The RP: The Five Most Jew-ish Gentiles in Pop Culture

Regular RP readers know that I’m quite taken with aping Nick Hornby and serving up my own pop culture Top Five lists (See, e.g., my Five Favorite Breakup Songs and my Five Favorite Hoops Books). 

But today, I venture off on a mission implausible that risks alienation, if not excommunication, by my co-religionists at the Anti-Defamation League and the Global Zionist Conspiracy.

So, please allow me a brief expository digression…

Five years ago, when I launched my national tour for The Compassionate Community — the book in which I discuss my political career as a devout Jew living in an inner notch of the Bible Belt — I ventured often into the rural hills and hollers of my home state, speaking to audiences in which I was the only one present who lights the Sabbath candles.  I’d speak passionately about my Jewish faith, quote the Talmud and the Rabbis; but, inevitably, there would be someone who’d come up to me afterwards to proclaim: “You are such a good Christian!”

I’m confident that each time this occured, the well-intentioned speaker was using a secular definition of “Christian” (along the lines of “someone who tries to emulate Christ”) as opposed to making a religious statement.  (And I’m certain that they were NOT comparing me to the unholy hoopster Christian“.)  So I took it as a hopeful complement.

Flashback to my college dorm room two decades earlier.  My then-roommate (and current Friend of RP) Ron Granieri, came to campus with an encyclopedic knowledge of my faith, customs and moral code, quite impressive for a Roman Catholic from upstate New York.  And because he was a compassionate soul with a wicked sense of humor, our other roommate — a future rabbi, natch — annointed him as Jew-ish, since he was still technically not a Jew.  (Ron was unwilling to go through the formal conversion process, which not only would have required him to renounce his own devout beliefs; but much worse, to endure a ritual circumcision.)

So in honor of our un-cut and non-kosher, but still quite Jew-ish Ron, I hereby consecrate the following list of the Five Most Jew-ish Gentiles in Pop Culture:

– – – – – – – –


 5. (tie)  Tina Fey and Liz Lemon

Her dark eyes, Semitic features, the bookish specs, her ascerbic wit, the close association with the media elite in New York City…How could it be possible that Tina Fey isn’t actually Jewish?  And her alter ego, Liz Lemon, takes it a step further –Liz’s inexhaustible self-deprecating neuroses identify her as the modern-day Woody Allen.  But alas, Fey is Greek Orthodox; and Lemon, when asked about her faith, replied: “I pretty much just do whatever Oprah tells me to.”  Jewish boys and girls are just going to have to wait even longer to finally find a Jewish role model in the world of comedy.

4.  Bruce Springsteen

If his New Jersey roots, passion for social justice and 70’s-era matching Jew-fro and Hassidic beard weren’t enough, his surname is Springsteen, for Chri…uh… Moses’ sake!  But sorry… the Boss was raised in a very devout Catholic household. (The fact that “Mary” is the name of the woman in every other Springsteen song should have given it away.)  It is no coincidence that I learned that the Boss was not one of us precisely at the same time as when my Christian friends were apprised that Santa Claus wasn’t really coming to town.

3.  Batman

Batman (Secret identity: Bruce Wayne) was the ultimate Jew-ish superhero.  He lived in Gotham, an unsubtle proxy for the city with the world’s largest Jewish population.  He was a wealthy industrialist, yet felt apart from the rest of society, much like many successful Jews in the mid-20th century.  Most significantly, unlike his fellow comrades in the Superfriends Justice League of America, Batman did not slay his foes using any extra-human, Christ-like powers — Instead, he used his bookish cunning and wile.  Yet, there is never any mention of Wayne’s Semitic affiliation in any DC comic book.  Unfortunately as well, the experts deem him either a lapsed Catholic or a lapsed Episcopalian.  There is good news, however, Hebraic Bat Fans: The new Batwoman is Jewish. And a lesbian. Holy Sephardic Sapphism, Batman!

2.  Rod Carew

Growing up in the 1970s was a tough time to find a Jewish sports hero.  Sandy Koufax had retired, Mark Spitz was a one-hit wet wonder, and Sasha Cohen hadn’t been born yet.  But…ah…there was Rod Carew.  For nearly a decade, he was the greatest pure hitter in baseball.  And while born an African-American Gentile, he’d married a Jewish woman, raised Jewish kids, and by all accounts had formally joined the Children of Israel.  Indeed, the official rabbinic arbiter of “Who is a Jew?” — Adam Sandlerdeclared in 1994 that “Hall of Famer Rod Carew…converted [to Judaism.]”  WRONG, says no less an authority than the respected sportswriter, Ira Berkow.  Not only did Berkow helm a documentary called “Jews in Baseball,” he also co-authored Rod Carew’s autobiography!  So, while the longtime Minnesota Twin finished his career as a California Angel, he never was a Member of the Tribe.

1.  George Costanza

Television will probably never see again a character as Jew-ish as Jason Alexander’s George Constanza on Seinfeld.  Every thing about George screams Jew: His New York upbringing, his intrusive, overprotective mother, his self-loathing psychopathy — Indeed, the character George was modeled after the real life über-Jew, Larry David.  Yet, despite Jerry Seinfeld’s constant Jewish self-references, George never fesses up to the faith.  Indeed, his father, Frank (played by the real-life Jew, Jerry Stiller), was an Italian lapsed Catholic, whose anti-religious streak led him to invent Festivus, “the holiday for the rest of us.” And George’s own embarrassment over his shrinkage (certainly NOT a Jewish trait) led him to spike an observant Jewess’ omelet with un-kosher lobster. To misquote another Seinfeld icon: “No Jew for you!” (Not that there’s anything wrong with that…)

Your turn, fair readers.  Whom did I fail to choose from the not-so-Chosen?  Please comment below, and keep the Yiddish to a minimum in respect to the goyim.


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