Hebrew name: I do not have one… Yet! I am working on my conversion with Rabbi Alison Adler, who is also one of my supervisors at Temple B’nai Abraham.
Job: Office administrator for Temple B’nai Abraham of Beverly
Parents: Madeline Celletti and Gerald Nissenbaum
Currently living in: Ipswich
Alma maters, starting with high school: I graduated from Chapel Hill-Chauncy Hall High School [in Waltham]; I attended Loyola University Chicago. I studied English literature, art history and studio art predominantly, but did not graduate. I also enjoyed my coursework in film history and psychology.
Favorite Jewish foods/favorite Jewish holiday: Yes, latkes are great, we all love latkes, of course, because they’re delicious. However, my favorite High Holiday is Passover and my favorite Jewish food is the matzoh, charoset and horseradish sandwich we eat during the Seder and as leftovers the next couple of days.
Favorite movies: “My Cousin Vinny,” “Monty Python and The Holy Grail,” “The Big Lebowski,” “Four Rooms,” “Amélie,” “The Life Aquatic of Steve Zissou,” “The Royal Tennenbaums,” and “The Fantastic Mr. Fox”
Favorite TV shows: Without equivocation, “Curb your Enthusiasm.” I am also known to enjoy: “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” “Columbo,” “Monty Python’s Flying Circus,” “Monk,” “Murder, She Wrote” and “Star Trek” (especially “Deep Space 9,” “Voyager” and “The Next Generation”)
Favorite Jewish comedian: Sarah Silverman
Favorite books: “Reservation Blues” by Sherman Alexie; “The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien; “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” by Milan Kundera
Favorite Jewish people not in your family: Rabbi Myron Geller!
What is your Jewish identity?
I actually grew up doing the children’s Sunday school classes at my mom’s congregational church but I chose to not be confirmed with the church. I love my Jewish heritage, culture and the tenets of Judaism. I have not had my bat mitzvah but I identify as Jewish when I am asked for my religion. It’s surprisingly controversial to say, but it has been an excellent source for comedy. I look forward to my bat mitzvah. For the celebration I plan to have an open mic and (hopefully) an open bar, what could go wrong!?
How did you become the office administrator of Temple B’nai Abraham in Beverly?
For whatever reason, I enjoy administrative work. Prior to my position at Temple B’nai Abraham I worked in an office for a medical practice that exclusively served homebound geriatric patients residing in assisted living facilities. As the pandemic intensified, it became very clear to me that I did not want to work in a medical office. I am working on correcting this behavior, but I tend to experience a profound sympathy for any mention of struggle or sadness. It’s extreme, I don’t like watching movies in theaters because I ugly cry at all sad story arcs and when the lights come up, I always have a red, swollen face from crying. I wasn’t sure where I wanted to go after the medical office, but I love being at Temple B’nai Abraham.
What has it been like during the pandemic, dealing with the constant upheaval in trying to provide services and programs to the community?
The leadership at TBA has been circumspect and demonstrates a continued focus on the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual health of the community. I started during the pandemic, so I have always been part of the effort to hybridize services and increasing engagement through social media. The goal is to make the services accessible to those unable to physically join in the Temple, whether it’s due to a pandemic or something else.
I hear when you are not at the temple office, you are a part-time comedian. How did you get into comedy?
My first set was on Jan. 26, 2019 at an open mic in Los Angeles. My sister-in-law suggested I try it because she was so impressed by the best man speech I wrote and performed for her wedding to my brother. When I visited them in LA, I already had it in my mind that I would try during my visit. I felt, upon seeing a comedy open mic in LA, that I could do at least as good as the worst comedians I had seen. I wasn’t wrong! It’s really not so hard as people think, you just have to accept that failure is inevitable.
Is it challenging to be a woman comic? A Jewish woman comic? Have you dealt with antisemitism on/off stage?
The issue with being a woman comic is that there are not enough of us. It really needs to change. If you identify as femme and the idea appeals to you, please, try stand-up comedy. I don’t know if it’s true in every comedy community, but in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, your voice and perspective is not adequately being represented in the comedy scene. You can throw a rock at a crowd of the comics and you would likely hit a white cis-male, probably straight, too. Now, I am not saying there is anything wrong with that – in fact, some of my friends are white, straight, cis-males – however, I have heard some BAD jokes in my short time doing comedy. Like the guy that did the sieg heil act-out on stage for a Nazi pun. … No brand or form of comedy is going to make everyone laugh, but comedy tends to be for oneself, it’s not with regards to how a diverse group of people react and feel. Therefore, I feel the homogeny of the scene is problematic.
All kidding aside, do you have a joke for us?
Yes!! The other day I was looking in the mirror. I don’t have great self-esteem, but for once I was feeling good about myself. I was looking at myself thinking, ‘Mmmm, you look good! You look like a snaccccc… but from a Renaissance painting!’ Then, as I was admiring my reflection, my mom came over, rubbed my belly and said, “Marleah, you have a buddha belly!” I said, “MA. THAT’S MY BOTTICELLI BELLY. I’m Rubenesque.” Thank you and have a good night!