8 reasons why Game of Thrones is so Jewish!

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8 reasons why Game of Thrones is so Jewish!

From writers and Jewish actors to cameos, locations and even dragons, we uncover the Sky Atlantic show's more heimische connections ahead of the last ever episode...

Francine Wolfisz is the Features Editor for Jewish News.

  1. Great minds… Game of Thrones writers David Benioff and D B Weiss met while studying literature at Trinity College Dublin in 1995 — and, according to Weiss, bonded over the fact they were “two American Jews in Dublin” with “no Irish roots of any kind.” Weiss and Benioff decided to adapt Game of Thrones for the small screen in 2011 from the fantasy novels of George R R Martin and swiftly gathered a fanbase more numerous, loyal and hungry for action than Daenerys’ Dothraki Bloodriders.
  2. Who Jew you think you are? Author George R R Martin, whose works provided the idea for Game of Thrones, discovered earlier this year he was a quarter Jewish while taking part in PBS’ genealogy programme, Finding Your Roots. Martin, 70, grew up in Bayonne, New Jersey, the son of a part-Irish mother half-Italian father. Martin was very close to his Catholic paternal grandmother, Grace, whose Italian husband, Louis, left her and started a new family without a divorce. Given Martin’s DNA results, experts speculated she had an affair with a Jewish man.
  3. Shalom to the Seven Kingdoms! Season six saw the appearance of not one, but two Israel actors on set. Ania Bukstein, who is also a singer and model, played Kinvara, a Red Priestess in service of the Lord of Light, who supports Daenerys Targaryen’s claim to the Iron Throne. Meanwhile, Yousef Sweid, an Arab-Israeli from Haifa who has appeared in Homeland, played Ash, a freed slave from the city-state Mereen.
  4. Behind the mask Actress Laura Pradelska, who portrayed the mysterious shadowbinder Quaithe, has spoken openly about antisemitic abuse she experienced on social media, as well as her own family’s story of survival during the Holocaust. Speaking to Jewish News in 2017, Pradelska recalled how her father’s mother, Klara Stern, discovered both her parents and seven-month-old son were murdered by the Nazis, before she was deported to Auschwitz and later forced onto a death march. Her maternal grandmother, Esther Schultz, also survived the Holocaust, having managed to secure forged Aryan papers because of her “beautiful blond, blue-eyed looks and the ability to speak Polish without a Yiddish accent”. She was able to smuggle food into the ghetto for her family and later, at much personal risk, saved the lives of her sister and her two young nieces.
  5. Here come the cameos…If your son happens to be the writer of a smash hit fantasy show, you might just expect better costumes than mere peasant robes for a cameo appearance! Nevertheless, David Benioff’s father Stephen, who is a former head of Goldman Sachs, and mother Barbara, were more than happy to accept a brief starring role as a merchant couple during the series four premiere. Another Jewish cameo was ‘spied’ at the beginning of season eight, when former deputy director of the CIA, David Cohen, donned some sackcloth and fur, while holding a bowl of warming soup.
  6. Man behind the music The familiar strains of Game of Throne’s sweeping theme was written by Ramin Djawadi, but his big break in the industry came after he was introduced to acclaimed German-Jewish composer Hans Zimmer. Noticing the young musician’s talent, Zimmer took Djawadi under his wing and soon had him working with him on such films as Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, The Island and Batman Begins.
  7. Jewish geography Over eight series, the location crews have been busy sourcing places to film Game of Thrones – and many of these have strong Jewish connections. Pentos, one of the free cities of Western Essos is in fact Ouarzazate in Morocco, which has an age-old Jewish cemetery and is the burial place of a 2nd Century sage, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. Morocco’s Essaouira, home to a once-thriving Jewish quarter dating from the 1700s, also doubles up for Astapor, also known as the Red City. Meanwhile, the Long Bridge of Volantis was filmed at The Roman Bridge in Cordoba, Spain, birthplace of famous Jewish philosopher Maimonides. Visitors still flock to the city’s Jewish quarters, as well as the ancient synagogue in the Street of the Jews. Elsewhere, Mdina in Malta was chosen as the location for The King’s Landing Gate. Jewish merchants once made up one third of Malta’s ancient capital and to this day, there is a street with Hebrews signs pointing to “The Old Jewish Silk Market”.
  8. Fantastic beasts From giant ice spiders and krackens to shadowcats, unicorns and manticores, the Torah might not seem a likely source to read about the mythical creatures that appear on GOT. But in fact, there are many references to the supernatural. The Book of Nehemiah makes mention of a “dragon’s spring” in the vicinity of Jerusalem, where a dragon was thought to live as the spirit of the well. Giants are aplenty. Goliath’s famous battle against David is among the many larger-than-life characters referenced in the Torah. Elsewhere, Jon Snow has a loyal direwolf named Ghost, and in the Bible you can read about Saul’s attempts to conjure up Samuel’s spirit by visiting the witch of Endor. As for magic, there is much mention of sorcerers, diviners, astrologers and exorcists – and how they are all expressly forbidden!
What fate beholds Emilia Clarke as Daenerys with her pet, Drogan  in the last ever episode of Game of Thrones?

The last ever episode of Game Of Thrones airs on Monday at 2am and 9pm, on Sky Atlantic.  




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