The moment we have been waiting for has finally arrived: There is now a Jewish character on “Downton Abbey.”
His name is Atticus Aldridge. Sure, he doesn’t sound very Jewish (well, not at all), but then again, would we really expect a guy named Yankl Lipschitz to grace the grand halls of the house of Grantham?
The dashing, young Aldridge, played by Matt Barber, appears for the first time in episode five of the current fifth season of the soap operatic costume drama airing on Britain’s ITV. He quickly becomes the love interest of Lady Rose, who initially meets him when he offers to carry her baskets of cakes in a romantic rainstorm.
When she tells him that she is on the way to serve tea to former Russian aristocrats, refugees from the Russian Revolution, he mentions to her that his family immigrated to England from Russia and that their last name was not always so British sounding.
Before long, it becomes clear that Lady Rose’s new crush’s family is not Russian in the same way as the aristocratic refugees. When Aldridge later pays a surprise visit to Lady Rose in the shelter where she serves the tea, she introduces him to two of the Romanovs on the run. As soon as she mentions that his ancestors came over from Odessa in 1859 and 1871, one of the aristocrats spits, “He’s not Russian!” and storms off.
Aldridge explains to the baffled Lady Rose that the man does not consider him a Russian because he is a Jew, and that his family was forced out of Odessa by pogroms.
When Rose is nonplussed by his revelation, seeing no problem with his being both Jewish and British, Aldridge smiles in a way that lets us know that he’s already falling head over heels.
In episode six, Rose introduces her family, the Crawleys, to Aldridge’s parents, Lord and Lady Sinderby who are — wait for it — very rich bankers.
“Such aristocratic Jews fit well with the Downtown milieu and have history on their side too. After all, the Rothschilds (bankers like the Sinderbys) built so many country houses that a slice of Buckinghamshire became known as Rothschildshire,” notes The Jewish Chronicle.
An earlier season of Downton Abbey came close to featuring a Jewish character, but alas, no real yiddishkeit made its way in to the script.
Lady Cora, we were told, was “the beautiful daughter of Isidore Levinson, a dry goods multimillionaire from Cincinnati.” But we later learned, thanks to some explication in a companion book to the show, that Cora’s mother (played deliciously by Shirley MacLaine) was not Jewish, and that Cora and her brother Harold were raised Episcopalian. Thus, we’ve not observed Shabbat blessings made over the silver candlesticks the footmen constantly polish, nor Mrs. Pattmore baking challah downstairs.
As those who follow the series know, Lady Rose has a penchant for boyfriends her family disapproves of. First it was a married man. Next it was a black American jazz singer. Now it’s a member of the tribe. They say that Jewish men make good catches, so maybe Aldridge is the one.
It turns out the Dowager Countess is the last to know that Rose’s new beau is a Jew. When Cousin Isobel mentions off-hand that at least “they are not like the Catholics. They don’t insist that you convert,” the Countess has no idea what she is talking about.
“Convert to Judaism,” answers Isobel. “I understand that Lord Sinderby is a leader in the Jewish community.”
“It’s always something,” sighs the Countess.
We’re just hoping we’ll be seeing more of Aldridge and that his fate will not resemble that of Lord Grantham’s suddenly sick dog, who appears to be getting ready to make her exit.
Rumor has it that the show’s producers thought it would be prudent to get rid of the pet, whose name, Isis, just happens to be the same as that of a group currently beheading Westerners and terrorizing swaths of the Middle East.
Season five of “Downton Abbey” is currently playing in the UK. It premieres in the US on January 4 on PBS, and in Israel on January 5 on Channel 1.