Bintel Blog

The Daily Show with Jonathan Leibowitz

By Allison Gaudet Yarrow

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Jon Stewart a relic of antisemitism? Ron Rosenbaum thinks so.

“Dear Jon Stewart,” he writes in Slate, “I want you to change your name. Back to Leibowitz.” He is referring to Stewart’s birth moniker, Jonathan Stuart Leibowitz.

Many of us have stories about how our family names were hacked into Americanized semblances of the original after our ancestors left their old countries. My great-grandfather’s Rosenzweig became Rosen to fit on a New York boxing marquis, or so goes the family lore. Yarrow, my married name, might have once been Yarovetsky outside of Kiev at the turn of the century, but now, nobody knows for sure.

Rosenbaum is looking for high profile Jews, namely Stewart, to “reject the rejection of their ancestry and the WASP-ification of their names.”

Rosenbaum appeals to Stewart’s knack for stripping the pretenses from the personas of celebrities and political big shots on his show, then asks that he turn this strategy on himself by reclaiming his ethnic name. Rosenbaum goes on to say that Stewart asserts his Jewishness in every other discernible way in the name of comedy — his bar mitzvah referencing, bubbe-teasing, occasionally Yiddish-accented joshes pander to tribe members and the seculars alike.

Stewart was named the most trusted man in news in a recent Time magazine poll, though their 9,409-person sample of voters seems too small call Stewart the new Walter Cronkite.

Will Stewart make the switch? Slate has offered him a forum. We’ll keep you posted.

maven Tue. Jul 28, 2009


"New York boxing marquis" NO: it is marquee !

Jack Tue. Jul 28, 2009

No, the New York Marquees were originally Marquis....

But seriously folks, the name changing is more than a relic of earlier anti-Semitism: think of the poor goyim trying to spell Jewish names. Sure, the Germans can prob’ly get the names derived directly from German, but what about variant spellings depending on historical vagaries, for example the suffix of Mr. Stewart’s original moniker: -vich, -vicz, -witz, -vitz, -vici, -vicius, etc., even -witch. And what about families like my wife’s? Their name looks like one of those legendary Ellis Island names, but they swear that was the original spelling in the Old Country and it is not —I repeat— not some variant of a more common name. Mebbe there was an Irish enclave in Poland?

As I’ve heard it —altho’ I’m uncertain how true it is— the whole surname business was imposed by gentile authorities for the purpose of census, taxation, etc. Why not go back to Jon, Miriam’s son, the tummler or Shabtai Zisel, Abe’s son, the folk-meshoyrer? Better yet, let’s drop the pretense of _kinnuy_ and all go publicly by our Hebrew names?

I, for one, won’t be changing my surname back anytime soon, as there isn’t anything to change. The spelling [in Latin letters] already looked WASPy in the Old Country, and adding an umlaut for exoticism seems pretentious.

Brad Wed. Jul 29, 2009

Jack said it better than I could.

Jack Wed. Jul 29, 2009

Aw shucks... *blush*

SK Thu. Jul 30, 2009

Not only can John Stewart change to his Jewish last name, but his wife and kid could be Jewish, too.

Rick Mon. Aug 3, 2009

Jack: Every nationality has those spelling variants of surnames. It isn't a peculiarly Jewish, or Eastern European, phenomenon. I lived in Minnesota and you would be surprised at the various spellings of similar Scandinavian names. There are Andersons, and Anderssons, and Andersohns, and Andersens. (If Icelanders are in the crowd, there are Andersdatters too, the female variant of the common concept "Ander's offspring.") They tend to retain the various spellings from generation to generation, to mark their particular heritage. So if we landsmen didn't retain our original patronymics we're going to have to come up with a better explanation than spelling difficulty among the goyem.

Jack Fri. Aug 7, 2009


My mistake, from listening to Garrison Keillor I thought people who lived in Minnesota had a sense of humor.

P.S.: In Icelandic the name would be spelled Andersdóttir.

P.P.S.: The given name upon which these patronymics are based is Anders not Ander.

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