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Was Kramer a Goy?

November 29, 2006 |  3:56 pm

Is Michael "Kramer" Richards Jewish, or not? Call me a dehumanizer, but this interests me less than whether the main characters of Seinfeld were Jewish. Which is to say, I never thought about it much, and always assumed all of them were, until reading Cathy Seipp:

[W]hich character was and which wasn't Jewish on "Seinfeld" evolved from casual, almost improvisational whims rather than careful consideration. Take George Costanza's Italian surname, although that character (a stand-in for co-creator Larry David) seemed the most Jewish of all.

"We didn't have any idea we were doing a show," David said, when I asked him about the Costanza business. "We were doing a pilot, and Jerry knew a guy named Costanza, and it was, oh, we'll call him Costanza."

But then why were the Jewish princessy Elaine and Kramer (the name Kramer is typically Jewish) also supposed to be gentile?

"Elaine wasn't Jewish," David responded, sounding like he was thinking aloud when I questioned him about it. "I knew she was from Maryland, and at least in my head she wasn't Jewish. Costanza's half-Jewish. And Kramer ... hmm ... so maybe he wasn't a Jew? He said he wasn't Jewish -- that was in the show? I wasn't there [at that point.]"

Over at Pajamas Media, Seipp also makes the obvious-yet-underexamined point that racism and advancing age often correlate well:

A friend (who, like me, is in his 40s) and I happened to be chatting about the Richards debacle. My friend said he thought the N-word will be with us until those who grew up hearing it as a matter of course pass away. He mentioned in particular his kindly grandmother who, when provoked, could let loose with a stream of racist invective that could curl your hair. One of the many ways daily life in American is better now than it was in decades past is that such vile eruptions are now rare enough to be considered newsworthy.

This reminded me of my own grandmother, who thankfully never used the N-word. But like most Jews of that generation she always said "schwartzer" - always insisting it was not impolite at all, because it's just the Yiddish term for black, so what's the problem? That was disingenious, of course; any insider's term for outsiders is always at least a little rude. If schwartzer just means black, for instance, then how come my grandmother never said she had a schwartzer cat?

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