From a packed Laugh Factory stage on a cool November night, comedian Mordechi Rosenfeld, known colloquially as Modi, keeps the crowd howling for the entirety of his hour-and-a-half long set at the longtime Hollywood club. From bits about cultural differences between Sephardi (diaspora Jews of Spanish, Portuguese and North African descent) and Ashkenzi Jews (diaspora Jews with familial lineage in Western and Eastern Europe) to the results of his at-home DNA testing kit— “Nazis and Kanye are my number one health risks,” quips the Tel Aviv-born, New York-raised Jewish stand-up — Rosenfeld has the audience in stitches.
Jamie Masada, founder and owner of the Laugh Factory, watches Rosenfeld from the wings, bowled over by the comic’s enthusiastic reception.
“I’ve been running this club for 40 years and the only three people that I have ever seen…what they did with the energy, how the audience responded…was [Modi] and Robin Williams and Richard Pryor,” says Masada.
“He connects with people, he is lovable,” Masada continues. “I’m watching [Modi], I’m watching the audience, and I’ve never seen something like that.”
Rosenfeld, a Boston U. grad who cut his teeth working as an investment banker on Wall Street before turning to comedy full-time and selling out venues worldwide, and is currently on tour in cities throughout the United States, has coined a name for this charismatic spirit: “Moshiach energy.”
For Rosenfeld, Moshiach (“Messiah” in Hebrew) energy is not a religious construct, but a way of living one’s life with a heavy emphasis on empathy and benevolence, of helping people in need, of doing whatever one can to inspire others to pour positivity into the universe. Rosenfeld’s comic material is, indeed Jewish, with echoes of Jackie Mason. But through his act, in which he pokes fun at everything from Israeli immigrants in the States to JSwipe, Rosenfeld is imparting to audiences the importance of “working together to bring light into the world.”
“I think if people were to describe me, it’s like this: This is a proud Jewish comedian. He’s gay. He keeps kosher and he puts on tefillin and he goes to Shabbat services – but he is also gay,” says Rosenfeld, who credits his husband-manager, Leo Veiga, with helping to springboard his career these past several years.
Whether it’s performing at a fundraiser for philanthropies such as Ohel Children’s Home and Family Services, which serves individuals with developmental disabilities, and Bikur Cholim, a Los Angeles-based Jewish health care and social support organization, or appearing as a featured guest on Howard Stern and playing himself on HBO’s sitcom“Crashing,” Rosenfeld does everything with Moshiach energy in mind.
Part of that Moshiach energy is encouraging gay Jewish individuals, especially those from strict Orthodox backgrounds in which coming out as gay is often an alienating experience fraught with tension and anxiety, to forever remain proud of who they are.
“I want a gay kid listening to me or reading this, a kid from, say, an Orthodox Jewish family, to know that you can still keep Shabbat and you can still be gay and you can still be happy and bring Moshiach energy into the world,” says Rosenfeld. “This is what it’s all about. It should not be, guess what, he’s gay. It should not be a scandal. This is a proud thing.”
It’s this Moshiach energy that enables Rosenfeld, who also studied cantorial music at Yeshiva University’s Belz School of Music, to entrance audiences comprising Jews and non-Jews – of all denominations. When it comes to performing, he floats seamlessly between Jewish communities no matter the level of religious observance, from Hasidic to ultra-Reform. He’s in steady demand no matter the crowd.
“It’s about never judging anybody else’s level of observance,” says Rosenfeld, who, on any given Shabbat, can be often found singing for fun at the Sixth Street Community Synagogue in Manhattan, a modern Orthodox community where comedian Sandra Bernhard is a fellow congregant.
“Look, it’s like this: during the pandemic, we were making people happy and laugh on these Zoom events, and raising money for these amazing organizations,” says Rosenfeld, who is next hosting a Feb. 14 set at the Chosen Comedy Festival at L.A.’s Orpheum Theater with a line-up including Jeff Garlin, Elon Gold and Moshe Kasher.
“I’m not a comic that has anything left to prove so far as being a part of Jewish society,” Rosenfeld continues. “People should understand this comic that you love, this comic that you adore and that you’re hiring for events and cameos and performances – he’s gay. It’s not all he is, but it’s a part of who he is. He’s gay. He has a husband. And they both bring light into the world. That’s Moshiac energy.”
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