JERUSALEM -- The audience is a group of high school students from Tel Aviv who are wearing blue jeans, tank tops or T-shirts and bored, skeptical expressions. They're a tough crowd, but Benjamin Levene -- rabbi, educator and aspiring Borsch Belt comedian -- soon has them eating out of his hand.

He comes on stage first as Rabbi Shlomo Deutch. Dressed in a long black coat, black hat and white knee socks, he spits on his glasses and cackles at the students while scoffing at the idea of a Jewish state and tacitly endorsing the practice of throwing rocks at motorists transgressing the Jewish Sabbath.

Next, he is bus driver Motti Cohen, an Israeli Army veteran whose shirt is unbuttoned to his navel and whose idea of a religious experience was seeing Charlton Heston in "The Ten Commandments."

Then he's Jean-Paul Simon, a Frenchified, beret-wearing artiste who has a Christian wife and who describes himself as "a human being, not a Jew."

Finally, he becomes Harry Abelson, the fast-talking American Jew with an "I Love Israel" hat on his head and a Polaroid camera around his neck. He thinks Israel is a great place to visit and to contribute money to -- he's been here 228 times, he says -- but not to live in.

These are the four faces of Benjy Levene, a 40-year-old transplanted New Jerseyite, and they are familiar ones to audiences in this divided and troubled society. While most of the world thinks Israel's principal problem is the intractable dispute between Arabs and Jews, Israelis these days are more concerned about conflicts among themselves.

Some of those conflicts have turned ugly in recent years. Ultraorthodox Jewish extremists have firebombed bus shelters displaying posters of women in bikinis and have stoned cars on the Sabbath, while their secular counterparts have ransacked religious schools and even defaced synagogues with swastikas. Nearly all Israelis say they deplore lawlessness from either side, but polls indicate there are deep resentments, fears and ignorance dividing the religious and the secular.

Into the gap between them have stepped a number of groups seeking to make peace and build bridges between the dominant Jewish factions. One of them is called Gesher, Hebrew for "bridge," an organization of observant but modern Jews of which Levene is a deputy director.

Gesher holds seminars and weekend sessions for groups of secular and orthodox youths, and while conducting them, Levene hit upon a different approach. His vehicle is satire with a little slapstick thrown in, but his purpose is deadly serious. By broadly sketching four of Israel's most enduring stereotypes, he tries to tickle and cajole members of his audience into examining their own beliefs about themselves and their country.

"Israel is supposed to be a unifying force for Jews, yet we're being driven apart," says Levene. "The polarization has never been as bad as it is now and the only way to combat it is with knowledge. We have to start getting to know each other."

Levene's characters may be drawn from the Israeli scene, but his style of humor is strongly American, as he himself acknowledges. Early American television -- Milton Berle, the Three Stooges, Ozzie and Harriet -- nurtured his sense of the absurd. There is a lot of Woody Allen in his act, as well.

And 18 years in Israel, with its hidebound bureaucracy, roller-coaster economy and high-volume style of argument, have not hurt. "Let's face it, you've got to have a sense of humor to survive as an oleh {immigrant} here," he says.

Each of Levene's four caricatures is designed to anger his audience and stimulate discussion. Rabbi Deutch, a denizen of the ultraorthodox Mea Shearim quarter in Jerusalem, has 18 children and a strong addiction to snuff. He has never owned a television set and is outraged by the notion of women serving in the Army because "they should be home producing little ones for the family of Israel." The girls in the audience groan.

Motti Cohen proudly proclaims himself "an Israeli firster," but his highest values are "Adidas and Lego." To him, Jews like Deutch are as foreign as "astronauts ... let's leave Judaism to the Ministry of Education."

Jean-Paul Simon has a wife named Christina and a son named Noel. He collects money for starving children in Africa and for AIDS victims, not for Jewish causes. It is obvious that Israel for him is only an address, not a cause.

For Abelson, it is exactly the opposite, a cause but not a home. In some ways his remarks are the most condescending and the most stinging. "Wanna know how to make a small fortune in Israel?" he asks the audience. "It's easy. Move here with a large fortune."

Curiously perhaps, the students react most harshly to Simon because by intermarrying and raising a non-Jewish child, he is removing himself from the extended family of his religion. "We have to understand that people like him are the enemy of the Jewish people," says one student.

Levene's show is increasingly popular and is no longer performed only for the high school audiences for which it was created. He has appeared before kibbutzniks, before Army units and even in Moscow, where two years ago a group of 45 Hebrew teachers saw the show.

Nonetheless, it is not always a hit. Levene says audiences tend to love the caricatures of those they disagree with, but feel far less comfortable with those closest to their own beliefs.

"The nonreligious think the rabbi is great, but they don't like the bus driver," he says. "It's just the opposite for the religious. American audiences love all three of the Israelis, but when I get to the American, some get very, very upset. A few have even walked out."