Full disclosure: I have not read the late Ms. Konigsburg‘s 1971 kids’ book, About the B’nai Bagels, but it comes highly recommended.
Here’s an appreciation of the book and its author.
Our EIC, Andy Silow-Carroll, brought this to my attention (it was one of his favorites as a kid) and one thing led to another and we got to talking about an episode of the old Bill Cosby Show in which Cosby played a Los Angeles gym teacher. In this particular episode, “The Saturday Game,” a shomer-shabbos kid turns out to be his team’s best player, but the game is on Saturday (of course) so he can’t play, which leads to lessons of tolerance of others’ cultures.
At first glance, could the kid be anymore stereotypically Jewish? Giant yarmulke, glasses, wearing dress clothes rather than play clothes? A “lonely, frightened boy” whose mother is dead and who lives alone with his father. Does Cosby, a grown man living in a major metropolitan area, actually say, “Do they all wear funny little caps like that?” And the community center leader who brought the kid to him replies, “It’s their religion” ???? Holy cow, aren’t there Jews in Los Angeles?? And of course, kids being cruel little momzers tease him as a “weirdo with baby curls,” otherwise known as payes. And it doesn’t help the stereotype of the smart Jew by having this 10-year-old quote from the Old Testament.
But, wonder of wonders, this kid can play! Not only that, but his spirited style transforms a bunch of kids that just minutes before was losing fly balls in the sun and corkscrewing themselves into the ground on swings into the LA Dodgers. Soooo believable. But when the Jewish lad finds out the next game is on Saturday (although they normally do play on Sunday), he’s upset because “They like me; they really like me” and he doesn’t want to disappoint them (so that’s where Sally Field got those lines in her Oscar-speech.)
Cosby still doesn’t get it. He drives to the boy’s home and tells tells the dad that there are couple of other Jewish kids on the team and they can play on Saturday. But do they wear yarmulkes and payes, asks the papa, who then explains, “We’re Hasidic Jews — Orthodox.” Sorry, but there are actually Orthodox Jews who are not Hasidic. I thought all the writers were Jewish (see what I did there? I employed a stereotype to counter a stereotype.).
I vaguely recall seeing this show when it was originally aired many years ago, but I certainly don’t remember it (and Cosby) being this bad. But at the time it was probably genius. What can I say; I’m jaded, I guess.
Naturally there are greater lessons that must be learned: “It isn’t easy being different.”
Anyway, you can watch the whole show via Youtube and judge for yourself. Enjoy: