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Interfaith Celebrities: HOF, PEDs and ER

Dec. 21, 2007

Newest Jews in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

Now is the time when the major entertainment industry awards and nominations start flowing like egg nog. This fest will continue well into March of next year. On Dec. 13, the names of the persons/bands who will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame next March were announced. On the same day, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association revealed the Golden Globe Nominations. The Globes are seen as a reasonable predictor of the upcoming Oscar nominations and I'll cover the interfaith connection to the Globe nominations in my next column.

Madonna
Is Madonna Jewish? Um, well, no, but yes, sorta. Here, Madonna carries her adopted son David at the Home of Hope orphanage in Mchinji village, 135 km (84 miles) west of  Lilongwe, the capital of Malawi, April 17, 2007. Malawi police and stone-throwing school students blocked journalists from covering pop star Madonna's visit to an orphanage on Tuesday where the boy she is adopting was due to meet his biological father. At right is Madonna's daughter Lourdes. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko (MALAWI)

To be eligible for induction into to the Rock Hall of Fame, an artist has to have recorded their first commercial work at least 25 years before induction. In other words, they have to have been around a while.

The 2008 inductees include Madonna, who made her first recording 25 years ago, in 1982. The Catholic-born Madonna has not converted to Judaism as some people seem to think. She does follow the teachings of the Kabbalah Centre. Discussing Madonna's beliefs and how they do and don't fit in with mainstream Judaism could fill several columns, so I'll just go on to the other inductees.

Another new inductee is singer/songwriter and poet Leonard Cohen, a Canadian Jew who remains a huge influence on new generations of singer/songwriters. Some of his most famous songs are "Suzanne" and "Hallejulah." Cohen's life was the subject of the excellent 2005 documentary, Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man, and I urge anyone who has any interest in Cohen to rent the DVD version.

Another inductee is the Ventures, a famous rock instrumental band. The band began in Seattle in 1958 and is still in existence. It is the best-selling rock instrumental band of all-time. Its sound was a huge influence on rock guitarists and the Ventures are seen as a major source of the surf rock sound. Everybody is familiar with two of their biggest hits----"Walk Don't Run" and the theme for the TV show "Hawaii Five-O." While their big-time American popularity mostly ended in the early '70s, they remain popular in Japan and Europe.

Quite a number of musicians were with the Ventures during the band's long history. However, the Hall picked for induction those members of the band whom they considered the most important. The five members of the Ventures going into the Hall include Mel Taylor, a hard rocking drummer that many judge one the best drummers in rock history.

Taylor (1933-'96) was born in Brooklyn, the son of a Jewish mother of Russian Jewish ancestry and a Protestant father whose roots were in the hills of Tennessee and whose ancestry was English, German, Dutch and Cherokee. Mel spent his early years in Brooklyn, but in 1939 the family moved to Johnson City, Tenn. His father's extended family included many bluegrass musicians and Mel studied guitar and banjo with them. He would frequently return to Brooklyn for family visits and became a life-long Dodgers fan. He picked up drums in high school in Tennessee. Meanwhile his brother, Larry "the Mole" Taylor, learned the bass guitar and later became famous as the bassist for the popular '60s rock band Canned Heat ("Goin' Up the Country").

In 1957, Taylor's family moved to California and after a stint in the Navy, Mel joined them. Gradually, he became a top studio recording drummer, playing sessions with such famous acts as Herb Alpert (who is Jewish) and country musician Buck Owens. He was the house drummer in a then-famous Hollywood club when the Ventures came into the club in 1962 and asked him to drum for them on a TV show because the band's drummer was unavailable. The next year, Taylor was asked to join the band as their one and only drummer and he stayed with the Ventures until his death from cancer in 1996. His son, Leon Taylor, now 52, took over for his father as the Ventures drummer and is still with the band. Mel Taylor is buried in a Los Angeles Jewish cemetery.

Jews on Juice

After looking over the just-released Mitchell report on steroid use among major league baseball players, I find only one Jewish player--Scott Schoeneweis, a journeyman relief pitcher who is currently with the New York Mets. Schoeneweis previously denied other reports that he ordered steroids from a mail-order pharmacy.

