The Jew in Me

For the record, before talking to him, the good doctor had already rubbed me the wrong way. The menace Wells is the sort of “child prodigy” who finished college at 16 and spends his days traveling the globe, surfing, battling snow storms in exotic countries, eating fine foods and swabbing the natives, all in the name of science.

In our phone conversation, Dr. Wells told me that my search “tells you about your mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s, all the way back to the very first mother, and you are a member of the haplogroup K.”


“So your ancestors were just like anybody else and started off in Africa.”

He went on to say that “some groups of K are found in high frequencies in Ashkenazi Jewish populations. If your mother’s side of the family is Jewish, then there’s a possibility that she was in one of these founding lineages of the Ashkenazi Jews.”

Give it to me straight, Wells.

“You suspect that one of your maternal ancestors might have been Jewish, and I think there’s a reasonable chance,” he said. “But typically, these Jewish lineages in European populations are very, very low frequency, less than 1 percent. So, it really does depend whether you have a preexisting family story. Often we would say it’s not likely, if you’re European and you have a K, that you’re a member of one of those Jewish lineages. But, it is a possibility.” He added, “We can certainly check for ya.”

I tried to alleviate some of my anxiety by asking if he had been the captain of the chess club.

“No,” he said, “but I did compete in science contests and that sort of thing.”

When we spoke several hours later, he lowered the boom. My “pattern” did not match up with the various Ashkenazi patterns. “But Stephen Colbert shares your haplogroup,” he added.

Thanks for nothing, carrot top!

With my genetic journey at an apparent end, I was forced to confront the real reason I always wanted to be a Jew. It wasn’t just that most of my friends growing up were Jewish, or that many of my media colleagues were, or that many of my idols, including my charismatic great-grandfather, were. Mostly, it was because it always seemed to me that Jews placed an admirable importance on family. A sense of unconditional love, support and acceptance seemed to pervade the Hanukkah and Passover dinners I attended. Whereas my WASP-y family get-togethers were often bathed in silence and chilled vodka.

What the heck is a WASP, anyway? Maybe Dr. Wells knows. But I’m not going to ask him.

The Jew in Me