The Secret Jewishness of “Broken Wear”

Keith Kahn-Harris set me the challenge of doing a Jewish reading of Broken Wear, suggesting that some texts resist a Jewish reading.

To explain, my approach is not to claim a text is Jewish but to apply an interpretetive method that ignores authorial intention and reads the narrative, symbolism, iconography, and words of the text itself.

So, in this vein, the first thing to point out is the predominant use of the color red. Along with yellow, red was used to demarcate Jews (e.g. as in Rothschild or “rothen Schild” meaning “red sign” in German).

We encounter a train, an old locomotive at that with obvious connotations of the Second World War.

The segment on the ferry reminds me of Jackie Mason’s quip that the biggest schmuck in the world is a Jew on a boat. Makes me think of the saying, “Either it’s not a Jew, or it’s not a boat.” And this character is certainly a schmuck.

When he wakes up, he splashes water on his face. Before sleep, a cup of water is prepared so that, on waking, a Jew can wash their hands. A Chabad custom is that the water should be poured on to the hands from a vessel, not a tap, which this chap certainly does.

Later on, he performs Jumping Jacks. Jack is short for James, which is the Anglicization of Jacob, the name of the Hebrew patriarch.

Finally, we see basketball being played. Basketball, was once referred to as a Jewish sport. According to Douglas Stark, “Shortly after the game was invented at the end of the nineteenth century, it spread throughout the country and became particularly popular among Jewish immigrant children in northeastern cities because it could easily be played in an urban setting. Many of basketball’s early stars were Jewish, including Shikey Gotthoffer, Sonny Hertzberg, Nat Holman, Red Klotz, Dolph Schayes, Moe Spahn, and Max Zaslofsky.”

So, Keith, how did I do?

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