Actor Avi Hoffman began his career at the
tender age of 10.
Appearing in "Bronx Express" at the Yiddish Folksbeine Theater in Manhattan, a star was born. By 1969, his family - his parents, Mendl and Miriam Hoffman were Holocaust survivors - had moved to Israel, where he continued to perform in both Hebrew and English plays, as well as on television and in film.
After graduating from the University of Miami with a BFA in drama, he returned to New York City in 1980 and worked for years in Jewish community centers.
But it wasn’t until he found himself having trouble getting work because he was "too Jewish" that the man born Avrum Ber Hoffman really began exploring his personal Jewish identity.
The result is "Avi Hoffman’s Too Jewish?" - an award-winning (Los Angeles Ovation award as Best Actor in a Musical 2001) one-man-show he will perform at the Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts at Brooklyn College on Nov. 2.
"Too Jewish?" mixes Jewish culture, history, humor and self-reflection. It premiered off-Broadway in 1999 and, says Hoffman, "this little show became an enormous success and a celebration of Jewish cultural identity."
"I was brought up in a Yiddish-speaking home. As a youngster growing up in the Bronx, I thought the whole world was Yiddish," Hoffman told GO Brooklyn. "So the show asks the question, ’what if all the great musicals and literature had originally been written in Yiddish?’"
This leads Hoffman quite naturally into parodies like "Oy Glaucoma!" Other songs Hoffman will be singing include English translations of Yiddish songs "for people who remember the songs their parents and grandparents sang to them, but don’t know what they mean."
Hoffman remarks that people have been predicting the imminent death of Yiddish for the past 200 years. Most of those people are now dead, but Yiddish is still alive.
A more delicate subject among Jews is name changes. Hoffman engages the audience in a quiz - he supplies the given name and the audience guesses who the celebrity is. (For instance, Leonard Rosenberg is Tony Randall and Bernie Schwartz is Tony Curtis. Hoffman wouldn’t give away any others.)
But "Too Jewish?" is as much a celebration as it is an exploration. And no celebration of Jews in America would be complete without including vaudeville.
"Vaudeville is the precursor of Broadway and standup comedy," says Hoffman. "Menashe Skulnick, the first great standup comic, performed all over the country and in early television.
He set the stage for comics from Henny Youngman and Rodney Dangerfield to Jerry Seinfeld and Woody Allen. In fact, Woody Allen’s style - the self-deprecating Jewish character - is very similar to Menashe’s."
For Hoffman it’s all about pride.
"Jews today are finally realizing that it’s OK to be Jewish, OK to leave behind the self-consciousness of the immigrant experience," he says.
That said, Hoffman believes people of all ages and backgrounds can enjoy his show.
"It’s appropriate for the entire family," he says. "I see three generations - children with their parents and grandparents. Everyone who sees the show can relate to it, whether they’re Jewish or not, because everyone comes from an immigrant background, and even those who don’t can appreciate the show because humor is humor."
Still, there’s a serious element to the show.
"You can’t be a child of survivors without talking about the Holocaust," he says. "One of the things that has kept the Jews going is the belief in the Messiah and the hope that he would come."
Hoffman closes his show with "When the Messiah Comes," originally the last song in "Fiddler on the Roof," but cut before opening night.
Fortunately, you don’t have to wait for the Messiah to come to enjoy Avi Hoffman. He’s going to be right here in Brooklyn this weekend.
"Avi Hoffman’s Too Jewish?"
will be performed Nov. 2 at 2 pm. Tickets are $30. The Whitman
Theatre is located at Brooklyn College, 2900 Campus Road at Hillel
Place, one block from the junction of Flatbush and Nostrand avenues.
For more information, call (718) 951-4500 or visit www.brookl