Moshe Kash­er is the author of Kash­er in the Rye: The True Tale of a White Boy from Oak­land Who Became a Drug Addict, Crim­i­nal, Men­tal Patient, and Then Turned 16. He is blog­ging here today for Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and MyJew­ish­Learn­ing.

To who­ev­er is reading–

I’ve had some com­plaints regard­ing my recent appear­ance on Conan, pro­mot­ing my new book, Kash­er In The Rye: The True Tale Of A White Boy From Oak­land Who Became A Drug Addict, Crim­i­nal, Men­tal Patient…And Then Turned Six­teen. Some Jews (I’m assum­ing here) were a lit­tle offend­ed by my pok­ing fun at my expe­ri­ences with child­hood Hare­di life. I said they looked like fat Amish pen­guins and that they were weird. But seri­ous­ly, I mean is any of that in dispute?


Now, nor­mal­ly, I try and pay anony­mous com­plaints no heed as I have long since come to terms with the fact that when you make jokes, espe­cial­ly sharp prick­ly ones, you will invari­ably bruise the ten­der sen­si­bil­i­ties of some­one and that the anony­mous and instant­ly acces­si­ble nature of the inter­net gives those bruised peach­es an instant plat­form to lodge their griev­ances. But I’ve been think­ing about it and I thought, since I’m being asked to blog for MyJew­ish­Learn­ing and Jew­ish Book Coun­cil, that I might try and clar­i­fy myself and my jokes and my Jewishness.

I grew up in a bifur­cat­ed exis­tence, float­ing between the super­nat­ur­al realms of Chas­sidus and the con­crete prag­ma­tism of sec­u­lar­iza­tion. I’m an anom­aly. A rare breed that is both frum from birth” and off the derech” in sharp strong veins that ran, right next to one anoth­er, inter­weav­ing them­selves into a con­fus­ing rope almost long enough to hang myself with.

My father moved to Sea­gate, and mar­ried into a Sat­mar fam­i­ly when it became clear that my moth­er – who took us on a vaca­tion” to Oak­land ear­ly in my life- was not going to return. He was a unique man, a bril­liant dynamo who paint­ed and per­formed in the low­er east side and accord­ing to fam­i­ly leg­end was asked by Mar­cel Marceau, see­ing his pan­tomime genius, to join him as a mime in train­ing.” All the messy blurs of the art world were turned into sharp edges when he found Chas­sidus and returned to the shtark world of frumkeit.

My moth­er, who stole us away in the night, kept that mess and turned it into kin­dling for a bright jum­bled fire that illu­mi­nat­ed our home and kept us warm. Her rela­tion­ship with Judaism was casu­al and ambiva­lent, no doubt poi­soned a bit by her rocky mar­riage to my father.

I was born in the mid­dle ground. To my left was mod­ernism, to my right was min­hag. The runoff of both expe­ri­ences was churn­ing white water that I had to learn how to pad­dledown, des­per­ate to keep my head above water. Even­tu­al­ly, I learned how to make jokes about all of it and those jokes became flota­tion devices. They buoyed me and kept me breathing.

And though, if you read the book you will see how deeply and severe­ly I sank lat­er on, I used those jokes to keep me as afloat as I could be, even as I got smacked around on the rocks. Kash­er In The Rye is a book where I expose my soft under­bel­ly to the world and tell the tale of my teenage descent into drug addic­tion, vio­lence, insan­i­ty and crime. But it’s a com­e­dy. How can such dark fod­der be funny?

My God, how can it not?

If I hadn’t learned to laugh at it, all of it, it would have swal­lowed me whole and I’d prob­a­bly not be your blog­ger this week. I’d like­ly be dead. So you’ll for­give me if I laugh at you. I’m real­ly just laugh­ing at myself. It nev­er occurred to me that my child­hood wasn’t my own to joke about. But I see now that, when bring­ing that child­hood into the pub­lic for every­one to enjoy and , hope­ful­ly to relate to, that I’m jok­ing about your child­hood too. If I offend any­one with my gal­lows humor, please know that I was born on a gal­lows and and I’m telling jokes to stave off exe­cu­tion. If you’d like to take my place up here you are welcome.

This isn’t an apol­o­gy. God for­bid. I’m not sor­ry at all for turn­ing my expe­ri­ences into jokes, it’s what I do. This is a clar­i­fi­ca­tion. I love Jews and Jew­ish­ness. I love Chas­sidus and tra­di­tion. I love it sin­cere­ly and I love to make fun of it too. Hon­est­ly if you don’t think there is any­thing hilar­i­ous about liv­ing in 21st cen­tu­ry Amer­i­ca but pre­tend­ing fash­ion wise that its 1820′s Hun­gary, then you take your­self too damn seri­ous­ly. I think the Baal Shem Tov would prob­a­bly agree with me but who the f*ck am I to speak for him? I’m just a clown. But I think we need clowns as much as we need rebbes.

Moshe Kash­er is the author of Kash­er In The Rye: The True Tale Of A White Boy From Oak­land Who Became A Drug Addict, Crim­i­nal, Men­tal Patient…And Then Turned Six­teen. He is an L.A.-based come­di­an who was named iTunes Come­di­an of the Year. He is a reg­u­lar­ly fea­tured guest on E’s Chelsea Late­ly, Late Night with Jim­my Fal­lon, and Com­e­dy Central.