Alec Baldwin, playing Donald Trump on Saturday Night Live, is assured by an aide that his daughter Ivanka and her husband, Jared, have disappeared for Shabbat – not the Sabbath, not Shabbes: The Not Ready for Prime Time Player uses current Jewish parlance, the Hebrew “Shabbat.”
Which sets the Donald free, so to speak: He proceeds to run diplomatic havoc with Mexico, Australia, Germany and Zimbabwe. Jared and Ivanka “always keep me so calm and make sure I don’t do anything too crazy,” Baldwin-as-Trump says, which turns out not to be so much an appreciation but a lamentation.
Apart from the novelty of Shabbat entering the SNL lexicon, there is another significance to the cold open. It’s the latest manifestation of the Wise Jew, the serene archetype who presumably spends his off-hours with the Magic Negro and the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, polishing aphorisms and working on their warm, knowing chuckles to save the main (usually white and often male) characters from themselves..
All three figures – and there are others: the noble savage, the serene Oriental, the hospitable Arab – are hostility disguised as flattery. They are objectifications, and reduce whole ethnic and religious classes to flat and unlovable clichés. (Yes, unlovable. Who loves a scold? Right. Which is why Baldwin’s letting loose is so funny.) They are constrictive.
And they get dusted off from generation to generation and dressed up as new. The sassy black friends who until not long ago populated Lifetime movies as wise sidekicks might as well be crafted by Harriet Beecher Stowe, albeit after she binged on Cosmo. Kate Hudson, in a different age, could have as easily played Scheherazade — or Esther for that matter — as she did Penny Lane in “Almost Famous.”
And now here comes the wise, even-keeled goy-whisperer, as old as, well, Jesus and his disciples. Jared and Ivanka as Trump’s even keels — Mordecai and Esther to Trump’s Ahasuerus — cropped up in recent days in Vanity Fair, in New York Magazine, in the New York Times and on CNN. According to the Magic Jared theory, bad things happen when he’s not there to run interference.
None of it makes sense: The evidence in the most recent instance is Trump’s signing the chaos-inducing executive order banning travelers from seven predominantly Muslim nations. Trump signed the order at 4:42 pm on Friday, and Jared and Ivanka were busy getting ready for candle lighting, which was at 5:06 pm.
But Jared, as a top counselor to Trump, would have been consulted throughout the drafting process – if he was in the loop – and was still available by phone at signing. Is the implication that, had he been physically present, he would have examined the document and whisked it away, demanding revisions? That seems unlikely.
Abe Foxman, the Anti-Defamation League’s CEO-emeritus, sees a sinister side to the elevation of the Trump-Kushners to figures of overweening influence made unavailable because of a Jewish ritual.
“It’s about Jews controlling, in this case Orthodox Jews,” he said in an interview. “It’s disturbing, and sinister. What this comes down to is that if they didn’t observe the Sabbath, the immigration executive order wouldn’t have happened.”
I asked him if he thought there was sinister intent, and Foxman said no, but that was not the point: The default of the Controlling Jew never ends well for them.
“Ultimately, it blames the Jews for what goes on in the White House,” he said.
Eliza Davis, a Jewish friend of Charles Dickens, took the novelist to task for his portrayal of Fagin, the grasping den leader of a band of pickpockets, in his seminal work, “Oliver Twist.” Dickens, with the best of intentions, apologized, and created by way of atonement the Jew Riah in “Our Mutual Friend,” a character as noble as he is boring and in fact quite sickening.
When Dickens died, the London Jewish Chronicle eulogized him as follows: “He had touched the Jewish character with a somewhat rough and undeserved severity in the unreal character of Fagin. He made amends in his wiser more chastened days by the beautiful if equally unreal character of Riah.”
In modern parlance, the term of art would be: Don’t flatter us, don’t smear us. Just keep it real.