Skipping onto the stage, Sarah Silverman flashed a playful smile as she sat next to her sister, Boston University alumna and Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman, grabbed her hand and mouthed “I love you so much”— the same words written in red cursive across her baseball T-shirt.
Grabbing a scarlet lipstick out of her bright red backpack, Sarah scribbled sticky red lines on her older sister’s face before playing nice and applying it to Susan’s lips as they prepared to talk about their “Jewiness.”
“I didn’t know I was Jewish until kids started blaming me for my people killing Jesus,” Sarah said in her signature nasally voice to a crowd of about 250 BU students and faculty. “And then I was like it’s not like we killed baby Jesus.”
The Silverman sisters spoke in the School of Management auditorium for “Sister Act: The Silverman’s @ BU.”
Sarah, known for her snarky comedic take on social taboos such as religion, racism and sexism, and Susan, who lives in Israel with her husband and five children, discussed growing up Jewish in a Christian-dominated New Hampshire town.
“If I killed your God,” Susan said, emulating her sister’s comedic flair, “just imagine what I could do to you.”
The sister duo both said they had a hard time growing up in New Hampshire and felt more “at home” when they moved out of state, Sarah to New York and Susan to Boston to study at BU.
“I felt like a goat in a sea of . . . dogs,” Sarah joked of her life in New Hampshire. “But, I moved to New York and there were other goats.”
Although they live across the world from each other, Sarah in Los Angeles and Susan in Israel, they keep in touch through Skype, despite Sarah’s “habit of exposing her breasts on camera while my [Susan’s] daughters’ boyfriends are in the background,” Susan said.
“I can’t help it. They’re so big!” Sarah said sarcastically pointing to her chest.
In spite of the silliness, the Silvermans said their support for each other brings them closer.
Sarah admits to “picking her sister’s brain” about current events, while Susan appreciates Sarah’s “comedic brilliance” and her knack to “call the truth out as she sees it.”
The conversation, organized by Chair of Religion Deeana Klepper, Dean of College of Arts and Sciences Virginia Sapiro and Michael Zank, director of The Other Within Program that sponsored the talk, was a faculty initiative to raise awareness about courses in Judaic studies.
Zank, who dubbed Sarah the “self-absorbed poster child of Generation Me,” tried to think of ways to attract students to a lecture about Judaism beyond bringing in “sophisticated academics.”
After consulting with a student, he said he was faced with three options: having a lecture on Israeli-Palestine, bringing in a Jewish comedian or offering free food. The department opted for comedy.
“We had some discussions about whether this was academically viable, and we decided yes because it’s not just about Sarah Silverman, it’s also about her sister,” Zank said in an interview with The Daily Free Press. “And we felt it was truly worth it.”
Shelagh Mollohan, a CAS senior, and her sister Stephanie Mollohan, grew up as the only Jewish girls in a small New Hampshire town, similar to Sarah and Susan.
The girls related to what Sarah wrote in her book “The Bedwetter” about how New Hampshire and Judaism are “connected and disconnected at the same time,” Shelagh said.
Stephanie, who works at the Greater Boston Food Bank, agreed and said she felt “ethnic” as one of the only brown-haired girls in their “homogenous” high school.
“Jewish values, whether you go to synagogue in a basement of a church like we did or if you go to one of the finest temples in New York or Brookline, there are some values of the religion that get passed around,” Stephanie said. “So it’s that strength of cultural ties that binds the Jewish population of America.”