LOS ANGELES, September 4, 2014 — Sorrow for the tragic death of Joan Rivers, 81, due to complications from a routine medical procedure will linger for some time. While many people will lionize Rivers for her lifetime of achievement in the entertainment industry, there was another side to her that deserves even more praise.
Yes, she was a caustic comedian and comic legend.
Yes, at age 75 she outworked younger competitors to win Donald Trumps’s “Celebrity Apprentice.”
Yes, she was a talk-show host who could transition seamlessly from celebrity gossip to serious discussions.
Yes, she had a compassionate side and is probably spending her first moments in heaven giving fellow comic Robin Williams a much needed hug. She is most likely telling Jonathan Winters to move over for her, and he is almost definitely obeying her demand.
Yet what needs to be said about Joan Rivers the person is that she was an anomaly. She was a proud, unapologetic Jew in Hollywood.
Hollywood Jews are known for toning down their Jewishness. The worst Hollywood Jews are self-loathing. Many of them are just “culturally Jewish,” which means they eat bagels and quote Seinfeld episodes.
Joan Rivers was born a Jew, died a Jew, and remained proud to be a Jew her entire life.
She made Holocaust jokes, but reminded the world that her late husband Edgar Rosenberg lost his family to the Holocaust. Rivers never strayed from her Jewish identity. She did not put down Jews or make excuses for those who seek to murder Jews.
Less than two months before her death, Rivers laced into those who engage in anti-Semitic bile either out of ignorance or malice. Her two-minute tirade in defense of Israel was a combination of comic genius and moral clarity.
“If New Jersey were firing rockets into New York, we would wipe them out.”
“Palestinians, you cannot throw rockets, and expect people not to defend themselves.”
She did not fall for the typical Jewish apologist reaction of lamenting Palestinian deaths, even the children. She did not want death for anybody, but she was not going to back down from a morally correct stance.
“Then don’t put your (Gosh darn) things (rockets) in private homes.”
When asked where the Palestinian civilians are supposed to go, Rivers thundered, “I don’t care. They started it! You are all insane! They started it!”
“BBC should be ashamed of itself. CNN should be ashamed of itself.”
When asked about Selena Gomez supporting the Palestinians, Rivers responded, “Oh, Selena Gomez, oh, that college grad … let’s see if she can spell Palestinian.”
Joan Rivers was not a sniveling, crying, groveling Jew desperate to be liked. She was loved because she said what she meant, meant what she said, and did not offer fake apologies in a desperate attempt to curry favor with inferior critics of all stripes.
She offended people. She was brash. She was also morally honest. She made fun of herself, but not in a way that was self-loathing.
Hollywood has far too many Jews who believe that if they just scrub hard enough, the Jewishness will come off of them. In a world where radical islamists are murdering Jews and Jews respond by trying to be nicer, Joan Rivers was not willing to play nice.
She was a member of Temple Emanu-El in New York. She repeatedly stated that she loved Israel. She was a radio guest of Howard Stern, a perfect match given that she could be his female soulmate in terms of comedy that pushed the boundaries mixed with Jewish pride.
By not obsessing over who liked her, she became more loved. Her defying quote showed her integrity.
“I’ve learned to have absolutely no regrets about any jokes I’ve ever done. You can tune me out, you can click me off, it’s OK. I am not going to bow to political correctness.”
In a world containing only 14 million Jews, every Jewish loss is lamentable. To lose one so defiantly proud to be Jewish in such an untimely manner is disheartening.
Whether or not people loved Joan Rivers the entertainer, her death is a day to mourn the loss of Joan Rivers. Even in Hollywood, she was a proud and defiant Jew to the very end.