(JTA) — It’s hard to imagine that “The Daily Show” host Trevor Noah would have a problem getting people to come to his party. But that is precisely what happened to him as a 13 year old when his Jewish mom insisted he have a bar mitzvah.
In an interview with NPR’s Terry Gross, Noah spoke of his mom’s Jewish identity (she converted to the religion when he was a child) and struggles as a mixed-race person under apartheid in South Africa, where interracial relationships were banned.
“I lived my life as a part-white, part-black but then sometimes Jewish kid, and I didn’t understand because she didn’t make me convert … When I turned 13, she threw me a bar mitzvah, but nobody came because nobody knew what the hell that was. I only had black friends — no one knows what the hell you’re doing. So it was just me and my mom and she’s celebrating and she’s reading things to me in Hebrew,” he said.
Despite the awkwardness, growing up with Jewish traditions seems to have been a positive experience for Noah, who called it “a gift.”
“That was the gift my mother gave me. I think that was part of her religious pursuits. My mother’s always looking for answers, she’s always searching for new information,” he said.
Noah’s sweet story about his Jewish experience may come as a surprise to some. Last year Jewish groups slammed the late-night host for postings on social media in which he criticized Israel and made jokes that some said relied on negative stereotypes about Jews.