I grew up in a predominantly Catholic town. I’m pretty sure I knew all the words to every single Christmas song by the time I was four and knew of many Catholic rituals by the time I was five. Finding a “Jewish” idol was not an easy task in my suburban New Jersey neighborhood. In my generation, unlike kids of color, I had plenty of dolls and television personas that looked like I did – blonde, white and petite. But who could really be a Jewish idol to me, minus my dad?
Finding Inspiration In Hollywood
Can you think of who your very first Jewish idols were? For me, it was the many comedians like Joan Rivers. As a child, I wanted to be Joan Rivers, Dr. Ruth, Pee-Wee Herman and Madonna. Two of those names are Jews. Two strong Jewish women with bold jobs and interesting personalities. As a kid, I didn’t know Dr. Ruth was Jewish but I knew Joan Rivers was. I loved Joan’s voice, her shtick, her sense of humor and her ability to truly be herself and not give two you-know-whats about what others thought of her (at least to my child’s eye). Dr. Ruth? Well, some of the attraction of her came from her accent and her subject matter. As an older child and early teen, I found it cool that someone could make a living talking about sex – way more interesting than your average career path!
A musical theatre fan with a love for music, I cannot forget Bette Midler and Barbara Streisand, although out of those two Jewish ladies, Barbara was a bit too mature for me and not quite my generation. Bette Midler was a little more goofy and wacky, which as an eccentric and witty young girl, I found appealing.
As I grew up and got into stand-up comedy and films, my Jewish idols changed. Before all the controversy regarding Woody Allen, I loved his films. Larry David of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” fame was also a favorite of mine. I couldn’t get enough of his antics and mannerisms on his shows. Doing comedy, I got to meet a bunch of different comedians and comediennes whether it was in person or over the air, including Howard Stern, Judy Gold, Marc Maron and more. In fact, I can say with great confidence that doing stand-up comedy got me in touch with more of my Jewish side. As a woman whose mother is Irish and Scottish (she converted to Judaism before I was born) and whose father is Ashkenazi Jew, I have always felt as if I didn’t quite belong anywhere. Meeting a bunch of other Jewish people during my days as a full-time performer (TV personality, actress and comedienne) changed that for me.
Whether your Jewish idols are famous comedians like mine mostly were or are more political or personal in nature, what was it about these people that spoke to you about being Jewish? Or was there just a pride in knowing that there was someone out there sharing your Jewish identity that you truly looked up to? Whatever the case may be, if trace all your Jewish idols from your childhood to your adulthood, I’m sure you will learn a lot about yourself. The famous Jews I am attracted to at one point of my life or another are all smart and funny, and some are or were incredibly bold.
Furthermore, as a Jewish person, do you think you’re someone’s idol or a person that can help others understand or appreciate their Jewish heritage? When you think about the possibility that you might be a positive Jewish identity to someone, it’s a powerful thing!