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A Bukharian comedian mines his Jewish identity in his debut standup solo show

(New York Jewish Week) – On paper, at least, it seems like Natan Badalov had a pretty typical American Jewish childhood. He went to a Jewish day school for elementary and middle school, had a bar mitzvah and graduated from a public high school.

And yet, despite growing up in a city that’s home to more than 1.5 million Jews, Badalov, 31, always felt like something of an outsider.

Badalov’s family came from Uzbekistan in the early 1990s, as part of a wave of Bukharian immigrants who fled Central Asia after the fall of the Soviet Union. While most Bukharian families settled in the heavily Jewish Queens neighborhoods of Forest Hills and Rego Park, the Badalovs moved to the remarkably diverse neighborhood of Jackson Heights, which is technically only a few miles from away but may as well have been on another planet. 

These days, there are some 50,000 Bukharian Jews in New York, though for much of Badalov’s childhood he was isolated from them. He attended a Jewish day school in Manhattan, where he said many of his classmates had never interacted with someone who wasn’t Ashkenazi. Some people made fun of his looks, and he said some adults there did not allow him to question the meaning of God and faith.

By the time he started at Forest Hills High School — which had a large population of Bukharian Jewish students — he felt alienated from them as well. “I had a thing for a long time where, because of religious trauma, I would push away from Judaism,” Badalov told the New York Jewish Week. “But it always just tends to come back. You can’t avoid your problems.”

Recently, Badalov, who still lives in Queens, dated a rabbi, who asked him all sorts of questions about his Jewish upbringing and Jewish identity. And while the relationship didn’t work out, the experience inspired him to think deeply about his feelings about Judaism and why he pushed it away.

After performing stand up comedy as a side gig around the city for the last seven years, the intense period of introspection inspired him to create his first-ever solo standup show “Connect the Dots,” which he will debut Nov. 8 at the Astoria venue Q.E.D. as part of the New York Comedy Festival. “It’s about me trying to evaluate everything that happened — why I dated a rabbi and why it didn’t work out,” he said. “It’s very Jewish.” 

Ahead of next week’s set, the New York Jewish Week caught up with Badalov to talk about what inspired his debut show, how his identity has evolved and whether or not he’s the “Martin Luther King of Bukharian comedians,” as he calls it. 

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

New York Jewish Week: What inspired you to create this show?

Natan Badalov: It’s about me trying to find my Jewish identity. It was inspired by a common thing with every immigrant family, where there’s, like, that pressure to get married. I dated a rabbi for a few years and it didn’t work out. Heartbreak is a great inspiration for everything, really. 

What I talk about in the show is about how when you date someone, they want you to be part of their life. It makes sense, you’re in a relationship. For her, being a rabbi meant going to services and being more observant. I wasn’t — I was just content with being as religious as I am now, which is just culturally Jewish. That’s where we would butt heads, usually about the future. 

We dated for about a year and a half. It was during the pandemic. We got together because we both had some resentment towards Judaism. A lot of Jewish people thought I was Muslim and all this other stuff. For her, a lot of more religious people didn’t respect that she was a female rabbi. 

But the relationship made me start thinking about my Jewish identity more. She would ask me if I would raise my kids Jewish and I’ve never been asked that before. Thinking about it, I said “No,  I wouldn’t do it because of the trauma that I went through. I wouldn’t want to put them through that.” She would say, “That’s so sad.” Those conversations made me try to understand how much I value or whether I value Judaism in my life at all. I had never asked myself those questions.

What do you mean by religious trauma?

Growing up, I went to day school from second to eighth grade. I had a little uniform, I wore a yarmulke, I put on tefillin. I would visit my relatives in Israel from time to time, so it was a very Jewish environment. 

But being Bukharian and coming to the U.S., there was always this kind of tension between me and Ashkenazi Jewish people. I grew up in Ashkenazi spaces and American Jewish spaces. There would be certain instances where I would have to explain myself and explain who I am and where I’m from. 

