'Re-Brissening' Jon Stewart and David Ben-Gurion

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.

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.”

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.

Remember, the ancient Midrash teaches a very modern lesson that the children of Israel were liberated from Egypt because of four merits, one of which was that “they did not change their names.”

We could do no greater honor to the revered progenitors of our tribe. You know, Abram and Sarai.

This story "'Re-Brissening' Jon Stewart and David Ben-Gurion" was written by J.J. Goldberg.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Forward.


J.J. Goldberg

J.J. Goldberg

Jonathan Jeremy “J.J.” Goldberg is editor-at-large of the Forward, where he served as editor in chief for seven years (2000-2007).

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