David was in a rush. He was unshaven and was due at an outdoor location to film a 3 minute scene that would take probably 4 hours or more to shoot.
He was coming in from Lower Manhattan and the traffic heading uptown was at a standstill. Some sort of United Nations meetings snarled the usual weekday bumper to bumper traffic.
At Sixth Avenue and West 8th he jumped out of the car and went to take the subway.
“I’ll text you when to come and get me buddy, thank you.”
He went down the stairs and made his way to the Uptown A train.
Standing there he noticed that a couple of the commuters were staring at him. This happened all the time. He didn’t begrudge it at all.
David Polo, was a star on a cable TV show about doctors working in a New York City hospital. He was a very popular character and had won two Emmy awards.
His character was named, Murray Berkowitz, A Jewish doctor from the Bronx who was had been educated in Mexico. His character was very Jewish and he played it perfectly despite being half Irish and half Italian.
Growing up in Brooklyn his closest friend was a modern Orthodox Jew. He modeled his character based on him.
As he waited for the train, a kid, no more than 16, pushed him and whispered, “get the fuck out of here Dr Jew.”
“Jews and rats are the worst of the subway system.”
A very pretty, professional looking lady then added, “Get out of Palestine while you are at it.”
Another college aged man with a half beard and a Black lives matter hat, said. “Apartheid government, we should arrest every Israeli who is causing the Palestinians to suffer.”
Suddenly a man wearing a yarmulke came to his side and whisked him away from the several people who were now conversing between each other as if they had just won a baseball game.
“Are you OK?” He asked
“Yeah, is that a normal occurrence?”
“Anti semitism? Yes.”
“I never realized it.”
“Aren’t you Jewish?”
“No, I just play a Jewish doctor on TV.”
“I know the show, I was always convinced you were Jewish. You are a very good actor.”
“I just imitate my friend.” The train roared into the station. They each boarded and made sure it was a separate car from those people.
“What’s your friends name?”
“No idea who he is, you never know though. This is my stop, it was nice meeting you. Tell your friend what happened today and think about it. How did it feel to be accused wrongly?”
“Well I happen to agree with them about the Palestinians. From what I have read they are being treated terribly by Israel.”
“With all respect, don’t believe everything you read. Get educated and then you can have an opinion.” The train stopped and the man left with a smile.
David got to the set without any further incident. Several months went by where he did not experience the hate again. One day as he was boarding a plane from London, he heard his character’s name called and then, “Colonist bastards.” His companion, a well known actress, told him to ignore the man and he continued onto the flight.
It gave him pause though. On the flight across to New York it was hard for him to rest without thinking about what that man screamed at him. “Colonist bastards?” Who is he referring to?”
When the flight landed he decided to call his friend and discuss what had happened in the subway and in the airport. For the first time in his life, David was targeted because of anti-semitism. An Irish/Italian man, portraying a Jewish man on TV, being the target of hatred by ignorant anti-semites.
David called his friend, Joe and explained to him what had happened.
“I’m surprised you never got hate mail.” He responded.
“Come to think about it, I never get mail.”
“It’s probably filtered or simply not delivered to you to avoid any fear or harassment. Welcome to being Jewish my friend. The chosen people who are chosen to be the scapegoats and the victims of genocides and pogroms. To paraphrase the late great Jew, Rodney Dangerfield, ‘it ain’t easy being Jewish. ‘”
“I never realized.” David said in a whisper.
“Do you remember the play we put on in high school?”
“Guys and Dolls, of course that is what got me started. Francis’ father was casting for that sitcom and he called me the next day.”
“You know I was up for Nathan Detroit, right?”
“You were a much better actor than me and better looking too. But you said you couldn’t do it because your parents didn’t want you to.”
“The truth is buddy, the director didn’t like me because of my ‘Jewpersona’ I think is how he put it. He said my nose was too big for the stage and that my hair too curly.”
“What does that mean?”
“The big nose, the curly hair those are typically characteristics applied to the Jews.”
“That’s stretching it a bit, don’t you think?”
“I didn’t even realize this until my mother came to pick me up one night and overheard that director saying he didn’t want any Jews in the top cast because he didn’t think they had the balls or the ‘kutzpa’ to be convincing enough to be a gambler or a womanizer. He also said that about the two girls parts, one was a missionary and the other a nightclub dancer.”
“How come you never said anything?”
“I was in high school, I had zero confidence to stand up for myself let alone my religion. That’s also why Mary didn’t get the part of Adelaide.”
“Mary is Jewish? She has blonde hair and blue eyes.”
