Weekend and comedian reach for unity

When hundreds of people from the Milwaukee-area Jewish community came together at a memorial event, soon after the Oct. 27, 2018 mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue, it reminded Rabbi Wes Kalmar of one of his convictions.

That is, he’d like to see local Jewry come together for good things, too.

The result, after much discussion with other leaders in the Jewish community, will be a “Shabbat MKE” weekend slated for Nov. 15-16, 2019. This Jewish unity weekend is to include a visiting comedian with a knack for reaching across the Jewish aisle.

Kalmar, who leads Anshe Sfard Kehillat Torah congregation in Glendale, noted that one of the fundamental principles of Judaism is to “love your neighbor as yourself.” It’s in Leviticus.

What: Comedian Ashley Blaker
When: Saturday, Nov. 16, 7 p.m.
Where: Harry & Rose Samson Family Jewish Community Center, 6255 N. Santa Monica Blvd., Whitefish Bay
Cost: $18
Tickets: MilwaukeeJewish.org/Blaker, AshleighL@MilwaukeeJewish.org or 414-390-5741

This is part of what led him to push for a weekend of unity. Kalmar and his partner in unity, Rabbi Noah Chertkoff of Congregation Shalom, seek to bring together “Jews who are different in their religious outlook, their political outlook, Jews who are different in all different ways,” Kalmar said.

Different synagogues and organizations are free to approach the weekend in different ways and are laying plans now.

Visiting comedian

British comedian Ashley Blaker, an Orthodox stand-up comedian who has performed for both Jewish and non-Jewish audiences, is set to perform Saturday, Nov. 16. Tickets are available at MilwaukeeJewish.org/Blaker. The event is being organized by Milwaukee Jewish Federation.

Blaker is a baal teshuva, someone who has come to increased observance later in life. He has performed off-Broadway and has a BBC show, “Ashley Blaker’s Goyish Guide To Judaism.”

“His jokes attempt the balancing act of translating religious customs for a secular audience while poking fun at the devout in a way that doesn’t offend,” wrote the New York Times last year. “Using a verbally dexterous and slightly exasperated delivery evoking that of John Oliver, he specializes in problems of etiquette that arise in an effort to remain devout.”

In one stand-up routine, Blaker says he understands the observant prohibition on contact between men and women: “Because shaking hands can be quite intimate. Every time I see my wife, we always greet each other with a firm handshake.”

“If it’s a really romantic night we’ll shake hands for hours.”

In an interview with the Chronicle, Blaker said he always makes sure his comedy is “very accessible.”

“I know that this show that I’m doing in Milwaukee is for a Jewish audience,” he said, but quickly added, “You don’t need to have been to Yeshiva to enjoy this.”

Blaker has not been to Milwaukee before and is a fan of “Happy Days.” He’s heard of Milwaukee’s Downtown Bronze Fonz and he wants to see it. Really. “It’s funny, the rubbish I pick up in my head,” he said.

He also brought up the possibility of a “cheese hat.”

“I’m very frum,” he said referring to his observance, “so it would have to be kosher cheese.”