Schoeneweis is the son of a non-Jewish father and a Jewish mother. He did kind of a 360-degree turn in the last year in terms of "Jewish stuff." Before this year, he would acknowledge his interfaith background (he was raised without religion). But he wouldn't give reporters for Jewish newspapers the time-of-day. However, last summer he did a baseball clinic for a Jewish kids' camp sponsored by Chabad, a Hasidic Jewish organization.

Did Schoeneweis calm down after going off steroids and decide to act like a good person and do this clinic? (Inquiring minds will probably never know). Meanwhile, those among us with an odd turn of mind might say that there might have been more Jewish players in the majors if more Jews stupidly juiced with steroids.

Still a Mensch

In a previous column, I called interfaith actor Shia LaBeouf "almost a hero of mine" because of the incredible way he carved out his own career and rescued his own family. Then, on Nov. 4, LaBeouf was arrested for misdemeanor trespassing at a Walgreens drug store in Chicago.

Early news reports said that a security guard kicked LaBeouf out of the store because he seemed drunk. When LaBeouf attempted to go back into the store, the security guard detained and held him for the police. The police, acting on Walgreens complaint, then arrested LaBeouf.

This whole thing seemed out of character for LaBeouf, 21. He has never been associated with the Lindsay Lohan/Britney Spears abuse-drugs-and-screw-up crowd.

LaBeouf has told the press that he avoids drugs, because of the example of his father, a former drug addict. So far as I know, LaBeouf has never been in trouble and the only vice of his that I know about is cigarette smoking.

Several persons immediately called LaBeouf 's arrest to my attention and asked me whether LaBeouf could still be called "a hero." I told them to give the young man the benefit of the doubt and wait until more facts emerged.

Well, my Shia-istic faith has been pretty much vindicated--although the complete story may never emerge. TMZ.com, a pretty reliable source, reported on Nov. 29 that the official police report on LaBeouf 's arrest said that LaBeouf did not appear to the arresting police officer to be intoxicated or on drugs. The police noted that LaBeouf was polite and cooperative when arrested and the only things the young actor had on him when he was taken into custody was a Chapstick and some chewing gum. (Good stuff for a hot date. Not so good if you want to get high).

Then, on Dec. 12, TMZ.com was in court when LaBeouf appeared with his attorney. The charges were dropped because Walgreens decided they did not want to pursue the case. LaBeouf 's lawyer told TMZ that the actor is "happy to put this behind him and get back to work."

As I said, the whole story may never be known. In any event, I feel that nothing has emerged to make me take back my "almost hero" statement. (So there!)

Julianna's Jewish Wedding

Julianna Margulies
Julianna Margulies is the child of two Jewish parents, but her parents divorced when she was young and her mom converted to Christianity when she was 5. On Nov. 17, she married lawyer Keith Lieberthal, who was raised in a Conservative Jewish home. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni (UNITED STATES)

Julianna Margulies, 41, the pretty actress who's still best known for playing Nurse Carol Hathaway on TV's "ER," married lawyer Keith Lieberthal on Nov. 17. Her father told People magazine: "It was all traditional… She was radiant. It was beautiful. We're thrilled for her, and the young man she married is a wonderful person. We're proud to have him as a part of our family."

This is Margulies' first marriage. She is pregnant with her new husband's child.

The groom grew up in a religious home (his father, a Michigan college professor, was vice president of his Conservative synagogue). A personal source was kind enough to tell me that the couple had a Jewish wedding ceremony.

Based on these facts, I'd say that Julianna now identifies as Jewish despite a very odd background. Her parents were both born Jewish, but they divorced when Julianna was very young and her mother converted to Christianity when she was 5. In a 1998 interview, Margulies said that she "was not raised Jewish" (leaving unclear if she was raised in any faith) and that she didn't practice any religion as an adult.

Margulies had to forego a honeymoon to resume filming of her new Fox TV series, "Canterbury's Law," in which she stars as a courageous defense attorney. It starts in January and co-stars Jewish actor Ben Shenkman (Angels in America).

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." 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. Yiddish term for an honorable, decent person, usually means "a person of integrity and honor," someone of good character and a deep sense of what is right.

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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