One time, I was followed in the synagogue, which was pretty fucked up and confusing — it’s something with the eyebrows. I think that makes people question things. I went to Forest Hills High School, which is basically half Bukharian. That was my first introduction to being around “Oh my god, everybody got the same eyebrows,” which was crazy. 

Because of stuff like that, as I got older, I started feeling more and more defensive and on edge when I was going to synagogue. It pushed me away from it. Even to this day, I still feel that way, but writing this show has really helped me process it. 

Now I’m comfortable calling myself “just Jewish.” That was something I wasn’t even comfortable with for a long time. I would say to myself, “Well, I’m not even practicing, so what’s the point of calling myself Jewish.” But I accepted that just because I’m not doing those things doesn’t mean that it’s not part of my life. 

Do you feel a responsibility to represent Bukharian Jews in comedy? 

I used to get upset like, “Why don’t you people know about Bukharian Jews?” But I’ve come to terms with it. 

I don’t know many Bukharian comedians. There are some that do sketches and stuff on TikTok but in terms of standup, I don’t know of any in America or New York. There have been Bukharian people that want to do stand up and they’ve been messaging me asking for advice. So it’s good to see that, there’s a desire to do it. I’m always down to help. I don’t really want to be like, I don’t know, the Martin Luther King of Bukharian comedians. It’s great if people identify or connect to me in that way, but there’s a lot of pros and cons to that. Being Bukharian is not my only thing or my claim to fame. It’s just one part of me.

How did you get into comedy?

The end of 2016. I always wanted to do it; I would always just write the material but I thought everyone did that. I would go to open mics and just watch for a long time, way too long. It got to the point where people kind of knew me — comics usually just do their set and leave, so they all assumed I was a comedian who might be on after them. Eventually I had to do a set.

My first set was about me being a Broadway usher at the Friedman Theatre. I forgot it all. I forgot every single thing. I just started pointing at everyone and just going like, “Yo, what’s up?” I said what’s up to every person in the room, about 15 people. By the 15th person. I was done, that was it. I just walked off. But now I’m here with a set. 

Natan Badalov will perform “Connect the Dots” as part of the New York Comedy Festival at Q.E.D. Astoria on Nov. 8 at 9 p.m. Get tickets for $15. In response to the Israel-Hamas war, Badalov is donating a portion of the proceeds to the Global Empowerment Mission, a charity that helps affected families receive food, clothing and medicine.


The post A Bukharian comedian mines his Jewish identity in his debut standup solo show appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Alleged Neo-Nazi Indicted for Plot to Carry Out New Year’s Eve Mass Casualty Attack Against Jews, Other Minorities

An American flag waves outside the US Department of Justice Building in Washington, US, Dec. 2, 2020. Photo: REUTERS/Tom Brenner

US federal authorities have charged, and a grand jury has indicted, a foreign national with planning a mass casualty attack against Jews and other minorities in New York on New Year’s Eve.

The United States Attorney’s Office of the Eastern District of New York reported that a grand jury indicted Georgian national Michail Chkhikvishvili with soliciting hate crimes and acts of mass violence.

Chkhikvishvili is reportedly the leader of a group called the “Maniac Murder Cult,” a white supremacist, neo-Nazi group.

Specifically, he was recruiting people to carry out arson and bombing attacks — as well as attacks aimed at Jewish and other minority children, according to US officials.

The US Attorney’s Office explained that the “planned New Year’s Eve attack involved Santa Claus handing out poisoned candy to racial minorities as well as distributing poisoned candy to Jewish children in Brooklyn.”

There were more than 450,000 Jews who lived in Brooklyn as of May 2024. Many neighborhoods are known to be predominantly Hasidic.

Authorities found out about the plot when Chkhikvishvili solicited an undercover law enforcement official to be involved in the attack.

