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Roseanne’s Jewish Roots

posted by Esther Kustanowitz

She’s changed her name and image more times than Prince or John Mellencamp. Her successful standup career was followed by a popular sitcom, which gave early screen credits to writers like Buffy’s Joss Whedon, SNL’s Norm MacDonald, and the Gilmore Girls’ Amy Sherman–who hyphenated her name upon marriage to fellow “Roseanne” scribe and Gilmore producing partner Daniel Palladino. The sitcom showed us children who matured awkwardly even on camera, brought on gay characters, and launched careers for not one, but two, Beckys. But for all that she’s accomplished, Roseanne (Barr/Arnold/”just Roseanne, please”) really just wants two things: a bat mitzvah and to become Prime Minister of Israel.

Yes, Roseanne is a member of the tribe–although growing up in the predominantly Mormon Salt Lake City, she had more of an affinity for Mormonism as a child than she did for Judaism. As she explains in an article in the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Salt Lake City had only 50 Jewish families, and anti-Semitism was both rampant and violent; Roseanne’s mother hid her children’s Jewish identity, bringing them to Mormon services. Recently, Roseanne’s affiliation with the Kabbalah Centre has created headlines, but the comedian had been acquainted with the principles of Kabbalah since she was 13.

Her reason for considering a bat mitzvah now? “I was recently at my niece’s bat mitzvah, and she talked about helping other people in the world,” Roseanne said. “I love to be involved, and that really turned me on. Yes, I would like to have a bat mitzvah, that would be cool.”

According to the JTA article, when asked about the basis of her Jewishness, she cracks, “An overwhelming desire for carbohydrates.” (Heading into Passover, I can tell you that bread withdrawal is a major part of the holiday, and we spend a lot of time, money, and energy trying to create cakes, puddings, anything made of matzah that can substitute for bread during this week of unleaven. It’s an addiction we’re not proud of. )

“It’s part of my genetic memory,” she continues. “When I hear stories from the Bible or about Judaism, I think that they are about me, that I am part of them, like I was personally at Mount Sinai with Moses…. Of course, this may be some kind of mental illness… Sometimes I wonder if there isn’t a fine line between being Jewish and being crazy.”

I haven’t seen any evidence of such a connection–although you do hear a lot about the line between creativity and depression, and having three ex-husbands might be enough to push you over the edge. But if by “crazy” she means either “neurotic” or “cuckoo for carbs,” then she may be onto something.

As for becoming Prime Minister of Israel, the comedian says that she’s qualifed. Even though her family won’t listen to her, “I know every solution to every problem,” she says.



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