Kind and Duchovny discover their Jewish roots
Richard Kind discovers he’s descended from rabbis while Duchovny learns about his family's tragic Jewish history.
If I had to choose a (white, male) actor to be my rabbi, I think I’d choose Richard Kind. The incredibly prolific TV, movie and theatre star just has such a fun benevolent Jewish uncle vibe to him (in fact, he’s played quite a few Jewish uncles in his time).
Turns out that maybe, in another universe, Kind, 66, could have easily been a rabbi. In a recent episode of Finding Your Roots, the Tick, Tick… Boom!, Curb, Inside Out and Mad About You actor (to name but a few) discovered that he comes from a long line of rabbis.
Host Henry Louis Gates shared that his Eastern European ancestors — Moises Katz and his father, Falk Katz — were both rabbis.
Kind asks Gates if being a rabbi was common in those days in Eastern Europe, and Gates replies that it absolutely was not.
“You were the teacher — rabbi means teacher — you kept the tradition, you were the most literate, you welcomed people into the world and you ushered them out, and you marked every ritual occasion in the life of your [community],” Gates explains. He then asks Kind how that discovery makes him feel, to which he replies “smarter.”
“It’s like the Wizard of Oz giving the tin man a diploma, ‘oh look at who’s so smart,” Kind jokes (we love the reference and we know he meant the scarecrow).
“They were obviously leaders, obviously smart, and then why didn’t Samuel [Kind’s father] hold onto that?” he asks Gates.
The episode, ‘Chosen’ also follows the sordid murder of one of Kind’s ancestors.
Kind did almost fall into his family’s next line of business: Both his father and his paternal grandfather were jewellers, and Kind was supposed to take over the family enterprise. But the actor, who grew up in Trenton, New Jersey, caught the acting bug early, taking a bus to New York city on weekends to see discounted matinees and grab a hot dog at Nathan’s as a kid (alone! It was such a different time, as I’m sure Kind, a father of three, would agree.) In fact, Kind’s first pivotal role was Fagin in a fifth-grade production of Oliver.
We’re beyond grateful. From A Serious Man to Spin City, nothing Kind has ever been in would be quite the same without him.
In Chosen, actor David Duchovny, known for The X-Files, The Chair and, most recently, playing a Jewish father in the controversial Netflix movie You People, also finds out about his history.
The actor has long known about his European Jewish roots. His paternal grandfather Moshe came from Berdychiv, which is in modern day Ukraine.
Yet in the episode, Duchovny, 62, discovers that his grandfather and his family made a couple of pit stops on their way to the US.
In the early 20th century, the Duchovnys made their way to Jaffa, where they opened an inn. Unfortunately, the Duchovnys, along with 6000 fellow Jews, were violently expelled from the state one night in December of 1914 by the local Ottoman government.
In an exclusive clip from Finding Your Roots, Duchovny gets emotional as he reads about the fate that befell his great-grandparents and his grandfather.
The clip describes how one day, Bedouin police invaded the Jewish quarter of Jaffa, where the Duchovnys lived and worked, and forced them out of their homes with only bags and meager belongings. They were put aboard the Vincenzo Florio, a steamer headed to Port Said, Egpyt.
At night, the “relatively orderly” deportation turned violent. According to the clipping, men were thrown overboard, possessions were looted, jewelry was ripped off women and parents and children were separated, with the young ones “carried from […] the quayside.”
“There were desperate appeals on every side in the darkness, with heartrending screams. Everyone arrived in Alexandria resourceless,” the clipping about the event reads.
“Are you saying that my family was in that, or is this just something that happened?” a stunned Duchovny asks Gates, who confirms that his ancestors were among the 6000 deported to Egypt like that.
“And treated like this?” a tearful and visibly emotional Duchovny inquires.
“Yes,” Louis Gates responds.
The Duchovnys’ expulsion was part of mass deportations of Jews from Jaffa and Tel Aviv that started when the Turks sided with the Central Powers during WWI. The Jews, who were previously treated fairly enough by the local government, were seen as a risk to national security and possible collaborators with the Allied Forces. Tens of thousands of Jews who lived in Jaffa and Tel Aviv were forcibly deported in the years of the war; quite a few didn’t survive the expulsions.
The Duchovnys, however, did finally make in to New York, where David’s grandfather, Moshe, became a celebrated Yiddish writer who wrote for a local Orthodox Zionist-leaning Yiddish paper — the Forward recently unearthed clippings about how beloved he was by the local Jewish community. Duchovny’s father, Amram — or Ami, as he was known — worked as a publicist for the American Jewish Committee and later for Brandeis. In his 70s, he began publishing novels.
Duchovny himself has continued this legacy of Jewish penmanship. He is a writer of five books, including Holy Cow, which tells the tale of a pig named Shalom who converts to Judaism and solves the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“My father was a kind of cultural Jew, I’d say,” Duchovny told the New York Times. “So if I have a Jewish sensibility, I think it’s more in the cultural sense.”