He “sought to recruit others to commit violent attacks and killings in furtherance of his Neo-Nazi ideologies,” US Attorney for the Eastern District of New York Breon Peace said in a statement. “We will not hesitate to find and prosecute those who threaten the safety and freedoms of all members of our community, including members of minority communities, no matter where in the world these criminals might be hiding.”

FBI New York Acting Assistant Director Christie Curtis lauded law enforcement for stopping the attack before it could ever take place.

“The swift disruption of this individual, accused of allegedly plotting violent attacks in New York, sends a clear message: we will use every resource in our power to ensure the safety of the American people,” she said. “The men and women who work on this task force day in and day out exemplify true service to our community, demonstrating unwavering commitment in thwarting those who seek to harm our citizens and our way of life.”

The plot comes amid a wave of antisemitic attacks that ramped up in America and around the world after Hamas’ Oct. 7 terrorist attack on Israel, amid the ensuing war in Gaza.

Earlier this month, an observant Jew was sucker punched and beaten in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood of Washington, DC. The alleged attacker subsequently expressed his motive, saying “They’re [the Jews] the cause of all our wars,” and “We know who you are! We know the lies that you’ve told, that you have stolen the place of the true children of Israel.”

He was charged with assault and a hate crime.

In December, the FBI said there had been a 60 percent spike in antisemitic hate crime investigations since the beginning of the Israel-Hamas war. Then, in April, FBI Director Christopher Wray said the probes into antisemitic crimes tripled in the months following Oct. 7.

“Between Oct. 7 and Jan. 30 of this year, we opened over three times more anti-Jewish hate crime investigations than in the four months before Oct. 7,” he explained.

Last year, the FBI found that 63 percent of all religiously motivated hate crimes in the US were directed against Jews.

The post Alleged Neo-Nazi Indicted for Plot to Carry Out New Year’s Eve Mass Casualty Attack Against Jews, Other Minorities first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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RNC Spotlights Campus Antisemitism as Elise Stefanik Teases ‘Bombshell’ Findings From US Congressional Probe

US Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) speaks during a House Education and The Workforce Committee hearing titled ‘Holding Campus Leaders Accountable and Confronting Antisemitism’ on Capitol Hill in Washington, US, Dec. 5, 2023. Photo: REUTERS/Ken Cedeno

US lawmakers are preparing to release later this year a trove of new “bombshell” information revealing the extent to which antisemitism has been allowed to flourish on university campuses across the country, according to a high-ranking Republican.

US Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) spoke with political pundit and podcast host Megyn Kelly about the efforts of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce to investigate surging antisemitism, including anti-Jewish bias, on college campuses. While reminiscing over last December’s congressional hearing with the presidents of Harvard University, the University of Pennsylvania, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology — in which each campus leader proclaimed that calls for a genocide of Jews may not violate school rules depending on “the context” — Stefanik revealed that the committee has obtained new documents shedding light on anti-Jewish hate at elite universities.

“This is pervasive in higher-ed. We have worked on this investigation, and if you think the hearing was bad, Megyn, we’re going to have to talk about all the documents that have been turned over because of our subpoena,” Stefanik said. “We’ll put out a report later this year. That’s even more bombshell material in there. It’s a disgrace what’s happening at these universities.”

Antisemitism has exploded at universities since the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre across southern Israel, amid the ensuing Israel-Hamas war in Gaza. Over the past several months, the committee has rigorously investigated antisemitism at America’s most prestigious universities. The panel recently unearthed and exposed text message exchanges between Columbia University deans which revealed the campus leaders mocking Jewish students as “privileged.” The lawmakers also alleged, based on their investigation, that Harvard University has engaged in a “pattern of inaction” in response to campus antisemitism.

Stefanik spoke to Kelly at the Republican National Convention (RNC) in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where Republicans are gathering this week to nominate their 2024 presidential candidate. The issue of campus antisemitism has been a key issue highlighted at the RNC.

