Send to Friend  Bookmark  Print

Interfaith Celebrities: Baseball, Couples, and a Wedding

April 23, 2013

Major League Hebrews, 2013 Edition

The following Jewish and interfaith players are on a big league roster (active or disabled) as of April 16, 2013:

Ryan Kalish plays for the Red Sox.
  • Ryan Braun, 29, outfielder, Milwaukee
  • Craig Breslow, 32, pitcher, Boston
  • Ike Davis, 26, first base, New York Mets
  • Scott Feldman, 30, pitcher, Chicago Cubs
  • Nate Freiman, 26, first base, Oakland
  • Sam Fuld, 31, outfielder, Tampa Bay
  • Ian Kinsler, 30, second base, Texas
  • Jason Marquis, 34, pitcher, San Diego
  • Ryan Kalish, 25, outfielder, Boston
  • Michael Schwimer, 27, pitcher, Toronto
  • Kevin Youkilis, 34, third and first base, New York Yankees

  • Breslow, Freiman, Marquis, Schwimer, and Youkilis are the sons of two Jewish parents. I'll talk about Freiman, the only rookie, below. The other three players came from moderately religious Jewish homes.

    In last year's round-up of major leaguers, posted in April, 2012, I noted that Youkilis had just wed Julie Brady, then 30, the sister of Boston Patriots star quarterback Tom Brady, now 35. The couple, who wed in a civil ceremony, just celebrated their first anniversary. The Brady family is Catholic.

    Braun, Feldman, Fuld, and Kinsler are the sons of Jewish fathers and non-Jewish mothers.

    Braun, who was raised secular, and remains non-religious, has come to strongly identify as Jewish during his time in the major leagues. I explored that development in some depth in my 2012 round-up.

    Feldman, as I noted last year, was raised mostly secular, but his family did belong to a San Francisco Bay Area synagogue for a time.

    In 2007, Fuld spoke to MLB.com about his religious background. Here is most of that exchange:

    MLB.com: You celebrate Christmas and Hanukkah, right?
    Fuld: Right. My father is Jewish and my mother is Catholic. Christmas has always been a big deal. Obviously, because of the way Christmas is, it's a favorite over Hanukkah. From a young age, you get more gifts at Christmas, so it's always more exciting. We always have family over at Christmas.
    MLB.com: You still celebrate Hanukkah?
    Fuld: Yes, but it's very low key. We light the menorah, things like that. I have the best of both worlds. I had a couple Jewish friends who were jealous of everybody. I was fortunate. We celebrate both.

    Kinsler, so far as I know, was raised secular and remains secular.

    Davis is the son of a Jewish mother and a non-Jewish father. While he was raised secular and remains non-practicing, he has come to really embrace his Jewish side while playing in heavily Jewish New York City. On March 24, 2013, the New York Post did a long interview with Davis entitled "Mets Slugger Embraces His Jewish Roots." The interview, which is well worth reading, begins:

    Before joining Oakland's team, Nate Freiman played for Team Israel.
    Ike Davis' favorite greeting to those who enter and leave the Mets clubhouse is "shalom" — a Hebrew expression for both hello and goodbye. It is a word Davis often uses to greet teammates, reporters and almost always team COO Jeff Wilpon [who is Jewish}. It is a word Davis uses with pride to celebrate the fact he is Jewish.

    Ryan Kalish is an unusual "case." The son of a Jewish father and a Catholic mother, he was raised in his mother's faith. However, about three years ago, he decided that he was no longer a Catholic believer. Jewish Sports Review, with whom I share information, contacted him and found out he had no objection to now being described as a Jewish athlete in the pages of the magazine. They now list him as a Jewish athlete.

    Freiman is the only rookie this season. He may be the tallest big leaguer ever, standing at 6'8". He played for Israel (2012) in the World Baseball Classic qualifier.

    His father, Len Freiman, is a Boston area attorney. His mother, Marjorie Freiman, is an attorney and Jewish educator, currently involved with "Parenting Your Teen Through a Jewish Lens," a program of Boston's federation, Combined Jewish Philanthropies.

    I gather, based on a Facebook posting, that the Freiman family belong to Temple Beth Elohim, a Reform congregation.

    On December 19, 2012, Nate Freiman wed Amanda Bluemenherst, 26. She is a professional golfer. She was a three-time National Player of the Year at Duke University and won the U.S. Women's Amateur title in 2008. She's had moderate success as a professional, playing on the Ladies Professional Golf Association tour.

