Samuel Cohon is the senior rabbi at Temple Emanu-El and the host of the Too Jewish radio show, which airs at 9 a.m. Sundays on KVOI 1030 AM. To celebrate the 10th anniversary of the show, Cohon is hosting a live radio variety show at 7:45 p.m., Saturday, March 2, at the Fox Tucson Theatre, 17 West Congress St. His guests include comedian Robert Klein, U.S. Rep. Ron Barber and Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild as well as musical acts and other guests. Find out more at toojewishradio.com or foxtucsontheatre.org.
Tell me about the Too Jewish radio show.
It is the longest-running and probably the most completely Jewish radio show in America. We talk to anybody in the Jewish world, including people who aren't Jewish, who are doing something exciting, innovative, controversial or important, or all of the above.
You're coming up on your 10th anniversary and you have a big celebration planned, right?
We always try to both entertain and inform and provoke thought. We have a terrific comedian, Robert Klein. When you say Jewish comedian, you're basically being redundant in America. It's easier to name the comedians who aren't Jewish than the comedians who are Jewish because there are so many, but Robert Klein is really a terrific, legendary comedian who speaks for a whole generation. He will be our main headliner, but we'll also have two different bands playing that do Jewish music; one does rock, one does folk. The Sons of Orpheus are going to sing "Exodus" in Hebrew, which I've never heard before. We'll have Mayor Jonathan Rothschild and congressman Ron Barber. Jonathan, of course, is Jewish and the former president of Temple Emanu-El. We have a couple of surprises for him. There will be a couple of comedy skits as well as some more serious stuff. It's going to be a fast-paced variety show with a lot of humor and some serious insight as well.
Where did the idea of doing this come from?
Charlie Levy from Stateside Presents and I have been talking about doing a big celebration for years. Every year, we have a special guest for our annual birthday. Ed Asner was our first-anniversary guest and we've had Kinky Friedman and Joe Lieberman and a whole bunch of different folks who were particularly famous or interesting. Charlie said, "For the 10th anniversary, we should do something bigger. We should do a live radio broadcast." I thought, that sounds like fun. He got the ball rolling and we were delighted to put it all together. If you've heard of Prairie Home Companion, this is Deli Home Companion.
Jewish culture is really mainstream culture in a lot of ways, isn't it?
Many things that are Jewish are now totally mainstream and people don't even realize that they're Jewish. There are aspects of Judaism that are interesting and exciting and people don't even realize how some things that are American actually started in another place.
Give me some examples.
So many of the ideas that are involved in the American idea of freedom come out of the entire narrative of being enslaved and breaking free of the chains. Benjamin Franklin thought that the seal of the United States should be the crossing of the Red Sea and Moses. I'm not saying that we should replace the American eagle with a kosher chicken, but a lot of those central concepts of personal responsibility and freedom are very Jewish and come out of that Jewish tradition. And, of course, everybody thinks that a bagel is a normal thing to eat. Most of the American musical theater tradition comes out of Judaism and was created by Jews. The comic-book industry was created by Jews because they couldn't get published in the mainstream press. The entirety of the movie industry comes out of the Jewish experience. When you think about where Jews flourished in American society, we've been very fortunate—and this is, in many ways, a golden age for Judaism in America. There are Jews who reach high levels of accomplishment all over the world.
Can you ever be too Jewish, Rabbi?
You can't. But people think you can! I cannot tell you how many people come on the show and say, "What's with this title? What do you mean, too Jewish?" Well, you know, there's an old Jackie Mason routine in which he says, "You know what people are going to say after this show? The non-Jews are going say, 'Ah, he wasn't as funny as I thought he was going to be.' And you know what the Jews are going to say? 'Ah, he was too Jewish. He was funny, but he was too Jewish.'"