On Wednesday night, Shabbos Kestenbaum, a recent Harvard graduate suing his alma mater over its alleged failure to protect Jewish students, took the RNC main stage and delivered an impassioned speech on campus antisemitism. Kestenbaum said that the surge of unchecked antisemitism on Harvard’s campus in the months following Oct. 7 left him disillusioned with progressives, prompting his move to the political right. 

“After Oct. 7, the world finally saw what I and so many Jewish students across this country experienced almost every day,” he told the RNC crowd. 

“My problem with Harvard is not its liberalism, but its illiberalism. Too often, students at Harvard are taught not how to think, but what to think. I found myself immersed in a culture that is anti-Western, that is anti American, and that is antisemitic,” Kestenbaum said. 

Kestenbaum implored the crowd to support the presidential campaign of Republican nominee Donald Trump. 

“Sadly the far-left wing tide of antisemitism is rising,” Kestenbaum said. “But tonight, tonight we fight back. I am proud to support President Trump’s policies to expel foreign students who violate our laws, harass our Jewish classmates, and desecrate our freedoms … let’s elect a president who recognizes that although Harvard and the Ivy Leagues have long abandoned the United States of America, the Jewish people never will.”

Anti-Israel protests have ravaged college campuses across the United States in the months following Oct. 7. Students at prominent universities such as Harvard, Columbia, and MIT have participated in demonstrations chanting slogans such as “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free!” and “Burn Tel Aviv to the ground!” Progressive student organizations have also openly banned “Zionists,” forcing Jewish students to choose between supporting Israel and maintaining their social network. Campus demonstrators have also openly cheered Hamas and in some cases threatened or committed violence against Jewish students.

Jewish donors and alumni have condemned university administrators over their unwillingness to shut down demonstrations. As a result, many of them have pulled funding and vowed not to allow their children to enroll at their alma maters.

Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots NFL team, has ceased donating to Columbia University, citing “virulent hate” against Jews on campus.  Ross Stevens, founder and CEO of Stone Ridge Asset Management, pulled a $100 million donation from the University of Pennsylvania. The MIT Jewish Alumni Alliance urged Jewish graduates and allies to protest campus antisemitism by lowering their annual donation amount to $1.

The post RNC Spotlights Campus Antisemitism as Elise Stefanik Teases ‘Bombshell’ Findings From US Congressional Probe first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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Pro-Israel Group Calls on US Justice Department to Apply ‘KKK Laws’ to Pro-Hamas Demonstrations

Pro-Hamas demonstrators at Columbia University in New York City, US, April 29, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/Caitlin Ochs

StandWithUs (SWU), a Jewish civil rights group based in California, is imploring the US Justice Department to crack down on masked protests at Columbia University by enforcing legal statues which are widely referred to as the “KKK Laws,” citing a hostile environment at the school in which pro-Hamas demonstrators who have harassed and assaulted Jewish students continuously evade justice by concealing their identities.

Dating back to the administration of former US President Ulysses S. Grant, the so-called “KKK Laws” empower the federal government to prosecute those who engage in activities which violate the civil rights of protected groups, as the Ku Klux Klan did across the US South during Reconstruction to prevent African Americans from voting and living as free citizens. StandWithUs alleges that five anti-Zionist groups — most notably Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) — currently operating on Columbia University’s campus have perpetrated similar abuses in violation of Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which guarantees all students, regardless of race or ethnic background, has the right to a safe learning environment.

The most obvious parallel between their conduct and the KKK’s, StandWithUs noted, is an inveterate shrouding of their members’ faces with masks and keffiyehs, the traditional headscarf worn by Palestinians that has become known as a symbol of solidarity with the Palestinian cause and opposition to Israel. Images and footage of the practice have been widely circulated online, and it has rendered identifying the protesters — many of whom have chanted antisemitic slogans, vandalized school property, and threatened to harm Jewish students and faculty during a weeks-long demonstration between April and May — virtually impossible.