    She and Freiman met when they both attended Duke University, where he was a college baseball star and she was a college golfing star.

    Nate Freiman and Amanda Bluemenherst, after getting engaged. (Photo via Amanda's Twitter stream.)

    Last February, Bluemenherst discussed her courtship and wedding ceremony with Indiana Bride Magazine.

    I think it is extremely likely that she is not Jewish. First of all, she attended a Catholic school in Arizona for her secondary education. Second, she told the magazine that her father's best friend was the "officiant" who presided over her wedding. In my experience, it is fairly rare for a Jewish couple to not have a rabbi preside at their wedding. It is even rarer when one of the parties has a strong Jewish background, as Freiman apparently has had.

    Bluemenherst did add that the she and Freiman were married under a chuppah.

    It is also rare for two professional athletes to marry each other. I am probably not going out on a limb when I say that Bluemenherst and Freiman are the first interfaith married couple who are also both pro athletes. (I welcome anybody to write to me and tell me about another one!)

    I know that my friends at JWeekly, the San Francisco Bay Area Jewish newspaper, are planning to interview Freiman. I'll let you know what they find out from Freiman, himself. If I made any factual mistakes, I'll be sure to correct the record.

    The Talk is About Interfaith Gay Couples

    Weir/Voronov

    On March 29, famous figure skater Johnny Weir, 28, appeared on the E! Channel program, Fashion Police, and mentioned that he had been married in December, 2011 in New York City, and that his husband was Russian Jewish. Intrigued, I looked into this and discovered there had actually been a reasonable amount of publicity about their wedding. I confess that this interfaith wedding eluded me until I saw that TV program.

    Johnny Weird and Victor Voronov.

    Weir's husband, Victor Voronov, was described at the time of their civil wedding as a 28-year-old Russian Jewish graduate of Georgetown Law School. In later profiles, he is identified as an attorney, so I gather he passed the bar exam. I know that Voronov's parents are immigrants, but it's unclear to me whether Voronov is an immigrant, as well.

    Weir grew-up in rural Pennsylvania and was raised a Roman Catholic. He has been skating since he was twelve and his colorful amateur and professional career is covered in-depth in this biography. His flamboyant style has made him a crowd favorite, but may have hurt him with the judges. He says he will try for an Olympic medal again in 2014. So far, he has come close, but has not earned an Olympic medal.

    The couple's wedding and romance was the subject of a People Magazine profile in January, 2012. Weir's press representative told the magazine:

    The couple exchanged handwritten vows in the company of loving parents, Tony and Lili Voronov and Patti and John Weir. The couple has taken the new surname, Weir-Voronov, but professionally, Johnny will continue to be known as Johnny Weir.

    In February, 2012, Weir discussed married life with New York Magazine. Weir, a "clean freak," says that he did most of the cleaning in the couple's apartment. He told the magazine: "Well, he [Voronov] had a Russian Jewish mother who did everything for him, so he never learned."

    The same month, Weir spoke to the NBC affiliate in San Diego. He told NBC that he and his husband planned to have a big "second" wedding for family.

    He also told NBC: "Most likely I'd convert to Judaism [before that second wedding]."

    So far as I can determine, Weir and Voronov haven't had that second wedding or they have kept very quiet about it.

    As for Weir converting to Judaism: Well, all we can do is wait, and see, if Weir really decides to "join the tribe."

    Gilbert/Perry

    Linda Perry and Sara Gilbert at a recent event for GLAAD.

    Sara Gilbert, 38, is now best known as the creator, producer, and co-host of the hit CBS daytime talk show, The Talk, which began in 2010. Shortly after the show premiered, I profiled five of the six original co-hosts for this column, including Gilbert. By coincidence, all but one of the original hosts had a Jewish connection: being of Jewish or interfaith background and/or married to a Jew.

    Gilbert, who is Jewish, was previously known for her acting career. It began with her co-starring role as Roseanne Barr's daughter on Roseanne (1988-1997) and continued until 2009, when her recurring role on The Big Bang Theory ended.

    Gilbert, who came out as a lesbian in 2010, was involved in a romantic partnership with TV producer Allison Adler from 2001 until 2011. Adler, 45, who I believe is Jewish, is the biological mother of one of the couple's two children. Gilbert is the biological mother of their other child.

    The couple separated in August, 2011. Shortly thereafter, Gilbert began a relationship with rock songwriter and singer Linda Perry, 45. This month, Gilbert and Perry announced that they had become engaged.

