In a new exclusive clip of PBS’s “Finding Your Roots,” Jewish stand-up comedian, TV host and actress Iliza Schlesinger, whose latest Netflix special is “Iliza Shlesinger: Hot Forever,” discovers that her family has a real, tangible connection to the Holocaust, one she’d never heard of before.
In an exclusive clip shared with Kveller ahead of the upcoming episode titled “Hold the Laughter,” Schlesinger’s story is shared alongside that of actor and comedian Bob Odenkirk, a father to two Jewish kids with his wife Naomi Yomtov (he recently wrote a delightful children’s poetry book with daughter Erin). Airing this Tuesday, January 30, it’s part of the show’s 1oth anniversary season, which also featured singer Alanis Morisette’s surprising discovery about her own family’s Holocaust history.
While talking about her great-grandmother, Esther, who wasn’t in Europe during the Holocaust, Schlesinger discovered that Esther had a brother, Lipa, a textile dealer who was still in Poland at the time. He was confined to the walled-in ghetto of his Polish town, Mława, which was invaded by the Nazis in September of 1939.
“Finding Your Roots” host Henry Louis Gates Jr. confirms that Shlesinger’s family didn’t discuss Lipa’s story, and asks her to relate Esther’s feelings towards Lipa to how she would feel if her brother Ben was in peril.
“Horrific… I know that feeling when your sibling’s in danger, especially from an ocean away,” Shlesinger says and sigh deeply. “I can’t begin to imagine this, I don’t think I want to.”
He then showed her some pictures from the ghetto — its tall wall, the rubble and destruction — and asked her how seeing those images and learning that personal connection made her feel, to know she had a relative who was there.
“When you look at pictures from history, atrocities committed against your own people in particular — there’s always that pull,” she recounts, “but I never thought I had any actual connection because I didn’t know any of that history,” she tells Gates.
“It was an abstract,” he observes.
Shlesinger agrees and tells him, “I have to go sit with that,” knowing she will need some time to truly process that information.
Shlesinger, 40, was raised in a Reform Jewish home in Texas, and is raising her daughter, Sierra, Jewish (the comedian is currently pregnant with her second child, a son). After the October 7 attack in Israel, she wrote an op-ed about antisemitism and Israel for the Hollywood Reporter, writing that she believes that antisemitism “is very real and very tolerated.”
This Hanukkah, while on tour in Europe, she took her daughter to a Hanukkah service at the Grand Synagogue in Paris, established in 1847, where she was even called her up to light the candles with little Sierra.
Shlesinger felt that it was important to attend the service at a time like this, and the act of going to a synagogue stood out to her — because while going to a Holocaust museum or a memorial was about death and remembrance, this act was all about life and continuity.
“This simple act was less about ‘loving’ Hanukkah and more about being deliberate in not shying away out of fear,” she wrote on Instagram. “I’m a reformed Jew and I always mention I’m Jewish to people because it’s my way of saying ‘I’m not afraid or ashamed.’ Because we have been so taught to keep a low profile, to assimilate- and that’s all fine. But I always mention I’m Jewish as a way of showing I don’t hide. I’m allowed to be just as proud of my culture and heritage as anyone is. ”
She ended her post by saying that she hopes that “no matter what religion you are that you can enjoy it peacefully.”