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Clean Comedy: Meet an Observant Jewish Female Comic

Clean Comedy: Meet an Observant Jewish Female Comic

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As Michal Levitin gets up on stage to perform for the annual Conference for Chabad Women in Israel, the audience bursts out laughing. She hasn’t even opened her mouth yet. But every woman there has seen Michal perform before, and the mere sight of her almost reflexively makes them laugh.

Michal Levitin performing
Michal Levitin performing

Funny from Birth

Michal, a 32-year-old mother of six, has been performing for more than 20 years. She grew up in the Chabad neighborhood of Kiryat Malachi, which was the perfect breeding ground for her comedic talent. The diverse neighborhood includes immigrants from Russia, Georgia, Bukhara, Ethiopia, Morocco and Yemen, and the jumble of languages, idioms and phrases inspired Michal. As early as age 5, she could do exact impersonations of all the neighbors in her building, an act that made her family explode with laughter.

Michal shares: “I remember my grandmother saying, ‘Michal, perform for me. Dance for me, and I’ll give you something.’ She was the first to whet my appetite for performing and acting. My mother and grandmother bought me costumes and props so I could better express myself. My family encouraged me, applauded me, and let me perform all the time.”

When she was 10, Michal performed with her mother at a woman’s evening event in Kiryat Malachi. Together, they dramatized episodes of family life, and Michal recited poetry. The audience loved her, and their applause was wildly enthusiastic. At that moment, she knew what she wanted to do when she grew up.

Concentrate on Making People Happy

And that was just the beginning. Michal began performing, usually as a volunteer, in other venues, including a school for at-risk girls, geriatric wards and homes for the elderly.

Through experience, Michal learned to perfect her craft. “Before every holiday, my mother and I would perform. My mother didn’t try to to fix or correct me. She just told me, ‘Concentrate on making your audience happy.’

“Since most of my performances were unpaid, there were no great expectations of me. It was all pure fun. I was self-confident and loved doing it. The attention and the applause—it’s every child’s dream.”

While Michal’s friends were experiencing typical adolescent angst, performing made Michal feel confident and secure. Her path was clear. She knew where she excelled.

“What’s Going to Become of You?”

While her family was very supportive, the educational establishment was not. Many of her elementary and high school teachers didn’t approve of her lighthearted ways. “Enough clowning around,” they would say. “You need to be more serious. Otherwise, what’s going to become of you?” Michal couldn’t understand it. “It says, ‘Serve G‑d with joy,” she told them. But they wouldn’t accept her as she was.

Michal says that the idea of giving a Jewish message through humor was met with skepticism. So, at the school’s end-of-year performance, when she requested a comedic role, she was refused.

Michal didn’t accept this, and she eventually got permission to go up on stage in a funny costume. “I pretended to be a balloon-seller. I was given one minute of stage time, but there are people who still remember that performance.”

Since her comedic side was curtailed, Michal decided to focus on her singing, an area she also excelled in. During her high school years, Michal appeared with well-known singers in Chabad Houses all over the country.

“My grandfather Rabbi Avraham Lieder was a chazzan. He was privileged to teach the Rebbe the song ‘Hoshiah Et Amecha.’ He encouraged me very strongly to sing. He taught me Chabad tunes, and was very particular that I sing them just as chassidim of old sang them. When I was a teen, he taught me some lesser-known songs. I was happy to be able to sing melodies that had never been performed before.”

Stand-Up With a Message

Michal was fortunate to meet a man who would share her life’s goal, Yossi Levitin. “Immediately after the wedding, he became a complete partner in my work, which became ‘our work.’ He’s the producer, the announcer, the driver, the schlepper and the sound guy.”

Michal and Yossi Levitin
Michal and Yossi Levitin

After the wedding, Michal decided to focus on her ability to make people laugh. She knew that there were many religious singers, both men and women, but that the field of standup was wide open. “I felt there was a lot of potential. I came up with some characters and began performing. My success was dizzying. Women loved it, and asked for more and more.

“Before every performance, I sat down with the organizers and we discussed the message they wanted to communicate. We created appropriate characters, and it worked. Women laughed while they internalized the deeper message of the performance.”

There were some who criticized Michal’s work, feeling that it was unseemly. But Michal continued anyway. “Their criticism didn’t shatter me. I knew that women were enjoying my routines, and they were gaining insights from the messages I was relaying. I knew that was my mission. So I continued.”

The teachers who once wondered “What will become of you?” have attended Michal’s shows. They have approached her after the show and acknowledged that they hadn’t been able to imagine that she’d go so far with her talent for making people laugh. They tell her that she is able to transmit messages that they, as teachers, are not able to transmit.

