You may have read in our Bintel Blog recently about cultural critic Ron Rosenbaum and his July 24 manifesto in Slate, calling on Jon Stewart to show his ethnic pride and reclaim his birth name, Jonathan Leibowitz.
It’s almost as if the Leibowitz in you is trying desperately to escape from behind the mask of the Stewart. So why not set it free? Change the name back? … it would represent the end of a shabby, antiquated era, pronouncing that aspect of anti-Semitism now (hopefully) dead and gone. It might even make it easier for young comedians, actors, and rock stars to resist the temptation to try to “pass.”
Well, the pressure on Stewart is mounting. The latest to weigh in is director Judd Apatow, who needled Stewart about the name-change during a July 30 “Daily Show” guest appearance. The historic exchange begins around 17:08. Apatow is talking about his new movie, “Funny People.”
Judd Apatow: It’s about a young comedian, played by Seth Rogen, he plays Ira Wright … and Ira Wright, his real name is Ira Weiner. Jon Stewart: What’s he running away from? JA: Uh, apparently there are some people who have Jewish names and they change them so they don’t sound Jewish. JS: Well, that’s ridiculous. Whoever does something like that should stand up, because the only thing that matters in this world is that what you do personally is O.K. by other people of your same ethnic persuasion. J.A.: I think that you think you’re passing for a non-Jew, and you’re not.
Folks, we could be on the verge of something big here. Not too many Jewish celebrities change their names these days, but we can hunt down a few. Let’s have Winona Ryder change her name back to Winona Horowitz. Let’s bring back folk legend Bobby Zimmerman. Let’s make Kirk Douglas reclaim his identity as Issur Danielovitch Demsky. For that matter, let’s correct Issur, a Yiddish diminutive of Yisrael, and Danielovitch, the Russian patronymic, and rebrand Kirk as Yisrael Ben-Daniel. He may no longer know who he is, but at least everyone will know what he is.
While we’re at it, let’s have first cousins Lauren Bacall and Shimon Peres join hands and embrace their heritage as Betty Joan and Shimon Persky.
And why stop there? The Mormons baptize dead people who died outside their faith, in a sort of post-mortem re-christening. Why can’t we practice our own — um, re-brissening? Edward G. Robinson could once again be Emanuel Goldenberg. “Ask Ann Landers” would be “Ask Esther Pauline ‘Eppie’ Friedman” (or she could take over her twin sister’s column and call it “Dear Eppie”). Then we could turn George Burns back into Nathan Birnbaum — and for good measure, annul his marriage to Gracie Allen.
But wait: Why not restore the Green family honor and give David Ben-Gurion back his birth name? Ben-Gurion International Airport would then become Green Field, and the Ben-Gurion National Solar Energy Center in Sde Boker could be known simply as Green Energy.
We could do no greater honor to the revered progenitors of our tribe. You know, Abram and Sarai.
Jonathan Jeremy “J.J.” Goldberg is editor-at-large of the Forward, where he served as editor in chief for seven years (2000-2007).