Actor David Duchovny, known for “The X-Files,” “The Chair” and, most recently, playing a Jewish father in the controversial Netflix movie “You People,” has long known about his European Jewish roots. His paternal grandfather Moshe came from Berdychiv, which is in modern day Ukraine.
Yet in an episode of “Finding Your Roots” which airs this Tuesday, Duchovny, 62, discovers that his grandfather and his family made a couple of pit stops on their way to the U.S.
In the early 20th century, the Duchovnys made their way to Jaffa, where they opened an inn. Unfortunately, the Duchovnys, along with 6000 fellow Jews, were violently expelled from the state one night in December of 1914 by the local Ottoman government.
In an exclusive clip from “Finding Your Roots,” Duchovny gets emotional as he reads about the fate that befell his great-grandparents and his grandfather.
The clip describes how one day, Bedouin police invaded the Jewish quarter of Jaffa, where the Duchovnys lived and worked, and forced them out of their homes with only bags and meager belongings. They were put aboard the Vincenzo Florio, a steamer headed to Port Said, Egpyt.
At night, the “relatively orderly” deportation turned violent. According to the clipping, men were thrown overboard, possessions were looted, jewelry was ripped off women and parents and children were separated, with the young ones “carried from […] the quayside.”
“There were desperate appeals on every side in the darkness, with heartrending screams. Everyone arrived in Alexandria resourceless,” the clipping about the event reads.
“Are you saying that my family was in that, or is this just something that happened?” a stunned Duchovny asks host Henry Louis Gates, who confirms that his ancestors were among the 6000 deported to Egypt like that.
“And treated like this?” a tearful and visibly emotional Duchovny inquires.
“Yes,” Louis Gates responds.
The Duchovnys’ expulsion was part of mass deportations of Jews from Jaffa and Tel Aviv that started when the Turks sided with the Central Powers during WWI. The Jews, who were previously treated fairly enough by the local government, were seen as a risk to national security and possible collaborators with the Allied Forces. Tens of thousands of Jews who lived in Jaffa and Tel Aviv were forcibly deported in the years of the war; quite a few didn’t survive the expulsions.
The Duchovnys, however, did finally make in to New York, where David’s grandfather, Moshe, became a celebrated Yiddish writer who wrote for a local Orthodox Zionist-leaning Yiddish paper — the Forward recently unearthed clippings about how beloved he was by the local Jewish community. Duchovny’s father, Amram — or Ami, as he was known — worked as a publicist for the American Jewish Committee and later for Brandeis. In his 70s, he began publishing novels.
Duchovny himself has continued this legacy of Jewish penmanship. He is a writer of five books, including “Holy Cow,” which tells the tale of a pig named Shalom who converts to Judaism and solves the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“My father was a kind of cultural Jew, I’d say,” Duchovny told the New York Times. “So if I have a Jewish sensibility, I think it’s more in the cultural sense.”
Duchovny’s episode of “Finding Your Roots” airs this Tuesday at 8 ET/7 CT.