Making Abba Laugh

Michal’s father battled a difficult illness for 13 years. In that time, he was in and out of hospitals and underwent a series of invasive operations. From the start, Michal’s mother told the whole family to be joyful in his presence: “Where Abba is, there can only be happiness. That’s what’s going to cure him.”

Michal says, “It was clear to me that the reason he continued to live so many years with such a devastating illness was because of that joy.”

Shmuel Lewis, o.b.m., Michal’s father
Shmuel Lewis, o.b.m., Michal’s father

Shmuel Lewis, of blessed memory, Michal’s father, was a ritual slaughterer (shochet). Until he became ill, he would travel all over the world to slaughter meat for kosher consumers. He spoke seven languages, and worked with Michal to perfect her accents so that her impersonations would be even better. Whatever song she practiced had to meet his exacting standards. “Abba really loved my performances. He would laugh endlessly at my skits and mimicries, and encourage me to continue. My experience of his sickness and death was shaped by our determination to focus on the joyous parts of life. We knew that this was the way to face adversity.”

Is Mommy Angry?

Michal’s good sense of humor also helps her parent in a positive way.

“It takes my kids the longest time to realize that I’m angry. Even when I am really angry, they’re sure it’s part of a show, and they burst out laughing. Their laughter is contagious, and they get me to laugh with them.”

Michal says that humor can be a wonderful educational tool. “Whenever a difficult situation comes up with the kids, I immediately introduce a comical character who gives her opinion about the situation. The kids pay much more attention to my characters than they do to me. It helps them come down from their high horse or get out of the corner they’ve painted themselves into.”

All of Michal’s children are skilled actors and singers, which is not surprising considering the home they’re raised in. In fact, one whole room is devoted to Michal’s costumes and props—which the kids dress up in year-round, not just on Purim. No wonder the kids’ friends always want to come play at the Levitins’ house!

The Levitin family
The Levitin family

How Is a Skit Conceived?

I ask Michal how she comes up with ideas for her skits.

“The characters I play come from real life. They’re figures that I relate to. I make them extreme but honest, and that’s why women can relate to them. When I observe certain instances in real life, I know that someday I’m going to use them on stage.”

Michal says that in planning a skit, the first stage is defining the message that she wants to impart, whether it has to do with husband-wife relationships, raising children, or service of G‑d. Then she thinks about situations that would relay that message, and only then does she come up with characters. The final stage is the props. She chooses disguises and accessories from her costume room which help her get into character.

“There were times when I performed spontaneously, with no props, but when I’m in costume, I identify completely with the personality I’ve created. There’s no question that it works best that way.”

Silent Show

As a Torah-observant standup comedian, Michal is firm about her boundaries. “I never use vulgarity or toilet humor. If, for example, I am performing a skit about a man whose wife gets very angry and wants to curse him, I’ll make a face and say, ‘He should be well.’ From the tone and the facial expression, everyone knows that I’m very angry. Non-religious women approach me after shows and tell me that it was a unique experience to laugh at humor that’s not crude; it’s a pure joy.”

When I ask Michal if there is anybody she would never mimic, she says, “I never make fun of people with disabilities.”

Most Memorable Performances

Of the thousands of shows Michal has performed, a few stand out in her memory. “There was a show to benefit Shema Koleinu, an organization for deaf women. Because they are deaf, I didn’t even need to add music to fill in the gaps between sketches. I was missing a prop for one of my impersonations, so I called out to my husband to ask him to bring it to me. It wasn’t even an issue because the audience was deaf. It was very strange. I tried to speak slowly and to exaggerate my lip movements, so that the women who read lips would be able to understand me.

“Someone projected a transcript that she was writing as I performed, and even included parenthetical remarks like ‘Moroccan accent’ and ‘Russian accent.’ The amazing thing was that the audience laughed. They didn’t laugh any less than a hearing audience. I was touched and shocked at the same time.”

Michal also remembers a performance in France. “It was a mixed group. Half were Hebrew speakers, and half spoke French. There was a simultaneous translation going on. It takes a lot longer to say things in French than in Hebrew, so half the audience would laugh at a funny line right away, and as soon as they’d finished laughing, the French speakers would start. It was so funny that I had to try hard not to laugh myself.”

Michal performing
Michal performing

Way Beyond Laughing

A few years ago, Michal performed for a group of women vacationing in a hotel in northern Israel. The phone rang as she and her husband were heading out to the car after the show. A woman who’d been in the audience was on the line. She said she had thought that this vacation would help her, but she wasn’t feeling any less down. She was suffering from postpartum depression and was feeling suicidal.

Michal spoke with her all through the night, and arranged for the two of them to meet at a performance Michal was giving in another week, near the woman’s home. After the show they met and spoke, and Michal gave her the schedule of her future performances. This woman traveled all over Israel, showing up at every one of those performances.

