Tolerating Larry David

Every comedian’s nightmare is to go out on stage and bomb…nose dive…fail to be funny. And that’s what Larry David did. But worse than not being funny, is breaking through red lines that shouldn’t be crossed, and Larry David did that too…twice in one show. The first can be forgiven as the ramblings of a desperate comedian seeking the ever-elusive laughter of the audience. The second cannot be excused nearly as easily; the damage and pain it cause simply unforgivable.

There are things that sexual abusers have in common. This has been the subject of countless dissertations, years of study by experts around the world. I looked at several studies and though I certainly did not do a comprehensive study, I am confident that not one of these studies pointed to Judaism as a common factor. That Larry David would infer otherwise, that he would, as a Jew, suggest that he was embarrassed by this, is absurd and offensive. As he readily admitted, there are many others, much more famous, who have been accused of acting with a similar lack of decency as Harvey Weinstein and others – Kevin Spacey, Bill Clinton and Bill Cosby to mention a few – who are not Jewish.

But as offensive as Larry David’s comments were about the abhorrent behavior of a few coincidentally-Jewish men who have been accused of sexual assault, what was by far much worse was his bringing the Holocaust into his pathetic monologue. His joking whether or not he would still be looking at women had he lived during the Holocaust is nothing less than indecent and abhorrent. Funny? Not even close.

My mother-in-law was one of “those women” to which David said he would likely have “oogled”. She was a young woman, not yet 20 years old, beautiful and already orphaned. She and her sister survived what was, for most, the survivable. They put her in a gas chamber and stole from her the life she once knew. Her parents, her grandparents, uncles and aunts, two brothers, a precious younger sister. Gone in the space of only a few months. She was left with nothing…nothing but her courage, her faith, two siblings and a handful of cousins…all not much older than her. She made a life and showed more courage in a single day than Larry David has shown in his entire life. She had the courage to bring four children into the world and she raised them with love despite the hate that had surrounded her and so easily could have destroyed her.

There are red lines in this world. Too often, time shifts them, or we do. Long ago, a character in a play (and then a movie), watched as tradition slipped away. He shifted, he bent, he accepted until he stopped. It was at that moment, that Tevya, the fictional character of Fiddler on the Roof had reached his red line, “you can bend me just so far before I break,” he explained. In Hebrew, we have a simpler way of saying it. Ad kan – up to here. In English, we refer to this moment more simply as a “red line.”

Larry David may think that being a comedian means he’s funny; being a Jew means he has a right to say whatever he wants. He’s wrong on both counts. He wasn’t funny; and he has no right to invoke the memories of six million murdered, tens of thousands of others who barely survived just to try to get some laughs. Ad kan.

The red line remains; Larry David can go. He can go on to attempt to be funny, knowing that the Jews to which he thinks he appeals have lost their interest. But the red line will forever be there until he admits that in his quest to be funny, he overstepped his rights and simple decency. In a few short minutes, he managed to insult women today who have been sexually assaulted by equating it with simple sexual attraction that is normal between man and woman. He managed to insult millions of women who were raped, starved, imprisoned, and murdered. And he managed to insult and hurt millions more who were dragged from their homes, treated as sub-humans, and murdered. The worst part is that it seems Larry David just doesn’t realize what he did. He thinks people who were insulted lack a sense of humor when what was missing was his humanity.

My mother-in-law lived all of her life under the shadow of what was done to her. Who does Larry David think he is to attempt to lessen what she suffered; to suggest that in a place where people were beaten, starved, abused, and murdered, there is room for laughter and comedy?

Women were stripped naked and paraded through the camps to their deaths. There was no sexuality in what the Germans did to them. In the eyes of the
Nazis, Jews were little more than bugs to be exterminated.

The pain of the Holocaust has not lessened for the Jewish people. It won’t ease up or calm down. It won’t go away. It won’t be joked off. In a world where borders and boundaries shift and fall away, there must be some that we hold dear. There must be red lines beyond which we will not go.

If there are, the Holocaust is one of them. No human being can look a woman who has been in a gas chamber in the face and joke about the idea that had he been there in the moments when she was separated from her mother and younger sister, he would have been focusing on her sexuality. That as they took her to a gas chamber, naked and about to die, his focus would have been on her body.

She survived that horrific moment with the hand of God and the luck of German bookkeeping. Larry David has no right, none – not as a Jew and not as a man, to take from her the horror of those days and weeks and months she spent in Auschwitz.

I don’t think Larry David is smart enough to feel the shame he should, and his arrogance will likely prevent him from ever admitting that he behaved as nothing less than a total ass.

And so, I will ignore him and instead turn to those who have been denied a voice for over 70 years, and to the voices that are slowly being silenced as age and time win the final battle and to countless women in nearly every country in the world. What you went through will never be forgotten, not by those who remember you; not by those who honor you.


Paula R. Stern

Paula R. Stern is the CEO of WritePoint Ltd, a leading technical writing company in Israel. She is also a popular blogger with her work appearing on her own sites, A Soldier's Mother and PaulaSays, as well as IsraellyCool and a number of other Jewish and Israeli sites.

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