“You’re just another face that I know from the TV show. I have known you for so very long. I feel you like a friend.”
– “Turn It On Again” by Genesis
When I was in 6th grade (1992-1993) my friend Chad Mathers was telling me about this funny TV show he had began watching called Seinfeld. He explained that the main character was Jewish. Then he said to me, “You’re Jewish, right? Your mom looks Jewish, so that means you are too.” I replied, “Yeah, I guess I’m Jewish.”
Most of my classmates knew my mom because she was a substitute teacher. And they knew by her physical traits she wasn’t just “American”. She was something ethnic. No one really knew exactly what nationality she was, though. Neither did I. Because I just never thought to question it as a kid.
In fact, I had every reason to believe I was Jewish. My mom was always using words like, “kosher”, “schnozzle”, “finagle”, and “hoopla”. (Though only those first two words are actually Jewish words.) And she always perfectly and naturally handled the family budget- she now works at a bank.
Her parents: My grandfather was 5’ 6”, dark-skinned, curly haired, and had the “schnozzle”. He never used the word “church”- instead he called it “tabernacle”. The only kind of bread he ever had at his house was Jewish Rye. He saved most of his money and when he rarely bought a new car, he paid for it in cash. My grandmother is 4” 8”, even darker-skinned, with long black hair. Neither of their accents helped- respectively Kenosha and Buffalo. Seemed Jewish to me.
Most Jews living in America have German last names, often including “sch”, “stein”, “berg”, and “man”. My last name, Shell, is German and was originally spelled “Schel”.
And my family has always been close. Every holiday and birthday was spent together. Meatballs were often a part of the meals. Only they weren’t Matzah balls.
My earliest memory of learning my true heritage was in 9th grade. Evidently it took that long for me to be self-aware enough to question my heritage. It’s not that I actually thought I was Jewish before, it’s that I didn’t question it. I just assumed. But despite all the Jewish clues, I learned I wasn’t all that Jewish. My grandfather (Albert Metallo) was Southern-Italian and my grandmother (Lola Mendez) Central-Mexican. And on my dad’s side, German and English.
But after doing some in-depth some research, I learned there’s a good chance that too of my great-grandmothers were Jewish (Wiseman and Vite), not to mention a Green and an Ullman a little bit further back.
While I’m fully proud of my actual heritage, I feel more Jewish than I actually am. Thinking back on the last decade, the celebrities that people have said that I look like are all Jews: David Schwimmer, David Arquette, Paul Rudd, Zack Braff, and Ben Savage (from “Boy Meets World”). And I have played Jesus in more church skits and plays than any of my friends, because I always “looked the most Jewish.” I was the obvious choice.
And like the Genesis song “Turn It On Again” talks about, the characters I knew from the movies and TV shows (and even musicians) I watched growing up became like family to me, in a very cloudy, subconscious sort of way. In particular, as I kid I thought I was Kevin Arnold (Fred Savage) from The Wonder Years. And in talking to my sister in preparation for this post, I learned that she always thought that too. We never knew that we both thought that until now.
The Three Stooges. Seinfeld. Friends. Pauly Shore. Bob Saget. Ben Stein. Howie Mandel. Dustin Diamond. Adam Sandler. Andy Samberg. Bob Dylan. Billy Joel. Just a few Jewish people who have surely influenced the culture of my life in some minutely tangible way.
Several years ago I stumbled across an obscure brand of wine that evidently has become my favorite. The name caused me to think it was German. But once I read the label carefully, I realized it is wine mainly used for Jewish services. It’s Manischewitz brand, one of the nation’s leading brand of kosher products.
And this year I officially stopped eating pork and shellfish. Therefore the word “kosher” means something important to me. It means “hot dog I can eat”.
Some Jews actually have no Israeli blood, but they convert to the religion of Judaism. I sort of feel like that somehow. However, the only Jews that believe Jesus is the true son of God are the Messianic Jews. Clearly put, I feel like a Gentile (a person is not from the lineage of the nation of Israel) who has converted to Messianic Judaism. Yes, I’m a technical Messianic Jew.