Additionally, the groups — which also include Within Our Lifetime (WOL), Columbia/Barnard Jewish Voices for Peace (JVP), Columbia University Apartheid, Columbia School of Social Work 4 Palestine (CSSW4P), and Faculty and Staff for Justice in Palestine (FJP) — have proclaimed their intention to purge Columbia’s campus of Zionists, a category which includes an overwhelming majority of Jews in the US and around the world. Their rhetoric, StandWithUs added, is unlike any uttered in the US since demonstrations against school integration in the 1950s.

“We hope the Department of Justice (DOJ) will take this opportunity to restore justice on Columbia University’s campuses and hold bad actors responsible for violating federal laws,” Yael Lerman, director of the SWU Saidoff Legal Department, said on Wednesday. “Columbia President Shafik’s concession that Columbia is a hostile environment for Jewish students in violation of Title VI reflects a critical need for the current administration to take decisive action at Columbia.”

Lerman added, “We urge the DOJ to investigate the school’s failure to prevent groups and individuals on its campus from joining forces and depriving Jewish students of their civil rights, a failure that runs afoul of the KKK laws.”

SWU’s letter — sent to US Attorney General Merrick Garland and the Justice Department on Wednesday — comes amid an ongoing lawsuit the organization’s Legal Center for Justice (SCLJ) filed against Columbia University in February over its alleged failure to prevent and respond to an explosion of anti-Jewish hate incidents which have occurred on the campus since Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre across southern Israel, an event the protesters cheered and defended as an act of decolonization inspired by the ideas of far-left political philosophers such as Frantz Fanon.

SWU amended its complaint against Columbia in June, adding 45 students as plaintiffs and over “230 pages of allegations.” Meanwhile, the accusations which surfaced following the group’s first filing have already stained Columbia’s reputation.

“F— the Jews,” “Death to Jews,” “Jews will not defeat us,” and “From water to water, Palestine will be Arab,” Columbia protesters chanted on campus grounds after Oct. 7, violating the school’s code of conduct but never facing consequences for doing so, the complaint alleges. Faculty engaged in similar behavior. On Oct. 8, professor Joseph Massad published in Electronic Intifada an essay cheering Hamas’ atrocities, which included slaughtering children and raping women, as “awesome” and describing men who paraglided into a music festival to kill young people as “the air force of the Palestinian resistance.”

The protesters later reinforced their rhetoric with violence, the complaint adds. They beat up five Jewish students in Columbia’s Butler Library. Another allegedly attacked a Jewish students with a stick, lacerating his head and breaking his finger, after being asked to return missing persons posters she had stolen. Following the incidents, pleas for help went unanswered and administrators told Jewish students they could not guarantee their safety while Students for Justice in Palestine held its demonstrations.

The school’s powerlessness to prevent anti-Jewish violence was cited as the reason why Students Supporting Israel (SSI), a recognized school club, was denied permission to hold an event on self-defense. Events with “buzzwords” such as “Israel” and “Palestine” were purportedly forbidden, administrators allegedly said, but SJP continued to host events while no one explained the inconsistency.

Columbia University president Minouche Shafik, who took office in July 2023, recently attempted to assuage concerns that Columbia has become a sanctuary for antisemites after it was revealed that five high-level administrators participated in a group-chat in which ideas that “disturbingly touched on ancient antisemitic tropes” were exchanged. She fired none of the administrators, however, which has led to calls for her to resign from office.

“We will launch a vigorous program of antisemitism and antidiscrimination [sic] training for faculty and staff this fall, with related training for students under the auspices of university life,” Shafik said in statement. “Columbia’s leadership team recognizes this as an important moment to implement changes that will build a stronger institution as a result. I know that you all share this commitment.”

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

The post Pro-Israel Group Calls on US Justice Department to Apply ‘KKK Laws’ to Pro-Hamas Demonstrations first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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