The way I heard it was:
Sir Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1891), the British prime minister, was once insulted in the House of Commons because he was Jewish. He responded: “While your ancestors were painting themselves blue, my ancestors were worshipping one God.” (The Picts, early inhabitants of Scotland, for some strange reason did paint themselves blue.)
But “The Little, Brown Book of Anecdotes,” with Clifton Fadiman as general editor, gives the following version, which is surely more accurate if not as much fun:
“In 1835 Daniel O’Connell, the Irish Roman Catholic leader, attacked Disraeli in the House of Commons. In the course of his unrestrained invective, he referred to Disraeli’s Jewish ancestry. Disraeli replied, ‘Yes, I am a Jew, and while the ancestors of the right honorable gentleman were brutal savages in an unknown island, mine were priests in the temple of Solomon.'”
Incidentally, it was Sir Benjamin who first said that “When a man fell into his anecdotage it was a sign for him to retire from the world.”
Also in the “Little, Brown” book is a story about the director and screenwriter Billy Wilder (1906- ).
Born in Austria, he was sent to Berlin at the end of World War II to help re-start the German entertainment industry. He authorized the resumption of the Oberammergau Passion Play, about the crucifixion of Jesus.
Now, before the war, a certain actor had played Christ. During the war, he had supported the Nazis.
Wilder was asked if the actor could resume the role. “Certainly,” said Wilder, “if you use real nails.”
On the sixth day, God turned to the angel Gabriel…
“¨”¨ “On this day, I shall create a magic land. It shall”¨be called Israel. It will stand as holy. Its magnificence “¨will be known all over the world. I will choose to send to this land special people of goodness, intelligence, and conviction, so the land shall prosper. I shall call “¨these inhabitants Jews.”
“¨”¨ “Pardon me, Lord,” said Gabriel, “but aren’t you “¨being too generous to these Jews?”
“¨”¨ “Not really. Wait till you see the neighbors I’m giving “¨them.”