(Just pretend Eminem is wearing an over-size yarmulke!)
Well the story about Michael Richards' relationship to Judiasm has more twists than a poppy-seed challah !
First of all his newly-appointed publicist Howard Rubenstein last week refuted claims that Richards was also anti-Semitic by stating that "he's Jewish".
When the Jewish Journal did some investigation and declared that Richards wasn't Jewish - I was moved to do some more research on the topic and wrote a column for HuffPo indicating that I thought that the paper was correct in its conclusion.
My column generated a lot of heat and many impassioned claims that Richards WAS Jewish. And this debate was echoed all over the web.
White Supremacist bloggers were in a terrible state. They were torn between endorsing the content of Richards' rant - and their horror at discovering that it had emerged from someone only slightly less desirable than a black man. A Jew!
To quote the wonderful Tom Lehrer - they felt like Christian Scientists with appendicitis. (For those too young to know - Tom Lehrer was like Mark Russell - but funny.)
I sensed a lot of "we don't want him - YOU have him" amidst the protestations from supporters of the Catholic faith (in which it had been alleged that Richards was raised) and of the Masons (of which Richards became a proud member in the 1990s.)
And Jews were equally keen to distance themselves from him.
After all, Jews, Catholics and Masons all have codes of ethics. No one wants to have a pariah be a member of your team. And if you are Jewish - a faith that many African-Americans appeared to have forgotten was a very powerful supporter of the civil rights movement - you certainly don't need the tsuris of that community thinking that a Jew could be as insensitive and hateful as Richards had been.
In short - no one wanted Michael Richards to belong to their own faith or beliefs. Except for the White Supremacists. And only if he didn't recant - and didn't turn out to be a Jew.
Anxious that I might have been mistaken in endorsing the Jewish Journal's conclusions - I personally tracked down Richards' new publicist last Friday evening. I noted that Howard Rubenstein answered his phone on a Friday evening (the Jewish Sabbath) meaning that he was either not that orthodox himself - or very diligent on behalf of his new client.
He didn't know me but was very cordial. He took the time to tell me (off the record) about Richards' forthcoming Jesse Jackson radio interview. And then - in response to my query - assured me unreservedly that Richards was Jewish. "He told me so himself."
Well that settled it in my mind. I mean you might lie to your lawyer, your accountant, your business partner, your spouse - but who in the middle of a PR meltdown lies to his crisis management publicist about a fundamental fact that can eventually be proved or disproved?
Suitably surprised - I slightly revised my article to reflect that Richards' Judaism had been so strongly re-asserted by his publicist. I made a mental note to be more wary of the Jewish Journal's fact-checking and my own investigative skills.
So I am more than bemused to now discover that Howard Rubenstein has issued a Ron Zeigler-style statement rendering his previous statements to others and me as "inoperative."
The upshot of the statement is that Michael Richards ISN'T Jewish! He only THINKS he's Jewish! He has zero Jewish blood. Not the Jewish mother essential for orthodox Jewry. Nor even the remotest trace of Jewish blood - required by the more liberal branches of the faith to establish a connection.
Nor had he undergone the ritual of conversion.
Now that's the acid test. (Not to mention the acid-reflux test.)
Any number of people - including celebrities - have gone through the process. It's a little like people who switch from Republican to Democrat or vice versa. Conversion is a two-way street - though it is generally thought that Jews have had the better of the trading.
While it is true that Judiaism lost Bob Dylan for a while - the conversion didn't take and he rejoined the tribe.
Some recognizable faces who slipped their Jewish moorings and cast off to join the other team (never to return) include Kathie Lee Gifford, Bob Novak, Karl Marx - and Dan Spitz the lead guitarist for heavy metal band Anthrax. (Yeah - that was a major body blow to the cause...)
Of course these things are subjective - but most religions - indeed most communities - would not regard losing Kathie Lee Gifford, Bob Novak and Anthrax's lead guitarist as that bad a deal.
And who did the Jews get as trades?
Well quite a good harvest by any standards.
Elizabeth Taylor, Marilyn Monroe and Kate Capshaw were definite "gets". Among the notable African-Americans to make the one-way trip to the "Yiddishe" side are Sammy Davis Jr. and (a less-celebrated convert) - R&B singer Jackie Wilson ("Lonely Teardrops" "Reet Petite"). On the other hand, the Jews also took on board Mary Hart and Connie Chung. But Judaism is like Pete Townshend's song: "The Sea Refuses No River." Reading a TelePrompter on "Entertainment Tonight" or being married to Maury Povich are not - in themselves - sufficient grounds to be rejected as one of God's Chosen People.
There is however one teensy-weensy act that all of these converts to Judaism undertook. They actually converted. They all went through a period of study and consultation. Concluding with a test and ceremony.
It appears that Michael Richards omitted to go through this rather elemental stage.
Howard Rubenstein had a fascinating explanation for how Michael Richards came to be Jewish:
"Technically, not having been born by blood as Jewish and not formally going into a conversion, it was purely his interpretation of having adopted Judaism as his religion... He told me, 'I'm Jewish,' when I asked him. He said there were two mentors who raised him and who had a big influence on his life and they were Jewish. He said, 'I agree with the concepts and the religious beliefs of Judaism and I've adopted Judaism as my religion...' He really thinks of himself as Jewish."
Wow! That's like getting Judaism WHOLESALE! No expensive tuition, study and conversion!
Like the "Seinfeld" episode in which Jerry's dentist Tim Whatley converts to Judaism "for the jokes" - Kramer appears to have self-converted to Judaism "for the concepts"!
Inspired by two mentors - Michael Richards has become Jewish by osmosis! And what's not to like about the faith?! Vunderful food already! And such a history - nu?! Such good comedians too!
Suddenly I grasp the situation. Michael Richards is the Jewish equivalent of Eminem! He's a Jewish "whigger"!
A "whigger" (sometimes spelled "whigga" "wigger" or "wigga") is a slang term that refers to a white person who emulates mannerisms, slang and fashions stereotypically associated with urban African-American; especially in relation to hip hop culture.
(Sacha Baron Cohen's pre-Borat character - Ali G - was a brilliant satire on whigger culture.)
The word "whigger" is a portmanteau (a conflation of two words) - one of which is "white" - the other is a word that has been condemned by black and white communities and that (irrespective of recent calls for its ban) will nonetheless will continue to be used in its non-pejorative sense by millions of African-Americans who revel in hip-hop culture.
By this token - Michael Richards is a "whid"! Or perhaps a "whyke"! Two words with an ancient history stretching back well over 10 minutes to when I invented them.
Will either of these words catch on? I certainly hope not...
In any event - Michael boychik.... bubbaleh... You cannot just become a Member Of The Tribe because you like the "concepts," the food or the jokes. It takes 3,000 years of suffering (actually 5,000 years - even better!) And if perchance you get through the conversion process there is one golden rule.
It is to avoid having any Jew say to you the immortal words with which Abbie Hoffman brilliantly scolded the Jewish judge in the Chicago Seven trial in 1969. Hoffman told the wayward judge that he was "a shande fur di goyim" (A shame in front of the gentiles).
And THAT dear Michael is ultimately why - flattered though they are that anyone wants to join the Tribe - Jews cannot accept your self-admission into the Jewish faith.
Until you sort out this current little mess - you're "a shande fur di goyim"...
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