Last week Matthue Roth wrote in Jewniverse about the discovery of a rare video of Sammy Davis Jr. (1925-1990) singing If I Were a Rich Man, from Fiddler on the Roof.
As Roth reported,
The singer, tap-dancer, and entertainer, converted to Judaism in 1961, at the age of 36. He was passionate about his adopted religion, and remained so his entire life.
Nevertheless, he always had a sense of humor about his conversion, too. While hosting the Academy Awards in 1971, he told the crowd, “Tonight, the Academy honors both my peoples–with Fiddler on the Roof and Shaft.” It wasn’t just empty boasting–Davis has also performed, in full shtetl drag, the song “If I Were a Rich Man.”How did Sammy Davis Jr. come to embrace Judaism in the first place? According to the Jewish Virtual Library,
Roth's Jewniverse article ends with this anecdote:In 1954 he almost died in a car accident where he lost his left eye. While in the hospital, his friend Eddie Cantor enlightened him on the similarities between the Jewish and black cultures. Davis converted to Judaism after reading Paul Johnson's A History of the Jews in the hospital. One paragraph about the ultimate endurance of the Jewish people intrigued him in particular: "The Jews would not die. Three centuries of prophetic teaching had given them an unwavering spirit of resignation and had created in them a will to live which no disaster could crush."
In his 1965 autobiography Yes I Can, Davis devotes several meaty chapters to talking about the philosophical role of Judaism in his life. And as much as his religion inspired him, it also caused him even more tzuris than he’d already encountered: he was fond of telling how, once, he took a public bus in the South and was told that Black people had to sit in the back. “But I’m Jewish,” he told the driver, who replied: “Then get off!”Enjoy!
(A SPECIAL NOTE FOR NEW EMAIL SUBSCRIBERS: THE VIDEO MAY NOT BE VIEWABLE DIRECTLY FROM THE EMAIL THAT YOU GET EACH DAY ON SOME COMPUTERS AND TABLETS. YOU MUST CLICK ON THE TITLE AT THE TOP OF THE EMAIL TO REACH THE JEWISH HUMOR CENTRAL WEBSITE, FROM WHICH YOU CLICK ON THE PLAY BUTTON IN THE VIDEO IMAGE TO START THE VIDEO.)