I adore Jon Stewart, have been watching him on Comedy Central since his very first Daily Show episode, when he was replacing Craig Kilborn. At that very first show, Stewart signaled his plan to become an influential voice on latenight TV by announcing—in Killborn’s face—that he was getting rid of most of the show’s silly stuff, like the clever and absurd 5-questions posed to the guest, and the rest of the rubber chicken gimmicks that endeared the show to its scant followers, but also kept it small. The only remnant from the Killborn era today is the “Moment of Zen” at the end of the show.
I also recall the moment in time when Stewart transformed himself from a very funny and exceptionally well read host of a fake news show to a moral force in America. It was in October, 2004, when he destroyed CNN’s “Crossfire.”
Stewart came out with both guns blazing, and in half an hour turned “Crossfire” hosts Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson from fairly respected political talking heads into cantankerous buffoons. I cheered him, along with most of America, because, hey, we all love to see blood spilling on national television, but also because those two represented—precisely as Stewart put it—a class of verbal gladiators entangled in a tiresome string of daily clashes for the sake of fighting, not for, say, discovering and exploring ideas.
Poor Carlson, who looked so white, so upper class, and so pythonesque in his humiliation (the bowtie, remember his bowtie?), said something like: “Aren’t you supposed to be funny?” which sounded exactly like something Abe Lincoln would have said to John Wilkes Booth if he had better writers.
CNN canceled “Crossfire” practically that afternoon (or so it seemed), and although Stewart did not actually manage to change the way our cable news networks debate politics, he killed two of the most offensive practitioners, and that’s something.
I’m well aware of Jon Stewart’s faults as a host. He tends to cater with the freckled open face of a schoolgirl to left-wing guests, and comes prepared and biting to his encounters with right-wingers. He sometimes makes me gag when he applies his puckered lips to the less glorified side of the high and mighty. He had Pakistani dictator Pervez Musharraf pushing his book on the show and pitched him so many softballs, it started to look like an evening with the NAGAAA. Needless to say, murdering Benazir Bhutto did not come up.
The most troubling influence Jon Stewart—born in New York City to Marian and Donald Leibowitz—is on the cultural landscape of American Jews.
Stewart is probably the most popular Jewish man in America today. He’s also one of the top 10 men of any ethnic background. He is unabashedly Jewish, to many of us he is the ideal American Jew: aware of his ethnic identity but careful not to let it dominate his career; respects Jewish tradition but not to the point where non-Jews become uncomfortable (unlike, say, The Jewish Press). He has religious and traditional Jews on his writing staff, he promotes countless Jewish-identified entertainers, he is openly and proudly pro-Israel (albeit from his distinct political point of view—which is his prerogative). I can’t imagine anyone suggesting that Jon Stewart is bad for Jews.
Jon Stewart is bad for Jews.
Because he is so very sane, reasonable, moderate, benign, respectable and cheerful about Jewish and Israeli issues, he presents a model to be emulated – and therein lies the badness.
I hate to write the next few paragraphs, because they’re about a person’s private life which he has not done much to expose. I wouldn’t have dreamed of digging behind those bushes if not for the new study that’s being discussed by every Jewish media outlet in north America: the Pew “Portrait of Jewish Americans,” which suggested with the same breath that there are almost 7 million Jews living in America, and that many of them, and certainly the offspring of the vast majority of them, can’t really be considered Jewish.
A whopping 58% of Jews married between the years 2000 and 2013 have non-Jewish spouses. That’s up from 17% in 1970.
Woody Allen as a rabbi in “Annie Hall,” using his Jewish heritage for the comic effect while, in reality, having precious little to do with anything Jewish.
What happened between 1970 and 2013? Jon Stewart happened. Obviously, I don’t mean the person Jon Stewart, who was only 8 in 1970, and probably not a major influence yet on Jewish life in America. But the paradigm of the successful, charismatic Jew, who is unafraid to be identified as Jewish while not going crazy with the Jew thing – that paradigm was well in the making. Allan Stewart Konigsberg, aka Woody Allen, comes to mind. And, alas—inevitably—that paradigm also turned the previously shocking marrying of a gentile spouse more and more commonplace, until it is what the vast majority of Jews are doing.
That’s not marriage, that’s ethnic cleansing.
In 2000, Stewart married Tracey Lynn McShane, his girlfriend of four years. The couple met on a blind date set up by a production assistant on Stewart’s film, Wishful Thinking. On June 19, 2001, Stewart and his wife filed a joint name change application and legally changed both of their surnames to “Stewart.” He proposed to his wife through a personalized crossword puzzle created with the help of Will Shortz, the crossword editor at The New York Times. The couple had their first child, a son named Nathan Thomas Stewart (after Stewart’s grandfather), in July 2004. Their second child, a daughter, Maggie Rose Stewart, was born in February 2006. They own a cat named Stanley and two pit bull terriers, Monkey and Shamsky (named after former Major League Baseball player Art Shamsky).
What can possibly be wrong with the above paragraph? From this Jewish person’s narrow, nationalistic point of view, what’s wrong there is that only one out of the three persons in the perfect American family being described is Jewish.
(Obviously, I apologize if Mrs. Stewart quietly went and converted to Judaism, just to make me eat my hat. But you understand I’m discussing her and her husband as paradigms.)
The Pew study breaks this tragedy into subject matters and numbers, but the crux of it is that the Stewarts and the Jewish nation are in the process of parting company. They, along with several million other Americans of Jewish descent, are disappearing into the gushing river of history, while the rest of us are left on our own once again, to continue the divine adventure begun in the mid 1200s BCE in Egypt.
Here’s a curious fact: the verse in the Torah describing the Israelites’ exit from their house of bondage in Egypt goes: “V’chamushim alu Bnei Israel m’eretz Mitzrayim,” which is translated straight-forwardly as “The Israelites went up out of Egypt equipped for battle.” But the classical commentator Rashi offers an alternative reading of the word “chamushim,” which can also mean one-fifth, meaning that four fifths of the Israelite slaves did not follow Moses’ instructions, did not grab a lamb, did not slaughter it, did not smear its blood on their door posts, and did not roast and eat it, and so they perished along with the Egyptians during the plague of Darkness.
Based on Rashi’s suggestion, as well as based on Jewish history, a loss of 58% of a Jewish community to the larger culture is an exceptionally optimistic outcome – it should have been 80%. Indeed, four fifths was the common rate of intermarriage and cultural merging for European Jewry before WW2 and again, today, 70 years after the war. Give it another 30 years and we’ll hit the historically proper 80% in north America as well.
So that, in the end, Jon Stewart is not to blame for America’s demographic holocaust (Too dramatic? Maybe go with “demographic catastrophe?” Demographic anguish?” Nah – I’m sticking with the H word). He merely represents its most highly focused arrowhead.
He is the schpitz of assimilation, to use a Yiddish word, since peppering one’s speech with Yiddish is so adorably neuvo-Jew these days.