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Interfaith Celebrities: Harry Potter Is A Half-Jewish Prince

July 21, 2009

New Harry Potter, New Poet

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince opened in theaters on Wednesday, July 15 to good reviews. Daniel Radcliffe, 19, once again stars as Harry. Harry's mentor, Dumbledore, teaches him new skills to fend off the evil Lord Voldemort. While coping with the fate of the wizarding world, Harry gets involved in a teen romance with Ginny, his best friend's sister.

Daniel Radcliffe New York 2009
Daniel Radcliffe arrives for the premiere of the film Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince in New York July 9, 2009. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson.

Radcliffe was the subject of a recent long profile and interview in The Guardian. Radcliffe is now a legal adult, he has bought an apartment and he has a girlfriend, an actress he met while starring in "Equus" on Broadway.

The young actor is currently filming two upcoming Harry Potter films: the last book in the Potter saga will be released as two films. Both films are now being made at the same time.

The Guardian's Craig McClean says: "He [Radcliffe] has published some poems under a pen name. It seems to be Jacob Gershon: Jacob is his middle name, Gershon the Jewish version of Gresham, his mother's anglicised maiden name." (Radcliffe's mother is Jewish. His father is not).

On being Jewish, Radcliffe told the paper: "I'm an atheist, but I'm very proud of being Jewish. It means I have a good work ethic, and you get Jewish humor and you're allowed to tell Jewish jokes?"

That's the Jewish part, but what about the prince part? A blogger at InterfaithFamily.com's partner organization, My Jewish Learning, referred to Radcliffe as "a real mensch" because of how sweetly he treated a pre-teen reporter covering the opening of his film, holding back the adult reporters so she could ask her questions.

Ivanka Trump Marrying Jared Kushner

On July 16, Ivanka Trump, 27, and New York Observer newspaper publisher Jared Kushner, 28, announced their engagement. (Trump announced it informally on Twitter.) Kushner comes from a prominent New Jersey Orthodox Jewish family most active in real estate. His father, Charles Kushner, is a major philanthropist whose projects include the Jewish Educational Center in Elizabeth, N.J., and the Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy and the Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School in Livingston, N.J. The schools are named after Charles' late parents, both Holocaust survivors.

Ivanka is the daughter of real-estate mogul Donald Trump and his ex-wife, Ivana Trump, neither of whom are Jewish. Ivanka is currently vice president of real estate development and acquisitions at the Trump Organization.

On July 17, New York magazine published a recent interview with the couple. Here is an excerpt:

Ivanka and Jared appear, genuinely, to be very much in love. [Ivanka says] "Jared is my best friend for many reasons, largely because I've allowed him to see who I truly am and he still loves me. I don't feel like I have any defensive He's so kind as a human being, I look up to him," she said. "He's a bit of a hero of mine. His ability to remain focused--he lacks an anxiety that's natural for someone his age handed so much responsibility. Sometimes I catch myself looking at him and being thankful that I have grown to a level of personal maturity that I would value so much the qualities he has."

"We met through mutual friends," [Ivanka] told me. "We started dating pretty quickly after we met. It still felt like a slow process--a courtship, if you will." Jared's Orthodox Jewish background presented a challenge to the relationship, but Ivanka has worked hard to show Jared's parents that she embraces Judaism. This week, she completed her conversion, after studying under Rabbi Hillel Lookstein at [Modern Orthodox] Congregation Kellillath Jeshrun on the Upper East Side. (Before this, they could not be officially engaged.) This spring, for instance, Ivanka attended a benefit for the Mikvah, the traditional Jewish bath, in Jared's hometown of Livingston, New Jersey, with his mom, Seyrl, and his two sisters, Nicole and Dara."...

