The 18 Best Jewish . . .
In honor of the first night of Hanukkah, we’ve compiled a list of 18 Famous Jews with whom we’d be most interested in lighting the shamash. The list follows a specific criteria: each Jew has been selected from one of the 18 “types” of Jews on the “List of Jews” Wikipedia page. Since we only had room for one actor (sorry, Dustin Hoffman), one economist (sorry, Paul Krugman), one feminist (sorry, Nina Hartley), and so on and so forth, to make the final cut, all Famous Jews, living and deceased, engaged in a stiff competition. And before you express your outrage, please keep in mind that the selections, as well as the rationalizations, are based on pretty much nothing at all. Indeed, no real biases here. As far as you know.
1. The best Jewish anarchist. Noam Chomsky (1928 -). The author of over 100 books, including The Race to Destruction: Its Rational Basis and Letters from Lexington: Reflections on Propaganda, has said that his “personal visions are fairly traditional anarchist ones, with origins in The Enlightenment and classical liberalism.”
Jewish linguistics: Parents’ first language was Yiddish.
2. The best Jewish chess player. Akiba Rubinstein (1882-1961). The Polish Grandmaster was one of the best endgame players of all time, specializing in rook endgames, but he spent the last 29 years of his life suffering from mental illness.
Jewish luck: Avoided Nazis by being completely insane (so goes the tall tale).
3. The best Jewish Nobel Laureate. Albert Einstein (1879-1955). The relatively intelligent German physicist is arguably best known for influencing the Mariah Carey album E=MC² and the Meg Ryan romcom I.Q.
Jewish discovery: Remarked, in a letter written years after attending Catholic school, “For me the most beautiful thing is to be in contact with a few fine Jews—a few millennia of a civilized past do mean something after all.”
4. The best Jewish historian. Howard Zinn (1933-2010). The Boston University professor’s 1980 best-seller A People’s History of the United States has been read by such equally American Americans as Marge Simpson and A.J. Soprano.
Jewish stereotype: Born to an immigrant family in Brooklyn.
5. The best Jewish philosopher. Martin Buber (1878-1965). The Austrian-born philosopher spent his career developing theories—the “I-Thou” and “I-You” relationships—to explain how a person exists and actualizes his or her existence.
Jewish commitment: Moved to Israel.
6. The best Jewish nobility. Isaak Löw Hofmann, Edler von Hofmannsthal (1759-1849). The Austrian silk merchant who founded a still-“flourishing” institution for the poor was knighted by the Emperor of Austria in 1835.
Jewish devotion: Studied as a Talmudic scholar in Prague.
7. The best Jewish economist. Karl Marx (1818-1883). The reputation of the German co-author of The Communist Manifesto rests on the theory that all societies progress through the dialectic of class struggle.
Jewish maternity: Endured a mother who herself claimed to suffer from “excessive mother love.”
8. The best Jewish United States Supreme Court Justice. Ruth Bader Ginsburg (1933-). The 77-year-old justice who was the first woman to make two major law reviews (at Harvard and Columbia) doesn’t plan to retire until she’s 82—as old as Louis Brandeis was when he retired from the Court.
Jewish extracurriculars: Acted as “camp rabbi” at Camp Che-Na-Wah.
9. The best Jewish writer. Isaak Babel (1894-1940). In the ultimate literary put-down, the Russian writer once said of Nabokov, “He can write, but he’s got nothing to say.”
Jewish crime connection: Described the life of Jewish gangsters in the Odessa Tales.
10. The best Jewish actor. Sacha Baron Cohen (1971-). The dark horse candidate for this category wins on the basis of his refusal to ever break character.
Jewish confusion: Invented and impersonated Borat Sagdiyev, a raging Kazakhi anti-Semite.
11. The best Jewish musician. Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990). The former New York Philharmonic director and Black Panther enabler was a versatile musician who composed the distinctive score for perhaps the most beloved musical ever, West Side Story.
Jewish musicianship: Wrote a symphony named The Kaddish Symphony.
12. The best Jewish politician. Yitzhak Rabin (1922-1995). The Nobel Peace Prize-winning Israeli Prime Minister was assassinated in 1995 by a radical right-wing Orthodox Jew.
Jewish popularity: Voted by the public in 2005 as the “Greatest Israeli of all time.”
13. The best Jewish rabbi. Hillel the Elder (110 BCE-10 BC). The Babylonian leader has been compared to Moses in terms of age (both lived 120 years), commitment to the scriptures (both spent ages 40-80 studying in the Land of Israel), and leadership capabilities (both spent the last one-third of their lives leading the Jews).
Jewish contribution: Developed the Mishnah and the Talmud.
14. The best Jewish graphic artist. Sol LeWitt (1928-2007). The American “structures” artist is regarded as a founder of the Conceptual art and Minimalism movements.
Jewish homage: Set up a studio on the Lower East Side, in an old Ashkenazi Jewish settlement.
15. The best Jewish athlete. Amar’e Stoudemire (1982-). The NBA All-Star currently with the Knicks has said, “I have been aware since my youth that I am a Hebrew through my mother, and that is something that has played a subtle but important role in my development.”
Jewish patronage: Considered playing overseas for Maccabi Tel Aviv B.C.
16. The best Jewish astronaut. Judith Resnick (1949-1986). The first American Jew and the first Jewish woman to go into space had a tragic ending, dying in the infamous Challenger mission.
Jewish education: Attended Hebrew school.
17. The best fictitious Jew. Duffman (NA). The mascot and spokesman for Duff Beer is known for his pelvic thrusts.
Jewish shame: Gave a Nazi-esque performance at Oktoberfest: “This reich will last a thousand beers! Oh, ja! (Muttering) I do this, and I’m Jewish.”
18. The best Jewish feminist. Sarah Michelle Gellar (1977-). The Buffy the Vampire Slayer star and taekwondo black belt is an active advocate for breast cancer research.
Jewish rejection: Grew up with a Christmas tree during the holidays.