Did you know that these Nine Celebrities are actually Jewish?

by | Jul 18, 2017 | Fun, Hillel Ontario | 0 comments

There are many Jewish celebrities who embrace their Judaism and publicly talk about it. Beyond the obvious examples of Adam Sandler and his Hannukah song or Natalie Portman, who’s Israeli, there are many celebrities you may not know are actually Jewish. Who are you most surprised by?

 

Lena Dunham

Most people who think about Lena Dunham think Social Justice Warrior. There are many incidences we could list, where the “Girls” star was fighting for equal rights. However, that’s not what this blog post focuses on. A rather less known fact about the producer and actress is that Dunham is in fact Jewish. With a Jewish mother and a Protestant father, Lena Dunham stated in an interview that she “feel[s] very culturally Jewish”. (http://jewishjournal.com/mobile_20111212/103436/)

 

Gwyneth Paltrow

Blond, tall, blue eyes … and Jewish? We couldn’t believe it ourselves! But after conducting some research we found that the beautiful actress grew up celebrating Jewish and Christian holidays. With a Jewish father from an Ashkenazi background, her brother had a traditional Bar Mitzvah when he turned 13. You’re not convinced yet? There is more! Paltrow’s great-great-grandfather was a rabbi in Poland, and like she said herself, “17 generations of rabbis — you see, I really am a Jewish princess!” (https://www.theguardian.com/film/2006/jan/27/1)

 

Daniel Radcliffe

Every Jewish Harry Potter fan knows that it is hard to find a Jew at Hogwarts. Celebrating Christmas in all the Harry Potter movies, Daniel Radcliffe is actually Jewish! Who would have thought? With a South African Jewish mom, there is no doubt that this wizard is really a Jew, or like he says it,  “I’m an atheist, but I’m very proud of being Jewish.” (https://www.theguardian.com/film/2009/jul/04/daniel-radcliffe-harry-potter-jk-rowling)

 

Marilyn Monroe

A 1950’s Hollywood icon, Marilyn reminds us of many things, but not of Judaism. How ignorant of us! The actress converted to Judaism when she got married to Arthur Miller in 1956. Unfortunately, the marriage didn’t last, but her religion did. Even though Monroe and Miller got a divorce in 1961 she decided to stay Jewish.

 

Elizabeth Taylor

Let’s discuss legendary ladies for a little longer. Similar to Marilyn Monroe, Taylor decided to convert to Judaism in 1959. The reason for her conversion, however, was a different one. Elizabeth Taylor married Michael Todd in 1957. Sadly, Todd died in a plane crash only one year later. Shortly afterwards, Taylor started the process of converting. Some believe that she decided to convert with the hope that it would help her get over her husband’s death. After converting, Elizabeth Taylor became an active supporter of Zionist and Jewish causes.

 

Paula Abdul

Born in California, the multi-talented entertainer was first discovered by the Jacksons as a choreographer. From there, she broadened her scope to singing, songwriting, dancing, acting, and many other talents. You probably know Paula Abdul as a judge on the X-Factor. What you might not know about her is that she is Jewish! You don’t believe us? We couldn’t believe it either. Abdul’s father was born into the Syrian-Jewish community, while her mother grew up to Ashkenazi parents in Manitoba, Canada.

 

Michael Douglas

The winner of two Academy Awards is most known for his performance in Wall Street. What you might not know about him is that he is also a member of the tribe. Growing up to a Jewish father and a Christian mother, Douglas was not raised religiously at all. However, in 2015, Douglas officially affiliated with Reform Judaism. This was reinforced by the trip Douglas and his family made to Jerusalem in order to celebrate his son’s Bar Mitzvah.

 

Beck

Are you surprised to see Beck on this list? We totally understand! Beck is mostly known for his activities in the Scientology community. However, a less known fact is that Beck’s childhood was very much influenced by Judaism. As he stated in an interview in 2008, “[He] was raised celebrating Jewish holidays, and […] considers [himself] Jewish.” (www.spin.com/2014/07/reverberation-beck-sessions-cover-story-september-2008/)

 

Stella McCartney

Stella McCartney is known for her great fashion designs, and for her legendary father. But Paul McCartney isn’t Jewish you say? And you’re right to say so! But her less famous mother is. Linda McCartney was born to a Russian Jewish father and a German Jewish mother. Paul and Linda McCartney did not raise their daughter as a Jew but that doesn’t change the fact that the designer is a born Jew.

