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Interfaith Celebrities: Ginnifer Goodwin Re-Discovers Judaism; Rachelle LeFevere is Hot; Liev Scheiber: New Series; Gary David G

July 3, 2013

Goodwin Rediscovers Her Faith

Ginnifer Goodwin, 35, has compiled quite a list of credits in the last decade: she has been the co-star of two hit TV series (Big Love and the still-airing Once Upon a Time), and she has co-starred in several hit films, including Walk the Line and He's Just Not that Into You. Next November, she will co-star as Jackie Kennedy in a National Geographic original film about the last years of the life of President John F. Kennedy.

Born and raised in Memphis, Tennessee, Goodwin was active in her Reform Jewish temple, Temple Israel, as a youth and teen. She was also an active participant in the B'Nai Brith Youth Organization (BBYO). She took her bat mitzvah and the study of Judaism quite seriously: she didn't have her bat mitzvah ceremony at age 12 or 13, as most Jewish girls do. She delayed it until her 15th birthday, when she felt she had really studied enough for the ceremony.

On May 17, 2013, she stood before the congregation of her hometown synagogue, with her family in the audience, and sadly noted that she had long fallen away from Judaism. Also in attendance was a reporter from the Memphis Commercial Appeal newspaper, who recorded and reported on most of her speech. Goodwin said:

I was Super Jew, and then I up and left Judaism for a very long time. I flew from Memphis … I flew from Temple Israel … and I flew from my faith. I walked out of Judaism. I had broken my covenant. The only thing Jewish about me was that I felt guilty."…For 10 years, there was nothing. No ritual. No tradition. No community. I was this new alone thing, a nomad in the world. I was homeless.

Recently, however, she decided to reconnect. She wrote the Memphis rabbi, Micha Greenstein, who mentored her in her youth, and asked him: "Do I still get to be Jewish?"

Greenstein wrote back: "It takes a lot of patches to make a patchwork quilt".

The Commercial Appeal reports:

In recent months, Goodwin has been reclaiming old patches of ritual, tradition and community, and receiving new ones. She wants to live in a Jewish home with a mezuzah in every doorway. She wants to raise her "completely hypothetical future children" to be Jewish. She hosted a Hanukkah party. She's made brisket and matzo ball soup. She realized that a lot of her friends are Jewish. "We've been shul shopping [in Los Angeles]...I am a Jew," she said, beaming on the bema [bimah]. "It took me 10 years to come back around to that self-definition. I was a Jew by birth, and now I'm a Jew by choice."

Goodwin's Jewish mother, Linda (Kantor) Goodwin-Parkinson, is a former educator who, in more recent years, has worked for Memphis-based FedEx and is an independent website developer. She is a Memphis native (she graduated from a Memphis high school). Her father, Tim Goodwin, from whom her mother is long divorced, formerly ran a Memphis recording studio. He now lives in Florida.

Ginnifer Goodwin speaking at Temple Israel of Memphis.

Tim Goodwin, whom Ginnifer Goodwin once described as being of Welsh background, is not Jewish. It also appears that Tim and his daughter are related to Fred Smith, the (non-Jewish) founder and head of FedEx. Smith's daughter, film producer Molly Micklin Smith, noted in an interview that she and Ginnifer Goodwin discovered they were distantly related ("shared East Tennessee roots"). Smith produced Something Borrowed, a 2011 romantic comedy co-starring Goodwin and interfaith actress Kate Hudson, 34.

Just as I was finishing this item, I was surprised to find out that a video of Goodwin's recent synagogue speech, with Rabbi Greenstein's introduction, has been posted to YouTube. You can see and hear most of what I related above and more. Please view (as you find time) the whole speech. At the very end, Goodwin obliquely references, in a very complimentary way, her current boyfriend and TV co-star Josh Dallas, who isn't Jewish.

Lefevre Fever

Odds are you have seen interfaith actress Rachelle Lefevre, 34, in more than one role. The pretty red-haired actress is probably best known for playing the evil vampire Victoria Sutherland in the first two Twilight films. Her other film work includes playing Paul Giamatti's first (Jewish) wife in the 2010 movie, Barney's Version, based on a novel of the same name the late Canadian Jewish author Mordecai Richler. She also had a big role in the acclaimed 2010 HBO film, Casino Jack, about real-life (Jewish) lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Lefevre has frequently appeared in TV guest roles and has co-starred in two short-lived TV shows: Off the Map, which aired in early 2011, and A Gifted Man, which ran from September 2011 to May, 2012.