    From 1989 until they disbanded in 1994, Perry was the lead singer and primary songwriter of the all-woman group, 4 Non Blondes. Since then, Perry is best known for composing and producing hit songs for several other top female singers. These singers include Pink (whose mother is Jewish). Pink had a Number 1 hit with Perry's "Get the Party Started."

    I wasn't able to run-down Perry's faith, but it is very likely that she was born and raised a Roman Catholic. Her late father was Portuguese-American and her mother is an immigrant from Brazil. The vast majority of Portuguese-Americans and Brazilians are Catholics.

    Berkus/Brent

    Nate Berkus and Jeremiah Brent.

    Also announcing his engagement this month is famous (Jewish) interior designer Nate Berkus, 41. A frequent guest on Oprah Winfrey's talk show, Berkus had his own TV talk show which ran from 2010 until 2012. Berkus is now engaged to Jeremiah Brent, another interior designer. I strongly suspect that Brent isn't Jewish, but I haven't been able to confirm that. When I know, I'll let you know.

    Groom at a Big Wedding

    Opening on Friday, April 26, is Big Wedding, a romantic comedy about nuptial tensions that threaten to spin out of control.

    It's directed and written by Justin Zackham, 42. Zackham, who is Jewish, is best known for writing the hit 2007 drama/comedy The Bucket List. Although the term "bucket list," which refers to things a person should do before they die (or "kick the bucket"), seems like it has been around forever, it was actually coined by Zackham.

    The all-star Big Wedding cast includes Robert DeNiro, 69, Diane Keaton, 67, and Amanda Seyfried, 27. The groom is played by British actor Ben Barnes, 31, the secular son of a non-Jewish English father and a South African-born, English Jewish mother. He's best known for playing Prince Caspian in the last two Chronicles of Narnia films: Prince Caspian (2008) and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010).

    By the way, the author of the Narnia novels, C.S. Lewis, a devout Christian, had an interesting relationship with his two young stepsons, who he eventually adopted. I detailed that relationship, for this column, when the Prince of Caspian was released. One brother was and is a devout Christian like Lewis. The other brother opted to follow Orthodox Judaism when he was a teen still living in Lewis' home.

    I didn't know, when I wrote about Prince of Caspian, that Barnes was of interfaith background.

Derived from the Greek word for "assembly," a Jewish house of prayer. Synagogue refers to both the room where prayer services are held and the building where it occurs. In Yiddish, "shul." Reform synagogues are often called "temple." Hanukkah (known by many spellings) is an eight-day Jewish holiday commemorating the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean Revolt of the 2nd Century BCE. It is marked by the lighting of a menorah and the eating of fried foods. Hebrew for "canopy" or "covering," the structure (open on all four sides) under which a Jewish wedding ceremony takes place. In its simplest for, it consists of a cloth, sheet, or tallit stretched or supported over four poles. Hebrew for "candelabrum" or "lamp," it usually refers to the nine-branched candelabrum that is lit for the holiday of Hanukkah. (A seven-branched candelabrum, a symbol of the ancient Temple in Jerusalem, is a symbol of Judaism and is included in Israel's coat of arms.) Reform synagogues are often called "temple." "The Temple" refers to either the First Temple, built by King Solomon in 957 BCE in Jerusalem, or the Second Temple, which replaced the First Temple and stood on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem from 516 BCE to 70 CE. Hebrew for "my master," the term refers to a spiritual leader and teacher of Torah. Often, but not always, a rabbi is the leader of a synagogue congregation.

Nate Bloom writes a weekly column on Jewish celebrities, broadly defined, that appears in the Cleveland Jewish News, the American Israelite of Cincinnati, the Detroit Jewish News, and the New Jersey Jewish Standard. It also appears bi-weekly in j., the Jewish news weekly of northern California. Starting April 2012, a monthly version of his column (featuring relevant "oldies but goodies") will appear in the following Florida newspapers: the Jewish News (Sarasota and Manatee County), the Federation Star (Collier County) and L'Chayim (Lee and Charlotte counties).

The author welcomes questions and celebrity "tips," especially about people you personally know. Write him at middleoftheroad1@aol.com. And feel free to comment below.

Send to Friend  Bookmark  Print

Welcome to InterfaithFamily!

We want to know what you think of our resources. Take our User Survey now through November 22, 2013 and enter to win a $500 American Express gift card!