Holocaust Remembrance Day 2023

Holocaust Remembrance Day 2023

In their research on listening to survivors of the Holocaust and other genocides, Bronwen E. Low and Emmanuelle Sonntag note listeners’ problematic tendencies towards one of two responses.  On the one hand, they can regard the narratives as so unfamiliar and foreign that they must be pushed away as overwhelming, untouchable, and inaccessible.  On the other, the stories can be seen as familiar, to the point that the listener cannot separate their own experiences and emotional response from what they take in.

But another, preferable response exists: Roger I. Simon and Claudia Eppert talk about a “chain of testimony” and suggest that listening imposes a duty on the listener.  Listening to personal testimony at the crossroads of memory and history “imposes particular obligations on those called to receive it – obligations imbued with the exigencies of justice, compassion, and hope that define the horizon for a world yet to be realized.”  In this way, bearing witness and listening to testimony demands a number of actions and responses, including that we “transport and translate stories of past injustices beyond their moment of telling by taking these stories to another time and space where they become available to be heard or seen.”

If we take Simon and Eppert’s charge seriously, as I believe we should, those of us who have been privileged to hear the direct testimony of survivors of the Holocaust.  Their words come not just with the specific knowledge they impart or the emotional impact they have on us – sorrow, anger, fear, horror – but with a duty, an obligation of some kind.  

On many of our campuses, this week is Holocaust Education Week, and this Friday marks International Holocaust Remembrance Day.  Given the significant number of Holocaust survivors and their descendants in Canada, the scheduled events and programs have a personal resonance for many of our students and their families, but their impact can be deep and meaningful for all of us, regardless of who we are and where we come from.  I encourage each of you to make time to participate in this week’s activities and to consider your place in the chain of testimony: what obligation does listening to narratives from the Holocaust place on you, and how do you carry those stories forward in time?

 

Weekly D’var: Shemot

Weekly D’var: Shemot

In this week’s parashah we learn the story of Moses, from his birth, through his flight from and eventual return to Egypt, to the acceptance of his role as leader of the Hebrew people.

After fleeing Egypt, for killing an Egyptian slave master, Moses was living rather peacefully as a shepherd in the land of Midian. The Torah describes for us Moses’s first interaction with G-d upon coming across a bush, “burning with a heart of fire [Exodus 3:3]”. G-d calls out to Moses and requests he take the Jewish people out of Egypt and eventually into the land of Israel. However, Moses argues with G-d, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh? Who am I that I should take the Jews out of Egypt? [Exodus 3:11]” After initially refusing four times, Moses eventually agrees to G-ds request, and as we know, the rest is history. But why was Moses so unwilling to take up the position of leader, to the extent that he would argue with G-d? And why was G-d so set on having Moses lead the Jewish people? 

Perhaps the answer can be found through the incident that led to his flight from Egypt, years earlier, when Moses, as mentioned above, killed an Egyptian slave master for beating a Hebrew slave. Immediately, he was met with opposition from some of the Hebrew slaves, “who made you chief and ruler over us? Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian? [Exodus 2:14]” Moses felt discouraged and unsure of his ability to lead. However, it seems that G-d saw in Moses, a faithful shepherd, the ability to lead his people from slavery to freedom. Very often in Tanakh, the people that are most worthy to lead are the ones who deny that they are worthy at all. Moses may not appear to be the first choice for a leadership figure, suffering from a speech impediment and lacking charisma; however, Moses possessed certain qualities that made him the ideal leader to bring the Jewish people out of Egypt. We too possess qualities that can lead us to achieve incredible success and realize our full potential. We may often feel unmotivated or unsure of our own capabilities. Instead of feeling discouraged, I believe we can look to Moses who, despite all his doubts, stepped up to the challenge and became the greatest leader in Jewish history. 

Sam Virine
VP of Jewish Life at Hillel Waterloo & Laurier

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