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Joan Rivers: Can We Talk?

Joan Rivers: Can We Talk?

She used her acerbic wit to defend Israel and the Jewish people.


On June 8, 1933 a little girl, Joan Alexandra Molinsky, was born. Her parents, Beatrice and Meyer, were Russian Jewish immigrants who raised their two daughters originally in Brooklyn before settling in Larchmont, New York. Joan graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Barnard College in 1954 and before entering show business, she worked as a tour guide at Rockefeller Center, as a writer at an advertising agency and as a fashion consultant at Bond Clothing Store. She changed her name to Joan Rivers when she entered the acting world, and in February 1983, she became the first female comedian to ever perform at Carnegie Hall. She became famous for her direct sense of humor and for her insistence in "telling it like it is."

Though Joan was not an observant Jew, she was a member of Temple Emanuel in New York and often stated publicly that she "loved Israel." In the middle of Operation Protective Edge this past summer Joan told the media: "Let me just tell you, if New Jersey were firing rockets into New York, we would wipe them out. And Palestinians, you cannot throw rockets and expect people not to defend themselves. Don't you dare put weapon stashes in private homes. They started it. You're all insane. How do I know? Because I have been over there. That's how I know. And I wish the world would know. And BBC should be ashamed of themselves and CNN should be ashamed of themselves and everybody stop it already."

When Joan died on Thursday afternoon at the age of 81, from a series of cardiac complications following a routine surgery, the Jewish people lost one of our most outspoken and unapologetic voices. We may not have appreciated all of Joan's jokes or her satirical humor style, but we can learn from her courage and strength. Here are ten of her quotes that teach us how to follow our own dreams and stand up for who we are:

1. Appreciate the moment. "Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery, today is God's gift, that's why we call it the present."

2. Be grateful. "I enjoy life when things are happening. I don't care if it's good things or bad things. That means you're alive. Things are happening."

3. Examine your beliefs. "Don't follow any advice, no matter how good, until you feel as deeply in your spirit as you think in your mind that the counsel is wise."

4. Speak up. "I succeeded by saying what everyone else was thinking."

5. Learn to smile. "Life is very tough. If you don't laugh, it's tough."

6. Be true to yourself. "I'm in nobody's circle, I've always been an outsider."

7. Pursue your dreams even when the world tries to take them away. "What are people going to do? Fire me? I've been fired before. Not book me? I've been out of work before. I don't care."

8. Face your fears. "I lived to be on stage and I'm terrified. Terrified before every show."

9. Use every opportunity. "I was smart enough to go through any door that opened."

10. Have confidence in your work. "You can find my book at your favorite bookstore and if it isn't there find a new favorite."

But the greatest legacy that Joan Rivers left the world is her famous expression: “Can we talk?” Joan was a person who lived her life as a connector, as someone who wanted to reach audiences, small and large and share ideas and struggles with others. In 1997, Joan published a candid book describing her struggle with bulimia after her husband’s death. And despite undergoing multiple plastic surgeries, Joan was open about her continuing challenges with her self- image culminating in her bestselling book “I Hate Everyone Starting with Me.”

Speech helps us to get out of our self-absorption and self-contained world. We do not need to face our struggles alone. Can we talk? Can we share our struggles and our triumphs with each other? Can we be proud of who we are and where we come from? Can we stand up for what we believe in? Can we talk? Can we admit that we are afraid and show up anyway? Can we talk? Can we learn to smile even when life is tough? Can we remember how to laugh with each other even when we see things differently?

Can we take this precious lesson from Joan Rivers and use it to change our own lives? To speak up when we need to. To face our fears. To share our struggles. To reach out to the world and to each other even when it seems like no one is listening.

Is there someone that you need to speak to? Is there something you have been wanting to share? Is there a conversation you know you need to have, but you can’t seem to build up enough courage? Try Joan’s three words: "Can we talk?" Sometimes that is all you need to say.

