Religion & Beliefs

The Protocols: Harry Potter and the Order of the Jews

“Guess what?” My mother sounded positively bubbly–I hadn’t heard her this excited since her latest colonoscopy came back clean. “Harry Potter is Jewish!” “Harry Potter is a fictional character,” I explained patiently. “But if Harry Potter had a religion, I’m … Read More

By / July 30, 2008

“Guess what?” My mother sounded positively bubbly–I hadn’t heard her this excited since her latest colonoscopy came back clean. “Harry Potter is Jewish!”

“Harry Potter is a fictional character,” I explained patiently. “But if Harry Potter had a religion, I’m pretty sure it would be some kind of magical Druidic paganism or something. Isn’t that what the Fundies were all up in arms about?”

“Well, not the real-life Harry Potter,” my mother replied, imbuing this paradoxical statement with all the disdainful petulance of a thwarted middle-schooler. “The actor. I just read an interview with his Bubbe in the Jewish Press. What’s his name?”

“Daniel Radcliffe.”

“Radcliffe, huh? I wonder what it used to be.”

“It’s his mother that’s Jewish,” I said automatically. “His father isn’t.”

“Oh,” she said, disappointed. But she soon brightened again. “But if his mother is Jewish, then he’s Jewish! And you already knew!”

Yes. I had known the truth about young Mr. Radcliffe for some time, since my usual procrastination technique of looking up random bits of useless knowledge on the internet had seized me with a burning need to know whether it was Alicia Spinnet or Katie Bell who played Chaser for the Gryffindor Quidditch Team (answer: both did!) which led me to the Harry Potter Lexicon, which led me to Daniel Radcliffe’s Wikipedia page, which led me to the “List of English Jews” where I spent a full two hours glorying in the achievements of Matt Lucas, Nigella Lawson and Vanessa Feltz until I pulled myself together enough to go to the bodega for my seventeenth diet Coke of the day.

This kind of behavior is hardly atypical. Before my grandmother passed to that giant entertainment center in the sky, she used to adore cataloguing the co-religionists on her favorite television programs, pointing a knobby finger at the screen as the stale rugelach crumbs spilled down her housedress. “That Paul Reiser is just adorable! And he’s a Jew!” (Really? Paul Reiser? You don’t say.) As a child, I often shut myself in my bedroom, poring over the copy of Great Jews of the Stage and Screen, the soothing presence in those pages of Debra Winger and Jill St. John assured me that I could still be rich and famous, without having blond hair or being able to do a complete split. Despite the fact that my sister possessed a fine head of pale, buttery ringlets, and nearly every girl in my ballet class at the JCC was suppler than me, at the time I associated my failings in this area, like everything else I disliked about myself, with my Jewishness. Lauren Bacall gave me hope.

We lived in Nebraska, where Jews were thin on the ground, but had we dwelt in Great Neck or Tel Aviv I hardly think my mother’s delight that a Jewish boy had been chosen to portray the world’s most beloved teenage wizard would have been more acute.

There is only one other group of people that monitors the identities of prominent Jews as assiduously as the Jews themselves; who can, off the top of their heads, rattle off the names of each Jewish member of the United States Senate (thirteen, if you count Joe Lieberman) and Nobel Prize winner.

These people are white supremacists.

Thanks to the Internet, climbing into the mind of your friendly neighborhood neo-Nazi is easier than ever. Simply type in the name of any celebrity or public figure you believe or suspect to be a landsman into a search engine, along with the word Jewish. You’ll find glowing-with-naches profiles a la Harry Potter’s proud grandma, but you’ll also immediately be directed to David Duke’s website or the aptly named Jew Watch, which will assure you (accompanied by detailed genealogical charts) of the problematic ancestry of dangerous and powerful Semites like Estelle Getty, Scarlett Johanssen, and Kyle Broflovski. The attention to detail is so astounding—Robin Williams appears on the list, with the caveat that he once mentioned that he was Jewish on Oprah, but was “most likely joking and is of probable Christian ancestry” which is a relief, since the organizers of the next Aryan Brotherhood Autumn Retreat had already a Bicentennial Man/The World According to Garp double feature for Movie Night. Other heroes of American comedy don’t get off so easy; although the author acknowledges that “he is a funny motherfucker” and that he has “laughed his fucking ass off as some of his shit before”, Larry David is most certainly a Jew and none of us should forget get it.

Don’t worry, dude. We won’t.

Lists of names feature prominently in Jewish culture. The Book of Genesis teems endlessly with long recitatives of who begat who. On Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, we pray with our eyes trained on the Book of Life, a kind of gargantuan cosmic database cataloguing all our virtues and trespasses that judges us accordingly (growing up, I always explained it to my Gentile friends as something like Santa’s naughty-and-nice list, except that the punishment for naughtiness was not fewer toys, but death. Is it any wonder we don’t attract more converts?) The names of the deceased are printed in pamphlets and solemnly read aloud on the anniversaries of their passes, and the Hall of Names at Yad Vashem has taken on almost talismanic properties—at once a memorial and an affirmation of existence. After all, the Nazis had their lists too. And apparently, they still do.

Perhaps what is most interesting (and eerie) is that whether these lists of famous Jews are available in glossy coffee table books and sold at the gift shop of the Jewish Museum on 5th Avenue, or posted in inept HTML on a website festooned with German Eagles and misspelled quotes from David Irving, they serve a roughly analogous purpose: to document the influence and reach of a people whose dizzying level of achievement on the world-stage is vastly disproportionate to their relatively miniscule numbers. Of the major world religions, we outnumber only the Ba’hai, and not by much. And how many Ba’hai are staff writers on The Daily Show?

For Jews, this legacy of prominence is a cause for celebrations, for the triumphs of a people that, to put it gently, the world has been rough with. For our antagonists, this never-ending parade of Jews in the news is evidence of precisely that—of a people of undue influence, an encroaching threat, a giant yarmulke-wearing octopus that gouging the world in its tentacles. And it’s precisely this sentiment that lends the streak of buried melancholy to Aunt Sharon’s discovery of the Beastie Boys, to Adam Sandler’s Hanukah Song, and to the doctrine of Jewish overachieving in general. If we can only keep churning out doctors, lawyers, rock stars, Nobel laureates, and ribald comedies about tubby, curly-headed stoners and the Gentile women who reluctantly love them, we will at last make ourselves indispensable. To committed populists like Kennebunkport’s own George W. Bush, elitism is a term of contempt. But for Jews it means something quite different. We know that even the Nazis let some of the elite—scientists, musicians, artists—slip through the cracks.

The elite survive. When we are all elite, then we will all be safe.

And on a personal note, I’m still trying to make it there myself, so Jew Watch, if you’re reading, put me on your list! Keep an eye out for my nefarious doings—I beg you! I’ll send you any biographical information that you need. And if you’d like to link to my Amazon page as well, who am I to stop you? I don’t care if you burn my book, as long as you buy it.