Last Friday, June 28, her latest film, White House Down, opened. Channing Tatum, 33, stars as a Washington D.C. policeman who wants to be a member of the president's Secret Service detail. As he is taking his daughter on a White House tour, a paramilitary group launches an attack, and Tatum's character gets a chance to show how tough he is. Lefevre has a supporting role, playing Tatum's ex-wife. Their daughter is played by interfaith actress Joey King, 13.

Lefevre also co-stars in the new, six-part CBS mini-series, Under the Dome, which began last Monday, June 24. (New shows air Mondays at 10 p.m.. The first and succeeding episodes can also be viewed online.)

Produced by Steven Spielberg, Under the Dome is a big budget, sci-fi thriller based on a Stephen King novel. Lefevre co-stars as Julia Shumway, the new editor of a small town Maine newspaper. One day, a mysterious invisible dome envelops the town, trapping Shumway and the other townspeople behind and under the dome. Shumway has a pivotal role in finding out who is behind the dome and how the town residents can be released.

Trailer for Under The Dome.

Lefevre was born and raised in Montreal. Her father, an English teacher, is of non-Jewish French and Northern Irish background (one of her paternal grandparents was born in Northern Ireland). Her mother, a psychologist, is Jewish. Lefevre's parents are long divorced and her mother is re-married to a rabbi.

The actress, who speaks both French and English, was educated at top Montreal private schools and she has a degree in education and literature from McGill University.

She began acting before she finished college, including a co-starring role in a Canadian TV series. A number of smallish TV and film roles followed until she got her breakthrough role in the first Twilight film (2008). In 2007, she had a large supporting role in the Canadian film, Fugitive Pieces, which is based on a Canadian novel of the same name about Holocaust survivors and the descendants of survivors. In 2011, Lefevre spoke to the (now-defunct) Venice Magazine about the role:

Q. Fugitive Pieces is a really beautiful movie.

A: I'm Jewish and I lost my great-grandfather, who was shot down in a pogrom, and I lost great-grandparents in the Holocaust. When Fugitive Pieces came along, it was just one of those things where I read it and I thought, "I have to be in this." And I said that in my audition. I grew up with a grandmother who was never quite right in the mind, who was traumatized by her experience, and would talk about her father being shot down in front of her in the street. My stepfather is a rabbi; I'm not a religious Jew, but I'm certainly well informed. And I just said, "This speaks to me and I will do whatever it takes. What do you need me to do?"

Shifting gears: As I said, above, young actress Joey King is of interfaith background. She's currently a hot child actress with a slew of TV and movie credits earned since she was four years old. King has only once talked about her interfaith background. Early last year, she answered a web interviewer's question about how she would celebrate the holidays. She said:

My holiday plans… well I'm going to be flying. I'm going to go to Disneyland with my cousins and so that's going to be really, really fun. And I'm part Jewish and part Christian, but I'm mostly Jewish so I'm planning on celebrating the holidays with my family, my grandma, my Dad and everyone. So I'm so excited for the holidays, it's… I'm happy! I'm really struggling with gifts for my family. I got everybody something small, but now I gotta get everybody something a bit bigger.

On the Tube: Schreiber and Manilow

Interfaith actor Liev Schreiber, 45, has the title role in the new Showtime series Ray Donovan (started Sunday, June 30 with many encore showings). Donovan is the best professional "fixer" in Los Angeles: when a celebrity or business mogul gets in trouble, he makes the trouble "go away." Donovan's life is shaken when his father, played by Jon Voight, 74, is unexpectedly released from prison. This is Schreiber's first time out as the star of a TV series. Voight, who isn't Jewish, is known for his work for the Jewish community, including co-hosting an annual telethon for the charities (like drug rehab) provided by the Chabad, a Hasidic Jewish group.

The annual PBS special, A Capitol Fourth, features many performers, including Barry Manilow, 70. Manilow, who was raised Jewish, had an Irish Catholic paternal grandmother. His other grandparents were Jewish. (Airs July 4 at 8 p.m..)

