah was just so charm­ing it was funny.”

But she does not feel jeal­ous of her sis­ter’s suc­cess. “She’s seven years younger, so I al­ways felt very loving and pro­tec­tive of her,” in­sists Su­san. She says that she has been hap­pi­est when she and her three sis­ters have come to­gether for fam­ily oc­ca­sions and lie on her mother’s bed mak­ing each other laugh. “And I re­ally bathed in it. I love all the at­ten­tion. With all my sis­ters I feel I love the fact that they shine. It makes me feel so happy.”

Sarah has been dat­ing non-Jewish Amer­i­can co­me­dian Jimmy Kimmel for the last five years. They re­cently split up and got back to­gether. But while Su­san would have pre­ferred her sis­ter to be with some­one of the faith, she would still be happy to wel­come him into their large, loving fam­ily.

“I just want Sarah to do what’s right for Sarah,” she says mag­nan­i­mously. “We would love for my kids to have cousins. I like to know that Jews are rais­ing Jewish fam­i­lies, but it’s not for me to de­cide for other peo­ple, and I love Jimmy and I’d be very happy for him to be in my fam­ily. He’s a lovely per­son. We all love him.”


Sarah Sil­ver­man with the Emmy award she won last month

Rabbi Su­san Sil­ver­man ( left) in a fam­ily photo which in­cludes fa­mous sis­ter Sarah ( back row, sec­ond from right)

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