Jew-spotting used to be so much easier than it is today. When I was a boy the family would settle down in front of the television after dinner and wait, rather as an angler settles down by a stream and waits. At some point an actor or entertainer would come onto the screen to be greeted by my parents with an unemotional single word statement: “Jewish”. Nowadays it’s hard to know who is Jewish and who isn’t. New discoveries are being made in the field as quickly as technological improvements, and those discoveries as often as not turn out to be false.
In his latest stand-up performance, comedian Dave Gorman talks about how he is often mistaken for being Jewish. Indeed he recently reached number twelve in a list of Jewish writers, two places higher than the esteemed Saul Bellow. Imagine how big the gap would’ve been were non-Jews allowed onto the list.
I recently saw the show and to prove his point Gorman conducted a straw poll of the audience with the results falling roughly in the proportions of half thinking he was from a Christian family and half thinking he was Jewish. He need only have made the effort to survey me and Mrs J because our results fell out in exactly the same way, 50% of us thinking he was Christian, the other 50% thinking he was Jewish.
When I later asked Mrs J why she had thought the entertainer was Jewish the shocking answer came back: “well, he’s so nice, isn’t he?” Stunned, I probed further. “How can you say such a thing? Are you seriously telling me that because you like him he must be Jewish? Are you trying to say that the world divides between Jewish people who are nice and everyone else who is not nice?”
Mr Gorman is, he assured the audience in the gentlest of ways so as not to appear offended at the suggestion while feeling obliged to correct the error, an atheist from a Christian background. However I’m not sure that he should display such confidence in this assertion. I’m convinced that if he were to appear on the BBC programme “Who Do You Think You Are?” he would learn that his background is, after all, Jewish, since this appears to be the outcome for many of those who subject themselves to that very public exposure of family heritage. Indeed, I’d go as far as to say that every one of those who have been on it have turned out either to have Jews or criminals in their family history, although, I’m relieved to report, only one case where the two coincided.
Viewers of the programme will know, for example, that Nigella Lawson was proved right with her hypothesis that some of her ancestors were Jewish. Perhaps it was the Solomon and Gluckstein families, founders of the Lyons Coffee House business, that raised her suspicions? Yes, it turned out to nobody’s surprise except Nigella’s that there were, indeed, Jewish connections. Likewise, Natasha Kaplinsky confirmed something we all knew: if you’re called Kaplinsky and your dad is South African, there’s a good chance his mob pitched up from the Pale. More of a surprise was Olympic rowing star Matthew Pinsent’s ability to trace his roots all the way back to Adam and Eve, and now we learn that Eastenders star June Brown is of Semitic stock as well.
The truth is that the world of celebrity is made up of two groups of people: Jews, and Jews who have yet to appear on “Who Do You Think You Are?” Except Katie Price. She couldn’t possibly be Jewish. Even Dave Gorman is more Jewish than Katie Price.