The History of Mel Brooks, Part I

Tells Difference Between Jelly Jars and Yahrtzeit Glasses

Showman of Showmen: Mel Brooks is the subject of a new PBS American Masters documentary and will receive a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Film Institute.
Courtesy of Pamela Barkentin Blackwell
Showman of Showmen: Mel Brooks is the subject of a new PBS American Masters documentary and will receive a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Film Institute.

By Curt Schleier

Published May 13, 2013, issue of May 31, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 5)

Brooks recalled how, growing up, “I was never really interested in the religious aspect of being a Jew. But Rabbi Nachman cured me of that.”

Nachman founded the Breslov Hasidic movement, and Brooks, a voracious reader, says he studied and was moved by his philosophical works. “He wrote a lot of stuff,” Brooks said. “He said talk to God like you talk to a friend. Until I read that, I’d always thought of God as a stern “burn you in fires and fury” tough guy. But Nachman’s thinking was so different, I became a little more religious.”

I asked Brooks if he gets bored answering the same questions over and over again. “Yeah, I do,” he said. “But I make believe I’m not. I’m really a good actor, and I say, ‘That’s an interesting question,’ and answer it. ‘What was your favorite movie?’ ‘How did you get into show business?’ You know.”

But now Brooks does not seem to be acting. He delves into the topic of religion with apparent enthusiasm, gaining vigor as he recalls his grandmother, “who was terribly religious,” putting a handkerchief on her head as she lit Sabbath candles and recited the blessings: “I used to ask my brother, ‘Is this the real McCoy, or is she faking it?’ It was real.”

Passover seems to have been his favorite holiday. It was celebrated at his grandfather Abraham’s house; “Everyone called him Shloimy,” Brooks recalled. “I don’t know why. It should have been Avraham. He would conduct the service. It would be three and a half hours.”

But, he says, Uncle Leon, who was the youngest of his mother’s brothers and therefore placed closest to the children’s end of the table, made the proceedings easier: “Leon saved the day. He’d say, ‘It’s a fly to center field,” and he’d do the whole thing like it was a Dodger game. He would say something like, ‘Mel Ott lifts his legs, swings and it’s going, going, gone’ every time my grandfather said something.”

These days, Brooks attends Seders hosted by Ron and Sheila Clark, respectively a co-writer on three Brooks films and his wife. “You get a lot of gefilte fish, but not too much reading,” he said.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • “Everything around me turns orange, then a second of silence, then a bomb goes off!" First installment of Walid Abuzaid’s account of the war in #Gaza:
  • Is boredom un-Jewish?
  • Let's face it: there's really only one Katz's Delicatessen.
  • "Dear Diaspora Jews, I’m sorry to break it to you, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t insist that every Jew is intrinsically part of the Israeli state and that Jews are also intrinsically separate from, and therefore not responsible for, the actions of the Israeli state." Do you agree?
  • Are Michelangelo's paintings anti-Semitic? Meet the Jews of the Sistine Chapel: http://jd.fo/i4UDl
  • What does the Israel-Hamas war look like through Haredi eyes?
  • Was Israel really shocked to find there are networks of tunnels under Gaza?
  • “Going to Berlin, I had a sense of something waiting there for me. I was searching for something and felt I could unlock it by walking the streets where my grandfather walked and where my father grew up.”
  • How can 3 contradictory theories of Yiddish co-exist? Share this with Yiddish lovers!
  • "We must answer truthfully: Has a drop of all this bloodshed really helped bring us to a better place?”
  • "There are two roads. We have repeatedly taken the one more traveled, and that has made all the difference." Dahlia Scheindlin looks at the roots of Israel's conflict with Gaza.
  • Shalom, Cooperstown! Cooperstown Jewish mayor Jeff Katz and Jeff Idelson, director of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, work together to oversee induction weekend.
  • A boost for morale, if not morals.
  • Mixed marriages in Israel are tough in times of peace. So, how do you maintain a family bubble in the midst of war? http://jd.fo/f4VeG
  • Despite the escalating violence in Israel, more and more Jews are leaving their homes in Alaska to make aliyah: http://jd.fo/g4SIa
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.