Also performing is Jewish singer Neil Diamond, 72. Diamond will sing "Freedom Song (They'll Never Take Us Down)," a tune he recently wrote that was inspired by the courage he saw when he visited Boston days after the April 15 Marathon bombing and sang at Fenway Park. The new song will be available for download via Amazon and iTunes on July 2. All proceeds will aid bombing victims and disabled veterans. Diamond, by the way, has been married three times. His second, and present (third) wife, are not Jewish.

Shalom, Gary David Goldberg

On June 25, TV writer and producer Gary David Goldberg died of cancer, at 68. He is best known for creating the hit TV series, Family Ties and Spin City. In 2005, he was interviewed by the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles and that interview, with permission, was re-posted on InterfaithFamily.

Goldberg, who grew up in a traditional Brooklyn Jewish family, got caught up in the zeitgeist of the 1960s. He was expelled from college for missing classes and, not long after (1970) he met and began a relationship with a young woman, Diana Meehan, who was of Irish Catholic background. Together they traveled around the world. They ended up in Israel (1972), with Diana pregnant with their first child. Out of money, he managed to beg relatives for return fare. However, his vagabond ways had a silver lining. The Journal reports: "Goldberg's family promptly embraced non-Jewish Diana because by that point, ‘they were relieved I didn't turn up with a black man.'"

In the early 1970s, the couple ran a Berkeley child care center. Goldberg managed to break into writing for TV sitcoms in 1976 and became a mini-mogul in 1982 when Family Ties premiered and turned into a big TV hit. Diana and Gary would not legally marry for another twenty years, during which time they had two now-adult children. It's my sense, from bits and pieces, that Goldberg and Meehan didn't formally raise their children in any religious tradition.

Goldberg did address interfaith relationships in one of his series and it wasn't Family Ties. Yes, there was a slight autobiographical element to that series, in that the parents (Elyse and Steve Keaton) were supposed to be still-liberal, ex-hippies (somewhat like Goldberg and Meehan). But there were no explicit or implicit plotlines or clues that they were an interfaith couple.

In his short-lived series, Brooklyn Bridge (1991-1993), Goldberg put at the center a 1950s New York Jewish family that was much like his own. The younger of the family's two sons, Alan, about 14, is dating a classmate, an Irish Catholic girl named Katie. While their parents and other relatives don't move to cut off the relationship; Alan's Jewish grandmother and Katie's devout Catholic policeman father express their disapproval because of the young people's different religions.

Credit Goldberg with writing the script for just about the only really funny TV episode in which Jewish and non-Jewish families break bread and try to resolve their differences about their progeny's interfaith dating.

A fan site describes the episode, entitled "War of the Worlds:"

Neither Katie's parents nor Alan's grandparents think they should be dating out of their faith, so the desperate kids arrange a meeting between the two families. Things go from bad to worse during the uncomfortable dinner when obnoxious Uncle Willy and his wife Miriam turn up at the same Chinese restaurant the families have chosen as neutral ground… There's a wonderful montage scene of the families getting ready for dinner using "Tonight" from the musical West Side Story, including the confrontational music of the Sharks and the Jets.

One of these days, Brooklyn Bridge will be released on DVD. Until then, you have to watch the episode on-line.

By the way, the actor who played Alan (Danny Gerard) is of Italian Catholic background. The actress who played Katie (Jenny Lewis) is Jewish.

Hebrew for "daughter of the commandments." In modern Jewish practice, Jewish girls come of age at 12 or 13. When a girl comes of age, she is officially a bat mitzvah and considered an adult. The term is commonly used as a short-hand for the bat mitzvah's coming-of-age ceremony and/or celebration. The male equivalent is "bar mitzvah." 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 "pious," commonly refers to a member of an Orthodox Jewish mystic movement founded in the 18th century in Eastern Europe by Baal Shem Tov that reacted against Talmudic learning and maintained that God's presence was in all of one's surroundings and that one should serve God in one's every deed and word. Hebrew for "doorpost," it now refers to a small box containing a scroll (of the Hebrew text of the Shema prayer) which is affixed to the doorposts of Jewish homes. Strictly speaking, mezuzah only refers to the scroll itself, not the case in which it's housed. 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. The elevated area or platform in a synagogue, from which Torah is read. Worship service leaders, such as clergy, may lead services from the bimah as well. Hebrew word for an unleavened bread, traditionally eaten during the holiday of Passover. 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. Yiddish for "synagogue."

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.

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