2017-05-24 / Local News

Comic Deb Filler draws humor from Holocaust survivor history at fundraiser

By JAYNE JACOVA FELD Voice staff


Pictured at the annual community fundraiser for the JCRC’s Esther Raab Holocaust Museum & Goodwin Education Center were (from left) Renee Siegel, steering committee chair; Director Helen Kirschbaum; performer Deb Filler; Eva Schlanger, event chair; and Amy Clayman, Jewish Community Relations Council president. Pictured at the annual community fundraiser for the JCRC’s Esther Raab Holocaust Museum & Goodwin Education Center were (from left) Renee Siegel, steering committee chair; Director Helen Kirschbaum; performer Deb Filler; Eva Schlanger, event chair; and Amy Clayman, Jewish Community Relations Council president. Self proclaimed “New Zealand’s only Jewish comic,” Deb Filler draws on memories of growing up in the shadow of the Holocaust for her rich source material.

From her Polish-born father who proclaimed every hit song would be even better in Yiddish, to an opera-loving German grandmother who made young Deborah “conduct” along with her recordings to a mother who aspired to turn her talented daughter into the Judy Garland of New Zealand, Filler finds humor in the darkest of places.

In a performance that combined stories with songs and more than a “bissel” of Yiddish, Filler kept her audience laughing during her “I Did It My Way” concert to raise money for Holocaust education. The May 8 performance at the Jewish Community Campus served as the JCRC’s Esther Raab Holocaust Museum & Goodwin Education Center annual fundraiser.

Beyond her survivor family, her sources include an impressive list of Jewish icons she has met over the years, starting with the opportunity at age 11 to serenade her idol Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary when the pop trio came to her native Auckland, New Zealand.

That meeting, unfortunately, did not go quite as planned when Yarrow requested she play anything – except a Peter, Paul and Mary song. Having practiced the group’s songs and little else, she felt panic set it and, on her mother’s suggestion, performed instead a teary-eyed medley from “Fiddler on the Roof.”

“My mother had to lead me out of there with my tail between my legs singing “Sun Rise, Sun Set,” she recalled. “That was the end of Peter, Paul and Debbie.”

Her encounters later in life with “the three Lennies” faired better. When she was 20 she met Leonard Bernstein, who was so moved to learn that her father had attended his concert for Holocaust survivors at the Landsberg Displaced Person’s camp in 1948 near Munich, that he closed the Auckland Town Hall to play a private piano concerto for Filler.

While living in New York and driving a limousine to supplement her comedian salary, she and Leonard Cohen had a memorable ride from Manhattan to JFK airport. She had the singer cracking up the whole ride with dirty Jewish jokes.

Her last Lenny is Lenny Kravitz. Improbably, she performed Frank Sinatra’s “I Did It My Way” in Yiddish at one of his concerts in London.

The event, chaired by Raab/Goodwin Steering Committee member Eva Schlanger, raises money for Yom Hashoah and Kristallnacht community commemorations as well as the Raab/Goodwin Center’s work with students, teachers and community organizations. The Center reached over 24,000 people last year in its efforts to fight hatred and prejudice against all. s

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