Two celebrated interviewers and perhaps the most eccentric interview subject of all time, learned about their shared Jewish pasts in Eastern Europe on PBS’s “Finding Your Roots.”
On the January 21 episode of the series, podcaster and comedian Marc Maron, “Fresh Air” host Terry Gross and actor Jeff Goldblum found common ground: Namely, the Eastern European Pale of Settlement, where Jews were allowed to reside in the Russian Empire.
“My three guests have dramatically different personalities and came to fame by dramatically different paths,” the show’s host, Henry Louis Gates, Jr. said. “But they also share something profound: Each has deep, Jewish roots and each told me that while they feel connected to their ancestors culturally, they knew almost nothing about the lives those ancestors actually had lived.”
Goldblum learned that his ancestors come from Zlocow, Austria — now Western Ukraine — and that his maternal grandfather, Sam Temeles, accused of burning down his business for insurance money, had a heart attack in court and died the same day.
Informed that the ship his great-grandfather traveled on caught fire and sank two years after his journey to America, Goldblum said, “It’s just a random piece of luck that I’m here at all, I guess!”
Gross discovered that her own family was affected by a fire as well; her great-grandparents’ home in a Russian shtetl was destroyed, leaving them homeless for a year. Soon after, her grandparents left, leaving the older generation behind.
“I always wonder how did my great-grandparents feel about my grandparents leaving them for America,” Gross said. “Cause they probably knew they would never see each other again.”
Maron found out that his family came from Drohobycz in Galicia (later Poland and now Ukraine), an area known for oil production, and that his great-great-grandfather worked in a petroleum factory.
“That’s crazy,” Maron, who grew up in New Mexico, said. “This is cowboy stuff. You don’t think about Polish oil!”
Maron’s ancestors fled to America following pogroms by the Russian Army during World War I and then the Poles. “It does resonate,” he said. “The fact that no matter how religious you are or what makes you Jewish in your particular life, the fact that you are defined on some level in a very real way by the reality of anti-Semitism.”
PJ Grisar is the Forward’s culture fellow. He can be reached at Grisar@Forward.com.