Jews do better on American TV

By Simon Round, June 6, 2008

Channel Five, Thursday, June 5

Americans do two things better than us (actually, three if you include making hot dogs) — medical dramas and Jewish themes in fictional programmes.

So when, as in this episode of House — the Golden Globe-winning medical series starring our own Hugh Laurie — they do both simultaneously, you can be guaranteed a cracking night in.

The scenario for this episode of House, starring Laurie as the eponymous infectious-diseases specialist, was the Chasidic wedding of Roz and Yonatan. As Roz was lifted on to a chair during a frenzied horah, she dramatically collapsed and was rushed to hospital, to be examined by House.

We discovered out that Roz was a ba’alat tshuvah with a former, very non-Orthodox life in the music industry where her intake was more crack than kugel. We also found out that US script writers are much more comfortable addressing Jewish issues than their British counterparts. For example, House explained that “Chasidic women get married young so that they can start pushing out Chasidlings”. You don’t get that in Casualty.

Sick - or "nuts"? Dr House (right) examines a Jewish returnee to the faith

House’s theory was that Roz’s conversion to Orthodox Judaism proved she was, to use the medical vernacular, “nuts” — in fact, he thought she may have porphyria, a rare genetic disorder that causes an overproduction of certain proteins that contribute to mental problems. “Shame we can’t just give her 10cc of atheism and send her home,” said one of his colleagues.

Yonatan was, quite naturally, upset by this diagnosis and asked for a different doctor , only to be told by House that “in this temple I am Dr Yahweh”.

Roz failed to recover and continued to defy diagnosis — in fact, she showed signs of organ failure and internal bleeding. Immediate surgery was required. She refused because she wanted to “spend one Shabbat with her husband”. House, showing commendable Talmudic knowledge, announced that the commandment to preserve life comes before all others. So the blinds came down and Roz was told it was time for Havdalah when the sun was still shining outside the window.

But before the investigative surgery could take place, House realised by clutching Roz’s abdomen (it’s ok, he’s a doctor) that Roz was suffering from a loose kidney — yes, it is a real condition — shaken out of its mooring during the horah. When she stood up, the kidney dropped, causing the dramatic symptoms. Said House: “We just need to put it back on the shelf. That’s it — mazeltov.”

Laurie was excellent in the role, although, weirdly, his voice seemed much deeper and huskier when he did his American accent. The show is beautifully written and the dialogue was as entertaining as it was ludicrous. If this really is what medical care is like Stateside, I can’t wait to get myself admitted.

Desert Island Discs
Radio 4, Sunday, June 1

Lord Woolf is not only a distinguished judge, he is also a romantic with a quirky sense of humour, as we discovered on Sunday’s Desert Island Discs.

Of course he spoke about the serious stuff. His desire to fight injustice came, he told Kirsty Young, from the fact that he was bullied during his schooldays at Fettes College — Tony Blair’s alma mater. He thought that he was the only Jewish pupil but was not certain that the attacks were antisemitic. Still, religious loyalties did not stop him choosing the Koran as his Desert Island book.

On a more romantic note, Woolf spoke of the fact that he had a mixed marriage — he was an Ashkenazi Jew, while his wife, Marguerite, was Sephardic.

He revealed that he had obtained a joint burial plot in a Sephardic cemetery: “It is a matter of amusement that I told this to Marguerite on our wedding anniversary.”.

Beats roses any day.

Last updated: 4:37pm, June 6 2008