Once upon a time, an American decided to make aliyah (we’ll call him “Renji”.) The day before he moved, he decided to start a blog. He has done his best to chronicle his personal interactions, insights, frustrations, from the highs to the lows and back, and has gotten great pleasure out of it. He has made both you and himself laugh and smile at all the nuances and foibles of this place called Israel. Over the past three-and-a-half years, in his humble opinion (at the risk of sounding pompous), Renji has felt that his blog has been the funniest collection of Israel-related content in existence, at least in English. At the same time, Israel-related humor isn’t exactly the biggest niche this side of the Mississippi (or Jordan.) However, if Renji were to try to imagine someone who could write something just as good – if not better – he would probably guess Joel Chasnoff could do it.
Renji….ok, I….must have discovered Joel around 2003, a stand-up comic with a lot of experience performing in the Jewish world. While attending a Shabbat dinner at the Makor Center, I saw Joel perform for the first time. I then introduced myself to him and he was gracious enough to let me do a few minutes before him at a private gig. As someone beginning to perform for Jewish crowds and also as a fan, I returned to Joel’s website over the years and watched his clips on Youtube. A few months ago, I came across Joel’s name online. I already knew that he had spent a year serving in the IDF after college years back and I was about to discover his recently released comedic memoir about his time in the army.
If you would have opened my brain even a quarter of a second after I read this, you might have extracted a thought to the effect of, “Damn. He is the man. Can’t top that.” No matter how many times I get cut in front of in line or hear someone say “yiyeh b’seder” at the exact moment it shouldn’t be said, I have also realized that nothing could match what would probably be hilarious yet maddening humor of serving in the army, humor that I will almost never see firsthand. Not only had Joel seen it but he had turned it into a book! Kol hakavod to that guy, I thought. “I see your blog and I raise you a MEMOIR about the army!” He wins.
While recently in New York, I contacted Joel and we had coffee. A few days later, I purchased his book at the Borders next to Madison Square Garden. Within a few more days, I had finished “The 188th Crybaby Brigade: A Skinny Jewish Kid from Chicago Fights Hezbollah-A Memoir“.
The book takes us through Joel’s journey from an Israel-loving teen who dreamed of serving in the IDF to a soldier realizing that being a 24 year-old soldier surrounded by 18 year-olds isn’t exactly what he had expected. Those of you who live abroad will most likely laugh and do so very hard. Those of you who live here will probably experience a range of emotions, nodding your head and saying “yep, that sounds like my country.” Those of you who served? I can only imagine what you’ll think. The conclusions in the book reveal that Joel is much more than a jokester and has some strong opinions about this place that are pretty critical for the future of Israel as a Jewish state.
This book for me personally was more of a serious read than for most. This was actually the most real look at the army I’ve ever gotten, much more personal than any secondhand stories from friends or acquaintances. Here’s a guy probably not so different from many of us going through a more challenging experience than I can ever imagine facing myself. When I read some of the stuff he had to deal with, rather than laughing, I usually thought, “Man, I feel for you, bro. I want to shoot myself in the head after dealing with HOT, I cannot even fathom how you dealt with your commander.”
Joel is a very funny guy and did an amazing job with this book. He has set the bar really high by turning his funny anecdotes into a literary journey. I strongly recommend you pick up a copy of this book.
“Trailer” for the book.
Sample of Joel’s comedy: