Daniel Radcliffe’s Jewish identity

Harry Potter obviously still isn’t Jewish, but Daniel Radcliffe (who will forever live in our minds as the face of Harry) is!
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Daniel Radcliffe in the 2013 film "Kill Your Darlings" as Allen Ginsberg. (Photo: Sony Pictures Classics)

Potterheads started the year on a high note with the release of the Harry Potter reunion titled Harry Potter 20th Anniversary: Return to Hogwarts.

The HBO Max special celebrates the 20-year anniversary of the big-screen release of the first Harry Potter movie with Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint all making an appearance. 

With Harry Potter back in the newscycle, some people (including Jon Stewart) have reopened discussions about whether the Goblin’s in the wizarding world are antisemitic.

@jewishunpacked

Jon Stewart is saying what we all were thinking when the movie came out. #harrypotter #movie #film

♬ original sound – Unpacked

Whether you find the goblins offensive or just want everyone to “shut up” about this already, I think there’s one Harry Potter-related fact the entire Jewish community can rally behind: 

‘The boy who lived’ should be changed to ‘The *nice Jewish boy who lived’

Okay, bad dad joke. Harry Potter obviously still isn’t Jewish, but Daniel Radcliffe (who will forever live in our minds as the face of Harry) is!

So let’s unpack Radcliffe’s Jewish identity:

The basics

Emma Watson, Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint (Photo by DMIPhoto/FilmMagic)

Daniel Jacob Radcliffe was born in London on July 23, 1989, to Marcia Jeannine Gresham and Alan George Radcliffe.

His mom was born in South Africa and is an Ashkenazi Jew, with origins tracing back to Germany, Lithuania, Poland and Russia.

Apparently, Radcliffe calls himself a “a complete mutt.” 

“I have South African, Polish, Russian, Jewish and Northern Irish Protestant in me,” Radcliffe said.

He goes by a very Jewish pen name

Marcia’a last name, Gresham, is an anglicized version of the last name Gershon. 

In 2009, Radcliffe published several poems in the underground fashion magazine Rubbish.

The magazine’s editor, Jenny Dyson, wrote a blog post announcing the news.

“Dan’s one request was that his identity be kept secret, hence the birth of Jacob Gershon. This pen name originates from Jacob, which is Dan’s middle name and Gershon, the Jewish version of Gresham, his mother’s anglicised maiden name,” Dyson wrote in the post.

Radcliffe embraces Jewish humor

In the 2013 film Kill Your Darlings Radcliffe played Allen Ginsberg, a Jewish character. In one interview about the role, Radcliffe was told: “You make a very convincing Jew.”

Daniel Radcliffe in Kill Your Darlings as Allen Ginsberg. (Photo: Sony Pictures Classics)

To which he responded: 

“Well, I am Jewish. My mum’s Jewish. I’m Jewish by blood, but an atheist.”

Then he went on to tell a very Jewish dad joke.

“There was a great Peter Ustinov quote where he said the Jews have had the luxury of giving the world two of the most influential people, in Jesus Christ and Karl Marx, and following neither of them.”

In 2016 he played a neo-Nazi on-screen

In the 2016 film Imperium, Radcliffe played FBI agent Nate Foster, who goes undercover as a neo-Nazi to infiltrate a gang.

The role required him to shave his head on screen, wear Nazi emblems and perform a Nazi salute, which he said felt “a little too close to the bone,” for his Jewish grandma to watch.

Daniel Radcliffe played an undercover neo-Nazi in the 2016 film Imperium. (Photo: Lionsgate)

Radcliffe told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that his maternal grandmother was “an evacuee during the war,” taken to the country to stay with people away from Nazi bombers.

“We originated in Russia and left because of the pogroms. I don’t know if the story is true, but supposedly my great-great-grandfather was on a ship from Russia bound for America. It stopped off in London, and he thought, ‘oh, that was quick’ and got off. He went to work in a textile factory and married the owner’s daughter.”

He recently learned the impact antisemitism had on his family in London and it brought him to tears

In 2019 Radcliffe appeared on the BBC show Who Do You Think You Are?, which helps celebrities learn more about their ancestry. 

Radcliffe, 29 at the time, learned about his great-grandfather, Samuel Gershon, a British Jew who owned a jewelry business in Hatton Garden, London. 

In 1936, Gershon’s shop was robbed and police accused him of faking the robbery.

“Jews are so frequently responsible for the bringing down of their own business premises,” the police report stated.

Radcliffe’s reaction was emotional

 “There’s a lot to dig into in that one sentence. It’s very jarring to see being a Jew to be taken as a piece of evidence in itself.” he said. 

Gershon died by suicide in the aftermath of that incident.

“You want to just reach into the past and just go, ‘Whatever you’re going through, you have so much to offer the people who are around you still,’” Radcliffe wished he could have told his great-grandfather. “‘You have so much to give to them. And, they still would all have loved you.”

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