“There you go, David. “
“But… Mary? That didn’t sound like a Jewish name.”
“Mary was derived from Miriam in her case. In 3rd or 4th grade she was made fun of during Christmas. She didn’t want a Jew name once she went to high school so she switched it to Mary. “
“I am just as guilty as those idiots who-“
“You are not. You are my best friend and my brother from another mother, my mother happens to be Jewish and your mom is Catholic. You have never judged me for my reluctance to do things on Friday nights or holidays. You always respected us and your million dollar role is impersonating me very well, even showing parts of me that I never even noticed.”
“There is so much for me to learn about my best friend and character. How come you never told me about the Nathan Detroit situation? You could’ve been the one to become all big and famous. You were a much better actor than me.”
“I obviously never begrudged you, except when you were dating some of those actresses and models… I’m kidding, well, not really kidding. I am extremely satisfied and thrilled with my life, you know that.”
“Yup, my life has it’s extremes. One moment I am filming a love scene with the hottest actress in Hollywood and then next moment I am alone in my trailer with my anxiety out of control. I live a vagabond life, I don’t think you are made for that. Shit you barely meet me in the city for dinner!”
“No matter what, I got your back. We are brothers. You need to brush up on your facts about Israel.”
“I know, I know. Let’s start by my being cognizant of my preconceptions of Jews and Israel. Mary was a babe, right? Whatever happened to her?”
“She married the son of the guy that owned Cadillios.”
“Tony? He is Italian!”
“He converted to Judaism and they have a ton of kids.”
“Wait, I could convert and marry your sister?”
“I know who you have been with, there is no way you are marrying, even dating Sara.”
“I love you buddy, I’m sorry about the Nathan Detroit thing.”
“It’s OK you didn’t know. It’s happened to me many times over the years. Even to my advantage so, don’t worry. I love you too. You are coming to dinner Friday night right?”
“Can I bring my date?”
“Who is it this time?”
“Remember the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue last year?”
“You are kidding, right?”
Laughingly he said, “Yes, I am kidding, my mom is my date.”
“Of course! Just tell her not to bring anything. I felt bad because last time she brought a cake that had lard in it.”
“Lard isn’t kosher?”
Exasperatedly Joey said, “You got a lot to learn doctor.”
When David was back on the set he saw the casting director who had originally hired him for the part.
“Hey LB, how are you?”
“Tired, just came back from vacation with the family now I need to take a vacation from the family.”
Ignoring him as he usually did David asked him. “I know its been a while but, why did you cast me in a Jewish role rather than a Jewish man?”
“You want to give up the part?”
“No, I am just curious.”
LB came close to him and said in a low tone, “The producers didn’t want any Jew in the main roles.”
“Why, aren’t some of them Jewish?”
“Yes, but the directors wanted to avoid having to put up with a Jew. They can be trouble makers, always whining and complaining.”
“Al doesn’t whine or complain? He isn’t Jewish.”
“Yes, I am aware. But the Jews are known to want to take over the fucking show. Direct, become a producer – they’ll be the janitor if it gave them more of the profits.”
“Was I first choice to be cast?”
“I don’t remember that.”
“You are full of shit.”
“OK at first I wanted to cast Goodman in your role but the producers balked.”
“That is fucked up – they will write a show about a hospital based in New York with a lead role being a Jewish surgeon, but they won’t hire a jewish actor to play the role?”
“You are what they call, ‘Jewface.'”
“Yeah, you have a Jewish face but you dont come with all the baggage.”
“Yes, you know the way they talk and dont shut up; the neurosis, the anger and the-“
“Stop there. I dont want to hear anymore. I have to go to the bathroom, see you later.”
David went to his trailer and sat there in shock. “Was I a ‘Jewface’? Is that something like a black face? Like when Robert Downey played the white actor pretending to be a black actor in Tropic Thunder? Or Mickey Rooney playing the Asian super in Breakfast at Tiffany’s?
A knock on the door, “Hey David – makeup time we need to make you look pretty.” Or more Jewish he thought?
That next day he watched Tropic Thunder, it was a very funny movie which mocked the self-importance of Hollywood – but the character played by Tom Cruise was disturbing. Was that what he was doing? Why the controversy over Robert Downey playing a black faced white actor but no controversy over Tom Cruise playing an over the top Jewish producer – along with fat fingers, bald, hairy chest, arms and an obsession with money?
He couldn’t understand. The rationalization of Hollywood was that Ben Stiller was Jewish, so it was ok. ‘That’s bullshit. ” David told Joey.
“That’s the reality.’