She said that she was living for them, and that they were strengthening her. “We stayed in touch for two years, until she finally pulled out of her depression. Today, she helps treat women who are suffering from mental illness.”

Michal’s Dream

I ask Michal about her dreams for the future. As a Chabad chassid, Michal immediately answers: “My biggest dream is that Moshiach will come, the dead will be resurrected, and my father will be among them. On the professional front, I’d love to do standup for kids. Children these days are very bright, and I think that through humor I can get across some important concepts to them.”

Tzippy Koltenyuk is a public speaker, singer and creative writer.
Translated by Esther Rabi.
© Copyright, all rights reserved. If you enjoyed this article, we encourage you to distribute it further, provided that you comply with Chabad.org's copyright policy.
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Drns Gottlieb Modiin Ilit April 28, 2017

Michal is probably the funniest woman in Israel. She is a total hoot onstage. Love to watch her. I'm a comic actress and I tell you - she is a master. Reply

Dina Leah Maine September 26, 2016

Is there a way for Chabad TV to help us? I would love to see her perform and on Chabad TV, if it were pretaped, you could add English subtitles so we could watch her. I'll check out the website someone mentioned, I lived in Israel for 10 years but left over 3 decades ago, so I'll see if I can understand the Hebrew.

I'm an RN, and the story about how she helped fhe woman with post partum depression, was wonderful. Here, in the US, it's hard or impossible to see performances that are clean and modest.
I'll check the website since I have Israeli female Chabad & other religious friends would would enjoy being able to see a woman's comedy.
Actually, it would be wonderful for my granddaughters. She is such a wonderful role model. Kol Hakavod for finding expression for your G-d given talents,
I love to dance, and end up only being able to dance in my own home. I loved going to weddings in Israel especially in the religious community.
Thanks to who the person who gave the link. Shanah Tova! Reply

Anonymous September 26, 2016

I would love to watch Please tell Michal that we would all love to watch her here! Thank you for all you do Michal and many blessings and good wishes to you and your family!

I think it is very important to address Michal's point of making good, clean humour. I love to laugh but that is the only reason I haven't watched comedy in about two years, I just cant find anything clean and funny. I'm in desperate need of good, clean comedy and I just can't find anything....All I can find plays on offending people or bad language. I tried so hard to find something online....

Maybe you guys can collaborate and Michal can produce with Jewish.TV or maybe make DVDs? We all need comedy like that from this woman! She is a true light! Thank you Michal for all of your work making people smile!

I wish for everyone Shana Tova! Reply

Anonymous Israel February 15, 2016

check it out You can always check out מיכל לויטין on youtube though its only in Hebrew Reply

Jim Willis Barrie February 14, 2016

Website or contact info, is her show available on DVD Would like a DVD with subtitles for the Deaf of her show. Reply

Rachel Garber Philadelphia PA February 12, 2016

What a lovely inspiring story. I was so pleased to read that she didn't let the people who failed to see her potential dissuade her from her dream. My sister, who worked as a nurse in a VA hospital for many years has the gift of laughter, and she brought smiles to the faces of many patients. Unfortunately, when she worked for a few yrs in a civilian hospital, her quips were squelched by humorless administration that told her, "we don't talk to patients that way" this denying a few minutes of laughter and smiles to the very people who needed it the most. Reply

Dina Albuquerque, NM February 11, 2016

To editor Chabad.org It would be great if Chanad. TV could get her to agree to video. It could be set up like a class that we would need to register with donation & for women only! And, perhaps she could do something in English or even Hebrew with subtitles? Just an idea!

On the other hand for those who live in Israel, would it be possible to get her schedule? I have female friends in Israel who I'm sure would enjoy her performances.

Thanks! Reply

Editor, Chabad.org February 11, 2016

RE where to watch Michal currently performs in Hebrew only in Israel. Reply

Rachel Hanna Baltimore February 11, 2016

Where can we watch? Reply

Raul Cabrera February 9, 2016

Absolutely wonderful! Reply

bracha israel February 9, 2016

how can i get her schedule of performances?
i also would like to see her on line Reply

Cristina Sousa February 9, 2016

How can we watch Michal Levitin comedy? How can we watch Michal Levitin comedy? Reply

Diane Albuquerque, NM USA February 8, 2016

I wish I could see her, too Would it be possible for her to do several sketches for Chabad.TV so women around the world could enjoy watching her and learning her messages. I would love so much to see her, too. (I'm in the US.) Reply

esi ny February 7, 2016

I would love to see her preform. Does she preform on English? Reply

Hinda Dukes St Louis Park February 7, 2016

can we watch too? Is there any venue for watching Michal on line? Humor is the way to go! Reply