Meet Jill Hausman, the real rabbi who grimaced through jokes about Jews on SNL’s ‘Weekend Update’


(JTA) — For Rabbi Jill Hausman, spiritual leader of the Actors’ Temple in Manhattan’s Theater District, working with celebrities comes with the job description. 

So when she saw an email on Thursday from “Saturday Night Live,” asking her to be on that week’s show, she knew she had to accept. 

If opportunities come along, it’s such great fun for me to be in something with other people,” she told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “If people come to me with an opportunity, as long as I can, I’ll try to say yes. It’s kind of like saying yes to life.”

In this case, the gig involved a surprise appearance on “Weekend Update,” SNL’s parody news show. The five-minute appearance, in which Hausman was all but silent, placed her on millions of TV screens — grimacing in reaction to jokes about Israel, student protests and Jewish “space lasers.”

“The whole experience has just been loads and loads of fun,” Hausman told JTA.

On Saturday morning, Hausman led Shabbat prayers and a memorial service in Western Massachusetts, then drove back down to Midtown — making it in time to sit alongside the co-hosts of “Update,” Michael Che and Colin Jost, for the show’s 49th season finale.

Hausman, who has been a rabbi for 20 years and has also served as a cantor, has experience singing on stage. But her role on SNL was simpler: 

“They asked me to make the host, Colin Jost, uncomfortable,” Hausman said.

Hausman was brought along for a recurring segment in which Che and Jost do a joke swap: They make each other read increasingly edgier jokes that the other has never seen before. 

During an episode in December, Che brought an actress to pretend to be a civil rights activist who had marched with Martin Luther King, Jr. (Hausman was shown that clip when SNL explained the role to her.) 

But, Che admitted to Jost, “That was low. So to make it up to you, this time I invited an actual practicing rabbi.” The camera panned to Hausman, who was clad in a large kippah and prayer shawl at the show’s request. 

“I think I was supposed to be recognizable as a rabbi and not just to look like a regular person,” she said. “I think it was an identification kind of thing.”

What followed were a series of increasingly cringey jokes — written by Che and read by Jost — about Israel and the Jews. 

As a picture of Jerry Seinfeld flashed onscreen, Jost said, “Pro-Palestinian protesters walked out of Jerry Seinfeld’s commencement address at Duke University, and I think that’s disgraceful. During these difficult times I think it’s important to support our Jewish friends.”

He continued, “That’s why the only chant you’ll hear from me is ‘Free Weinstein!’ Keep fighting, Harvey! Am I right, bubbeleh?” 

Hausman shook her head in disbelief. (Harvey Weinstein, the former movie producer, recently had one of his sexual abuse convictions overturned, but he remains imprisoned because of a different conviction.)

Later, Jost turned to Hausman and said, alluding to a prominent antisemitic conspiracy theory, “So Rabbi Jill, if you’re here, who’s controlling the weather?” She smiled and pursed her lips. 

Another punchline, referencing comments by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, involved a puppet of a male Orthodox rabbi threatening to hit MSNBC with “our space lasers” if coverage of Israel is too critical. (Another involved Jost’s wife, Scarlett Johansson, who is Jewish.)

“I was glad the jokes weren’t worse than they were,” Hausman said on Monday. “I didn’t know what was going to be said specifically until I got to the studio and then I kind of knew. So I just was hoping that they wouldn’t say anything really, really against Israel, which they didn’t.”

The Actors’ Temple, founded by shopkeepers in 1917 as an Orthodox congregation known as the West Side Hebrew Relief Association, became a spot popular among actors who, in the early 20th century, were not welcome in other spaces. It was once attended by two of the Three Stooges, Sandy Koufax, actor Shelley Winters and comedians Red Buttons, Jack Benny, Al Jolson, Milton Berle, Sophie Tucker and Henny Youngman.

Hausman is not even the first member of the synagogue to make an appearance on SNL.

In 2011, current synagogue co-president Bob Greenberg appeared onstage during Jim Carrey’s monologue. Carrey had proposed marriage to a member of the audience in the front row, who did not accept. So Carrey then begrudgingly grabbed Greenberg from another seat, and brought him up onstage, announcing him as his “new life partner.”

Hausman says she had a good time. 

“I went to have fun and to represent the Jewish community,” Hausman added. “I think it’s important to show up as a member of the Jewish community and I did it for the Actors’ Temple also. I did it for the fun of it.”

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