On the Dangers of "Romantic" Tattoos

By now, you've probably heard that Brit retro-pop singer Amy Winehouse, who is Jewish, and her non-Jewish husband, roadie Blake Fielder-Civil, got a divorce last week. I've covered Winehouse's marriage and her ongoing career problems related to drug abuse. Winehouse has been open about her problems, using them in her songs and in her onstage personna. CNN reported:

It was Winehouse's husband, Blake Fielder-Civil, who filed for divorce, [Winehouse spokesman Chris] Goodman said. It was not clear on what grounds he sought the split, although news reports citing his attorney, Henri Brandman, said "Amy's adultery" was the reason. Brandman could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday.

The couple's two-year marriage has been fraught with public ups and downs as Winehouse battled drug abuse. Fielder-Civil was convicted of perverting the course of justice following a bar fight and was released from prison earlier this year.

Winehouse returned to Britain last week from a six-month stay on the Caribbean island of St. Lucia.

Winehouse will take away from the failed marriage a souvenir that many other people in failed relationships also have--a very prominent tattoo of her ex-husband's name on her body. Back when the duo were hot and heavy for each other, Amy went all out and had herself tattooed with the word "Blake's" in big black script letters--just above her left breast/heart.

It will take a lot of trips to the dermatologist for laser therapy to get rid of this tattoo. More likely, Winehouse will have another tattoo added to cover the word "Blake's."

Probably the most famous celebrity romantic tattoo alteration was done by Johnny Depp. The actor was in a romantic relationship with actress Winona Ryder, whose father is Jewish, from 1989-1993. He had the words "Winona Forever" tattooed on his right bicep. After the couple broke up, Depp had the last two letters of Ryder's first name erased--the tattoo now reads, "Wino Forever."

Winehouse and Depp's unfortunate tattoos made me think about the Jewish religious rule against tattooing. Most scholars think the traditional rule stems from the association of tattooing with ancient pagan religions and cults. For whatever reason, some Jewish celebrities from interfaith backgrounds, like Harrison Ford, have chosen not to get tattoos to show their Jewish pride. Other Jews ignore the prohibition--and can wind up with a life-long reminder that, as Winehouse sings in one of her songs, "Love is a losing game."

Gay Rabbi in Poland with a Hollywood Connection

As the cliché goes, "Truth is stranger than fiction." Just 20 years ago, there barely was a Jewish community left in then-Communist Poland, and there were virtually no openly gay rabbis in the world.

Today, in Warsaw, an openly gay rabbi, Aaron Katz, born in Argentina of Polish Jewish parents, is serving a Reform congregation and helping to revive the small Jewish community of Poland. Katz, who was trained as an Orthodox rabbi, was once the chief Orthodox rabbi of Sweden.

His life partner is Kevin Gleason, a former Hollywood producer of reality TV shows. Gleason and Katz entered into a registered domestic partnership in Los Angeles two years ago. Gleason was born a Catholic, but according to this Associated Press story converted to Judaism for Rabbi Katz.

Hebrew, literally, for "sitting," refers to a Jewish educational institution that focuses on the study of traditional religious texts (including Torah and Talmud study). A yeshiva can be a day school for elementary or high school students, or a place of study for adults. Traditionally, a yeshiva was attended by boys/men only; more recently, yeshivas have opened for girls/women and even co-ed yeshivas now exist. A language of West Semitic origins, culturally considered to be the language of the Jewish people. Ancient or Classical Hebrew is the language of Jewish prayer or study. Modern Hebrew was developed in the late-19th and early 20th centuries as a revival language; today it is spoken by most Israelis.
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. Hebrew for "collection," referring to the "collection of water," is a bath used for the purpose of ritual immersion in Judaism. Today it is used as part of the traditional procedure for converting to Judaism, by Jews who follow the laws of ritual (body) purity, and sometimes for making kitchen utensils kosher. 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. Hebrew for "covenant," often referring to the ritual for Jewish boys when they are 8 days old ("brit milah" - "covenant of circumcision"). It is commonly known as "bris," which is the Ashkenazi or Yiddish pronunciation of "brit."

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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