TORONTO — Dave Rosner doesn’t look like a U.S. marine. With his short stature, wire-rimmed glasses and kippah, he looks more like the army’s accountant, or, as he puts it, “the guy that designs their website.”
Still, despite his appearance, Rosner was a full-time U.S. marine for more than four years, and he has been a part-time marine on reserve duty for 14 years. He served in both the first Gulf War and in Iraq.
Rosner, who specializes in intelligence and public affairs, is currently a lieutenant colonel and a member of the Marines’ public affairs unit in Manhattan.
And, in his spare time, he’s a stand-up comedian.
On Sept. 25, Rosner proved his worth as a comedian at the Chabad Lubavitch of Markham synagogue.
“I know it’s very odd to hear the word Jewish marine and not hear the word biologist after that,” he said to the crowd. “But I never liked science.”
Rosner’s first joke was met with a titter of laughter, but his last was met with a roar. It wasn’t just the comedian’s humour that won over the audience, but his sincerity.
Amid jokes about his appearance, his “Jew food” and his Marine Corps radio call sign – Mazel Tov Cocktail – there came moments of honesty, like his reaction to the war in Iraq.
“I said, ‘If we’re going to war, you’ve got to take me.’”
In 2003, he was given 24 hours to decide whether he would join the fight in Iraq.
“I had sideburns, I was doing standup every night… but I knew I’d go.”
Rosner’s smile began to fade as he told the audience about the enemy’s use of children as decoys. Throughout the show, he quickly made the switch from comedian to marine and back again. The audience responded well, laughing in the right places and nodding quietly during the silences.
But Rosner’s stories were about more than Jewish wine and yarmulkes. They were about a proud Jew trying to maintain his culture.
It was the Marine Corps that helped Rosner connect to his religion.
“My father had said, ‘Don’t let them know you’re Jewish.’”
When he first joined the U.S. Marines, his dog tags listed no religion. In Saudi Arabia, he decided to change his tags. From then on, his religion was public knowledge.
As a reserve marine, Rosner can be called to serve for short or long periods of time. His 96 days at the marine base in Hawaii gave him culture shock. Or rather, he caused culture shock. After putting up two mezuzahs in his room, he noticed that it wasn’t being cleaned.
“I went to the front desk. They said ‘The maids are afraid of the things on your door. They think it’s witchcraft.’”
One of Rosner’s more popular anecdotes was his experience at a new synagogue.
“No matter how hard the marines made me, being Jewish, I’m a hypochondriac,” he said, explaining that several headaches forced him to pop powerful prescription pills before going to his first service at the shul.
“I had a teensy glass of wine. The next thing you know, I felt really relaxed… and I’m looking at the ceiling. I realized I passed out. The rabbi told me years later he was afraid he’d be sued,” he said. “I hid in the other room and then I avoided the rabbi for over three months.”
Unlike most standup comedy shows, Rosner ended with a question-and-answer period.
“Are you single?” asked a woman in the back.
“Yes,” he replied, looking worried.
“I’ve got a girl for you,” the woman said.
Rosner sighed, smiling. “Only in a Jewish crowd.”