October 23, 2018

Waiting for Jewman

” target=”_hplink”>show, business as usual, on Rosh Hashanah this year. That night, when his interview guest, Meghan McCain, daughter of Senator John McCain, greeted him with “Happy New Year,” Stewart looked uncharacteristically nonplussed for a nanosecond, before replying, “What? Huh? See you in Times Square tonight.”

“Culturally Jewish, but not practicing” is what it’s called on the JDate profile form. Stewart grew up in suburban New Jersey with the name Jon Stewart Liebowitz. When radio host Howard Stern asked him about his real name, Stewart ” target=”_hplink”>episode that brought veiled death threats to its creators for allegedly depicting the prophet Mohammed, Stewart expressed solidarity with his Comedy Central colleagues Trey Parker and Matt Stone by rolling a ” target=”_hplink”>guest on “The O’Reilly Factor,” Stewart was pressed by Bill O’Reilly to admit he was having “Obama remorse.” Asked O’Reilly, “Did you buy the messiah thing when he was campaigning?” Stewart’s response: “Look, I don’t buy the messiah thing with the messiah thing, let alone with a politician.”

On Yom Kippur afternoon this year, at Temple Israel of Hollywood, my shul, I moderated a sort of town hall whose title drew a couple hundred people: “If I Don’t Really Believe in All This, Why Am I Here Today?” At one point, a congregant, without prompting, told the room that Stewart didn’t take the High Holy Days off. His tone was a mixture of anger and disappointment, the kind of sentiment someone might feel about a misguided family member. I heard a shocked intake of breath. The feelings about a beloved cultural icon that this revelation of apostasy uncorked (in a room containing, I’d guess, more than a few once-a-year Jews) were so strong that I couldn’t get the discussion back on track without first giving the floor to another congregant determined to explore the contrasting examples of two nonprodigal sons, ” target=”_hplink”>Hank Greenberg.