CNN Newspaper group
By Stacey Knott
What a long, strange trip it’s been for Jake Ehrenreich — from the day he hallucinated that his genitals had disappeared to the day he had part of his son’s genitals cut off.
In the actor’s new memoir, “A Jew Grows in Brooklyn — The Curious Reflections of a First-Generation American,” based on his Broadway show of the same name, he explores topics as diverse as the Jewish traditions he grew up in to his dalliances in sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll.
It all began for Ehrenreich in East Flatbush, where he was raised by his Polish immigrant parents, a family he described as “dysfunctional.” (There was that time his older sister chased him down the street wielding a kitchen knife screaming “I’ll kill you.” Obviously, she failed.)
While in junior high, Ehrenreich’s love affair with music began, and as a teenager, he started getting gigs in the Catskills. Soon, he was touring overseas in a Beatles cover band as Ringo Starr during the height of Beatlemania.
The rocker lifestyle also followed (as Ehrenreich tells it, he was pretty lucky with the ladies; it must have been the long, curly hair). That also included a drug addiction which Ehrenreich eventually shook, but not before hallucinating that his genitals had disappeared (not true, as it turned out).
On the night that he finally kicked the habit, Ehrenreich was so high on cocaine that he could barely breath, let alone sing. To get through the gig — and keep his job — he pretended the microphone wasn’t working during a crucial solo. It worked.
Fast-forward 30 years: Ehrenich is clean, has a new haircut, performed on Broadway in shows such as “Dancin’,” “Barnum,” and “They’re Playing Our Song,” as well as his own, and raised a family (that bris? It’s no laughing matter).
The actor currently lives upstate, but his love of Brooklyn shines through in his memoir.
“I think everybody has a warm feeling about where he grew up, I will say to my deathbed Brooklyn is a great place to grow up,” he said.
“I was exposed to so many different kinds of people and circumstances I can’t imagine anything else…it was some of the most wonderful memories of my life.”
Sharing his varied life experiences turned into a “voyage of self discovery” for Ehrenreich, who has taken lessons from the highs (pun intended) and the lows, which included losing his sister to early-onset Alzheimer’s, to try and find purpose in life.
Of particular import has been advice from his father, who taught him to “live your ideals, never compromise your integrity and let your actions speak louder than words.” No microphone needed.