Thank you, Joan for teaching us how to speak up and how to share our struggles with each other. And for using your talents for defending Israel and the Jewish people.

September 5, 2014

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Visitor Comments: 47

(31) Dave, September 15, 2014 6:09 PM

Joan -- Defender of Israel AND Judaism

Let us not forget Ms. Joan Rivers also defended Judaism not just Israel. In fact, I don't think it's entirely fair to state that she ''wasn't observant'' as the article reads. She wasn't Orthodox -- yes but she was not indifferent either.
When Jews for J aired a commercial during Joan River's radio show this is what she said in her usual no-holds barred, take no prisoners attitude:
“Do not prostyletize on my show, you a-holes!” Rivers ranted after coming back from a commercial break where the ad was played.

“I am going to say right now that I am against this. I find this disgusting to put on my show!” she said.

“I am a Jew, I was born a Jew and I plan to die a Jew,” Rivers said. “How dare you. How dare you advertise on my show! And every time you advertise on my show, I will come out and say I find this disgusting, I find this offensive and I find this ridiculous!”

(30) Anonymous, September 13, 2014 5:50 AM

Joan Rivers Pears And Cavier

Joan Rivers – Pears and Caviar
If Rivers identifies in any way as a Jewish performer, it's in the emphasis she places on survival -- a skill she first learned from her immigrant parents.

"They both had to flee Russia because of the revolution, but my father left because his family was so poor, and my mother left because her family was rich -- 'court Jews' who sold fur and bricks to the czarist army," she says.

"My mother was only 6 years old when she left, but she remembered servants carrying big silver platters with pears stuffed with caviar in for dinner," Rivers adds. "And then when her family came to America they were desperately poor, and my grandfather couldn't take it. He went back to Russia and died of starvation in St. Petersburg. It was my grandmother who made the transition to life in America. And it was only in America that my parents could have met and married."By the time Joan was growing up in Larchmont, N.Y., her father had become a physician and a founder of the town's first synagogue, which initially met in the local firehouse. The young Joan loved to perform but was even more eager to please her parents and pursue "everything a nice Jewish girl was supposed to do." She earned an English degree from Barnard College in 1954 and married a Jewish businessman but was "completely miserable," she says. She divorced him six months later, and then announced that she intended to pursue acting.

"My father truly thought I was mad and threatened to have me committed," she says.

"I left home at that point, and I didn't talk to my parents for a year -- including Yom Kippur, which was awful," Rivers continues. "I was all alone, but I had an Italian boyfriend, and he just drove me around until we found a temple that would let me in without a ticket. God bless this little temple in the Bronx that welcomed me in."

(29) Anonymous, September 12, 2014 2:28 PM


This is excellent! Thank you so much for posting this!

(28) Anonymous, September 12, 2014 6:12 AM

To The Author

What do you have to say about her beyond sick "joke" related to the Holocaust AND her not apologizing for it. On this and various other things, stop this nonsense of making her into a "hero" and "role model."

GeeMiller, January 6, 2015 9:38 PM

Whadaboud it?

Joan annoyed many people, the nasty things said about her online were just despicable.
Joan would have laughed and then made them madder than ever with a choice piece of the truth...not her truth, not your truth, just lain the truth
She was a form of Zen Judaism, an elemental spirit that saw things from ovet there to the left a bit, and I was never so amused when Joan started in.
I NEVER missed a night when she was Johnny's stand-in host.
I got annoyed often (not being perfect guarantees you a joke of Joan's wiould hit close to home)but the actual affection I felt for her was Catholic surviving a Mother Teresa joke is gonna not laugh at a Holocaust joke...your sense of humor seems a bit "my way or the Highway"ish...Joan made a joke, she didn't deny it or pretend it was OK...shame on you for finding such a narrow reason to not honor a gifted comedian...(some say Genius, call me in 50 years ...and I'll ask you "Can we talk?")
Miss you Joan.

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