What’s more fun than Jewish trivia? Oh, right, there’s that. And that, too. Yes, okay, and also that. In any case, presented now for your dining and dancing pleasure, a selection of some of the most interesting Jewish trivia on the planet.
If Levi Strauss were born with a different name, folks today could be saying, “I just bought a new pair of Shmuel’s.”
These are actual true facts, followed by attempted jokes. How successfully followed? As always, you’ll be the judge of that. All I ask is that you keep in mind that I’ve been going through a very stressful period in my life – my local Whole Foods store has been out of organic apples for the past two weeks. But enough about me and my dietary trauma. Onward to the Jewish trivia…
The Roosevelts were originally Jewish Dutch, arriving in New York City in 1862. One ancestor named Claes Rosenvelt changed his name to Nicholas Roosevelt. Sarah Delano, FDR’s mother, was descended from Sephardic Jews. FDR’s most famous quote was actually, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself – and my mother’s tzimmes, which will sit like a brick in your stomach for three weeks.”
The first theater to be used solely for the showing of motion pictures was built by a Jew, Adolf Zukor. The first man to attempt to get free popcorn in a movie theater was also a Jew, Shlomo Rabinowitz.
A Jew, Dr. Abraham Waksman, coined the term antibiotics. Before that, they were referred to as, “you know, those little thingies that beat the hell out of bad things inside your body.”
A Polish Jew (Casimir Funk), who pioneered a new field of medical research, gave us a word now common in our language - vitamins. He was also the first one to receive the request, “Play that funky music, white boy.”
Jewish Levi "Levi's" Strauss (inventor of jeans) is the largest clothing retailer in the world. Keep in mind that if he had been born with another name, folks today could be saying, “I just bought a new pair of Shmuel’s.”
Olivia Newton-John's Jewish grandfather was a Nobel Prize winning physicist. He proved that one must travel almost at the speed of light to escape hearing, “Have You Ever Been Mellow,” once it comes on the radio.
Where would the retail world be without the Jews? Jews created the first department stores of the 19th century: The Altmans, Gimbels, Kaufmanns, Lazaruses, Magnins, Mays, Strausses became leaders of major department stores. Julius Rosenwald revolutionized the way Americans purchased goods by improving Sears Roebuck’s mail order merchandising. Hart, Schaffner, Marx, Kuppenheimer and Levi Strauss became household names in mens’ clothing. And let’s not forget my ancestors – who patronized all those stores and products!
If there was a Nobel Prize for winning Nobel Prizes, Jews would be the winner. Of the 660 Nobel prizes from 1901-1990, 160 were won by Jews, more than any other ethnicity. High-five, Chosen People!
If you or your relatives grew up listening to records, you have a Jew to thank. Emile Berliner is the man who developed the phonograph. While Thomas Edison was working out a type of phonograph that used a cylinder as a record, Berliner invented a machine that would play a disc. The machine he patented was called the gramophone, and the famous RCA trademark is a picture of a dog listening to “his master’s voice” on Berliner’s device. The gramophone was superior to Edison’s machine. In short, Emile Berliner made possible the modern record industry. His company was eventually absorbed by the Victor Talking Machine Company, now known as RCA. Eventually, Elvis Presley would become RCA’s biggest-selling recording artist.
Milton Berle owned America on Tuesday nights. For three years Berle’s “Texaco Star Theater” was the most-watched variety show on television. The show came to dominate Tuesday nights, and was so popular by the end of 1948 that it was the only show not cancelled during coverage of the presidential election. So dominant was the show that nightclubs changed the days they would close from Mondays to Tuesdays, and business at restaurants and movie theaters would drop off markedly during the hour of the “Texaco Star Theater”. Yes, it was even more popular than “The Real Housewives of Atlanta.”
After the war was over, American Jews wanted and expected to be included as full citizens. In 1790, then President George Washington wrote a letter to the Hebrew Congregation at Newport, Rhode Island, thanking them for the well wishes they sent his way. He also explained that America’s religious and civil liberties are grounded in natural rights and not mere tolerance like the Europeans. He closed by asking if any of them had a good recipe for matzoh brei.
Mel Brooks is one of few performers to have won an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony award. In fact, Brooks is one of only 14 people in the history of the universe to have completed the EGOT. It’s enough to give the rest of us an inferiority complex. Okay, I’ll speak for myself.
While we know that the world’s three major monotheistic religions revere Jerusalem as a holy city, it is also ground zero for archeologists. The city is the epicenter of biblical archeology, with multiple digs at any one time, and archeologists in Jerusalem have found artifacts that have shed light on the early origins of Christianity and Judaism. Now Jerusalem is home to more than 2,000 archeological sites – that’s almost one for every time Congress has failed to pass a piece of President Obama’s legislation.
We don’t often think of fraternities as breeding grounds for wealth and accomplishment, but perhaps we should. On arriving at Harvard, Facebook’s future creator Mark Zuckerberg joined the Jewish fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi. Aaron Sorkin’s film of Zuckerberg and the founding of Facebook, “The Social Network,” portrays this as a formative moment in the creation of the site. And through Alpha Epsilon Pi, Zuckerberg is a fraternity brother of a slew of well-known Jews – including CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, billionaire Sheldon Alderson, Gene Wilder and both Simon and Garfunkel. Perhaps it’s something in the beer.