Name that Jew
A pop quiz:
Jewish World Review Nov. 19, 1999/ 20 Kislev, 5760
By Rabbi Bob Alper
Which of the following celebrities in this imaginary television scenario bear the names their parents lovingly bestowed upon them?
"Welcome to another edition of 'Larry King Live,' here on CNN. My special co-host for the evening, from '60 Minutes,' is Mike Wallace.
"Our guests represent many sectors of the entertainment industry, from actors Winona Ryder, Jill St. John, Tony Randall, and Walter Matthau, to singers Steve Lawrence, Carole King, and Barry Manilow. Also funnymen Gene Wilder and Alan King; magician David Copperfield; conductor Michael Tilson Thomas; and designer Calvin Klein. Plus heavyweight champion wrestler 'Goldberg'."
Which ones kept their names?
Only Goldberg. William Goldberg, to be specific. That's the name my colleague, Rabbi Charles Sherman, recited years ago when he invited a thirteen-year-old to read Torah at his Bar Mitzvah at Temple Israel, Tulsa. This same kid went on to an outstanding career in college and NFL football, and then became a professional wrestler known, simply, as "Goldberg." The crowds adore him, chanting "Goldberg, Goldberg, Goldberg" while their hero saunters into the arena, smoke bellowing from his flaring nostrils.
And the other celebs? Well, they all changed their monikers. This is how the introduction would sound if everyone had stuck with his or her original:
"Welcome to another edition of 'Lawrence Zeiger Live,' here on CNN. My special co-host for the evening, from '60 Minutes,' is Myron Wallace.
"Our guests represent many sectors of the entertainment industry, from actors Winona Horowitz, Jill Oppenheimer, Leonard Rosenthal and Walter Matuschanskayasky, to singers Sidney Leibowitz, Carole Klein, and Barry Alan Pincus. Also funnymen Jerome Silberman and Irwin Knilberg; magician David Kotkin; conductor Michael Thomashevsky; and designer Richard Klein. Plus heavyweight champion wrestler 'Goldberg.'"
I gleaned this information from a fascinating new volume, "The Jewish Book of Lists" by Joel Samberg (Citadel Press, 1998). It's a highly enjoyable book and a great reference tool, with chapters such as "The Tummlers: The 116 Funniest Jews in the World," and "Jewww.weird.com: 10 Unusual Jewish Web Sites to Kvetch About."
Particularly enlightening is the chance to flip through the pages of "The Names They Are A-Changing: 112 Real Names of Famous People" and learn not only who's who, but also who was formerly who, before they became a new who.
Of course, maybe with the advent of "Goldberg," more of our co-religionists will decide to retain the names spoken over their cradles. Will they still get the respect they desire? Ask Jacob Cohen. Also known as Rodney Dangerfield.
JWR contributor Bob Alper, the world's only practicing clergyman doing stand-up comedy ... intentionally, is the author of Life Doesn't Get Any Better Than This : The Holiness of Little Daily Dramas and A rabbi confesses. To visit his web site, click here. To send your comments click here.
Name that Jew
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