Ari Teman, the stand-up comedian who crashed the black-hatters scene at Kinus Hashluchim banquet tells COLlive why he wore a “Where’s Waldo” costume.
By Rabbi Yehuda Ceitlin, COLlive Editor
The wider Lubavitch public first heard of Ari Teman in 2009 when he competed for (and won) the top spot in the Jewish Federations’ Heroes contest against Rabbi Levi Shemtov, founder of Friendship Circle.
An award-winning stand-up comedian and a man of many talents, Teman was praised for founding JCorps, a volunteer organization with some 10,000 members aged 18 to 30 in the USA, Israel and Canada.
As we reported then, Teman openly credits the Shluchim at Brandeis University for the lessons he learned about the way to treat people and building a great organization.
Over the 5772 Kinus we discovered that his connection with Chabad goes further than that, and is actually quite memorable. Here are excerpts of his conversation with COLlive.com:
How many times have you attended the Chabad Kinus banquet?
This was my third time. My first was as a guest of the amazing Rabbi Peretz Chein of Chabad at Brandeis. It was at the armory, and hearing 3,000 pairs of shoes stomp the floor as they rose to say tehillim was incredible. It felt like being in the middle of a stampede. I remember being impressed at how all of the rabbis were wired, carrying the latest smartphones and interested in using technology to reach Jews.
My second time was last year, as a guest of Rabbi Avraham Berkowitz. We were actually sitting together in Basil in Crown Heights a short time ago discussing JCorps when the earthquake struck New York! We felt the earth moving, saw the lights swaying and ran outside. Most people don’t know this, but thanks to that earthquake 770 is now 768.
And this year?
I came this time as a presenter, having given a talk at the Kinus on how to reach the next generation. The gala banquet was, as usual, incredible and inspiring.
What did you think of it?
The conference was very moving and I woke up yelling at my puppy in Yiddish. I’m not sure what I was saying. I think I told her to ‘Shluf’ like a chossid… It doesn’t matter. She doesn’t listen to me in English either. I adopted her from North Shore Animal League. All I get is trouble with people from Long Island.
As someone who is active in the Jewish world, how is Chabad perceived today?
Being called “active in the Jewish world” makes me cringe a little, because most of the “professional” Jewish world is lame. They don’t put effort into design, they don’t take risks, they see Jews as donors who are there to feed their organizations as opposed to their organizations as there to feed Jews (spiritually and when in-need).
Chabad, on the other hand, takes risks, the shluchim are almost always willing to try something new, to experiment, to reach out to someone. They are there to give unconditional love to all Jews. So who cares how Chabad is seen by others? The important thing is how Chabad sees them!
What do you think is Chabad’s best virtue?
Chabad has integrity to their core set of values. That’s what sets them apart. As Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks said, “Non-Jews respect Jews who respect Judaism.”
Well, so do Jews. Most unaffiliated kids don’t respect Jewish organizations, because these organizations compromise their values in the name of “pluralism” or to get a few more people to an event, and eventually they’re mediocre.
Steve Jobs said it, “A-players hire A-players. B-players hire C-players.” Chabad attracts A-players by sticking to their values, and that spreads. We try to steal as much as possible from Chabad at JCorps. Don’t let me near Mr. Bogolubov.
You came into the banquet wearing a tie and vest. What went wrong?
Um…my bekishe got stuck at the dry cleaners? Wait, no, we don’t wear those where I’m from…2011…I mean, Teaneck, NJ. I can’t believe I just admitted I’m from Teaneck.
Oh, you mean the Waldo costume? Nothing went wrong! Everything went right! Having seen 4,000 people dressed the same, I thought it’d be great to let people at the place and on the livestream play “Where’s Waldo?” or “Where’s Wally?” as they apparently say in Australia (For foreigners, the Australian Shluchim’s English is excellent!)
I also thought it’d give everyone a great time and be a great way to introduce hundreds of Shluchim to JCorps and my comedy this way. It worked! If you’re going to tell Chabad how to market, you better prove your stuff! “Guerrilla marketing” as we call it.
You were a hit!
It was awesome! People were stopping me to take photos, grabbing my hands to dance, Chabadniks and their supporters are really cool. A security guy came over to check me out and RabbiMoshe Kotlarsky‘s son was like, “He’s with me.”
The funny thing is, it took security about an hour to find Waldo. The Shluchim were much faster at finding a Yid.
Beyond that, Shluchim from Vancouver to Moscow to Sydney to South Africa have already been in touch. Some are considering helping us find rockstar young adults to launch JCorps in their cities. Others are thinking of having me for a comedy show.
In which Chabads have you performed lately?
All over… Montreal (Rabbi Yisroel Bernath‘s Jewish Comedy Festival), New Jersey (Rabbis Boruch Klar and Mendy Kasowitz), New York (Rabbi Yaya & Devorah Wilhelm‘s Young Jewish Professionals, The Aliyah Center, Sheva & Tzvi Tauby’s iVolunteer, Rabbi Yonah & Keren Blum at Columbia). Pretty soon I’m going to have to start every joke by thanking the Rohr family.
What was your most memorable experience at a Chabad House or with a Shliach?
I have so many great experiences at the Chabad House at Brandeis with Peretz and Chanie Chein. One that always sticks in my mind is how Peretz greeted a worker at Home Depot who was clearly not a Jew (although who can tell anymore?) as if he’d finally gotten to meet the King of Home Depot.
I saw how Peretz appreciates people and how the Torah values permeate him completely. My best friends and best memories come from my times with Peretz and Chanie. I’ve yet to meet Shluchim that measure up to them, and I’ve met many amazing Shluchim. Ten years since meeting Peretz he is still a source of inspiration and guidance.
Rabbi Levi and Perel Shmotkin are also an amazing couple. They’re there for young professionals during the difficult transition from college to the “real world” in NYC and I’ve spent a lot of nice times at their expanding Shabbat table. They’re another example of people are are chossids 24/7, 100% of the time, as in the theme of the conference.
Teman (L) with Rabbi Avrohom Berkowitz and friends
Teman (R) with Rabbi Levi Slonim of Binghamton, NY
With Rabbi Boruch Klar of Essex County, NJ
With Rabbi Yitzchok Moully of Basking Ridge, NJ
With Rabbi Berel Zaklikowsky of Goodyear, AZ
With Rabbi Shloma Leib Abramowitz of NCFJE
With Rabbi Areyah Kaltmann of Columbus, Ohio
With Rabbi Chaim Nachum Cunin of California