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Why, That’s Not a Jew!

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Maybe because it fuels some tribal connection, maybe because it makes us proud by association, or maybe because it’s just fun to gossip, Jews love talking about whom else is Jewish.  Claiming an accomplished celebrity, humanitarian, or entrepreneur as one of our own is as stereotypical a Jewish pastime as eating bagels or nagging.  But even the most adept purveyors of Jewish tidbits can get things wrong on occasion.  Below are eight celebrities who are regularly misidentified as Jews.

Stephen Colbert

Maybe because he’s the lox to the very Jewish Jon Stewart’s bagel, people assume that Stephen Tyrone Colbert is Jewish.  Growing up as the youngest of eleven children in an Irish Catholic family, the star of The Colbert Report made a conscious effort to cover up his Southern accent in order to sound more worldly.  Of course, the fact that he annually accepts Yom Kippur apology calls at 1-800-OOPS-JEW doesn’t help, nor do the (unfounded) rumors that he is chromosomally Jewish.

Joy Behar

She has shared the TV couch with Barbara Walters and has the New York chutzpa of Fran Drescher, so no wonder people think the woman born Josephina Victoria Occhiuto is Jewish. The fiery liberal comedian and co-host of The View is all New York and all Jewish humor all the time. One of her jokes goes: “A couple of years ago, I got a call: ‘Happy Hanukkah.’ And I said, ‘Ma, I’m not Jewish!’” Behar came by her Sephardic surname by marrying into the clan, and then divorcing out of it.

Bruce Springsteen

Springstein? No, Springsteen.  Can you hear us, the many rock fans who assume that he’s Jewish? That’s Springsteen—“stepping stone” in old Dutch—not Springstein. Adding to confusion is Springsteen’s famous nickname, “The Boss,” which he earned in 1960s New Jersey because he was often in charge of distributing payment from gigs to his band mates.  Springsteen’s E Street Band, however, includes Jewish drummer Max Weinberg.

Alan Alda

His name sounds Jewy, he played a brilliant surgeon, he’s an ardent feminist and liberal and he’s married to a Jew. No wonder people mistake him for one of the tribe. But the actor who starred as Captain Benjamin Franklin “Hawkeye” Pierce on the long-running television series M*A*S*H was raised Catholic. His father, the actor Robert Alda, known for his role as George Gershwin in Rhapsody in Blue, was born Alfonso Giuseppe Giovanni Roberto D’Abruzzo.

Rupert Murdoch

It’s true, not all media moguls are Jewish! Credited with and blamed for swaying elections from Canberra to London to Washington, DC, Murdoch gave Americans the “fair and balanced” Fox News Channel and gobbled up the social-networking site MySpace™. “Over the years, some of my wildest critics seem to have assumed I am Jewish. At the same time, some of my closest friends wish I were. So let me set the record straight: I live in New York. I have a wife who craves Chinese food. And people I trust tell me I practically invented the word ‘chutzpah,’” the non-Jewish Murdoch recently told the American Jewish Committee. We rest our case.

Ethel Merman

Born Ethel Agnes Zimmermann in New York, New York, and still not Jewish! In 1930, the 22-year-old brunette of German Lutheran stock became an overnight sensation belting out “I Got Rhythm” in George and Ira Gershwin’s musical Girl Crazy. She never got stage fright, was quick with a quip—“Hollywood shoots too many movies and not enough blondes”—loved costume jewelry and lied shamelessly about her age. She had rhythm, she had chutzpah, who could ask for anything more?

Mike Myers

As Linda Richman, host of Saturday Night Live’s “Coffee Talk,” Myers’s make-up was as thick as his New York Jewish accent. He worshipped Barbra Streisand and got all verklempt when discussing her. And as the voice of Shrek (Yiddish for “scared”), the Canadian-born, Protestant-raised Myers made a new generation of children love a kinder, gentler version of the ultimate outsider. Then again, he also played Austin Powers—and Dr. Evil.

“Weird Al” Yankovic

He sounds like a Jew and looks like one, too. The eccentric, church-going musical parodist of Serbian ancestry got his big break with My Bologna, a rendering of The Knacks’ (yes, they’re Jewish) 1979 hit My Sharona. And then there are the Jewish musical references, like those in Pretty Fly for A Rabbi, which includes the lyrics: “So how’s by you? So how’s by you? Have you seen this Jew? Reads the Torah, does his own accounting, too.” And all together now: “How ya doin’, Bernie? Oy vey, oy vey! And all the goyim say I’m pretty fly (for a rabbi).” Oy vey, indeed.

Stay tuned for next week’s DateTalk by Moment, where we take a look at the other end of the spectrum–Jews nobody knows are Jewish.

Moment Magazine, the nation’s largest independent Jewish publication, was founded by Elie Wiesel and Leonard Fein and re-launched in 2004. Visit us at http://www.momentmag.com, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter!
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