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Interfaith Celebrities: Ice Dancers and Desirable Women

February 16, 2010

White at the Winter Games

In my previous column for Interfaith.com, I reported on three American athletes going to the Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver: ice dancer Ben Agosto, bobsledder Steve Mesler, and biathlon athlete Laura Spector. (Agosto and Mesler are the sons of a Jewish mother and a non-Jewish father. Spector's parents are both Jewish).

Charlie White and Meryl Davis
Meryl Davis (L) and Charlie White pose with their medals after winning the championship dance competition at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Spokane, Washington January 23, 2010. Photo: Reuters/Lucy Nicholson.

Last week, thanks to a call his proud Jewish grandma made to the Detroit Jewish News,I learned of another about another Olympic athlete, ice dancer Charlie White.

White, 22, has been dancing with his partner, Meryl Davis, since 1997 and the team has really come into its own in the last few years, winning the 2009 and 2010 U. S. ice dancing championships.

They are now ranked 2nd in the world in their sport and they are ranked ahead of Ben Agosto and Agosto's skating partner, Tanith Belbin.

White and Davis are coached and choreographed by Igor Shpiland, a Russian Jewish immigrant. Based in Michigan, Shpiland has coached many famous ice dancing teams, including Agosto and Belbin, though the latter team now has a different, also Russian Jewish, coach.

Born in Dearborn, Mich., White grew up in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., a heavily Jewish suburb of Detroit. He currently is a University of Michigan student.

White's Jewish grandmother told the Detroit Jewish News that her daughter, Charlie White's mother, is Jewish. She added that her grandson's father is not Jewish and that Charlie was raised in a secular household.

The ice dancing competition is a three-part event. It begins on Friday, February 19, continues on Sunday, February 21 and concludes on Monday, February 22. On all three nights, it will be broadcast on NBC, live, at 8PM, EST, and 7PM, CST. On the Pacific Coast, it is shown on tape delay and will be broadcast at 8PM PST. You can read more about the pair on their website.

Popularity Contest Winners

Each year, the popular website Askmen.com posts a list of the "Top 99 Most Desirable Women." Site visitors are asked to choose the woman they would most want to have as their wife or girlfriend. Last year, seven women of Jewish and interfaith background appeared on the list. This year, six million site visitors voted and 10 Jewish/Interfaith women are on the list. The number one spot went to actress Emanuelle Chriqui, 31. Other women who won a spot in this list were Israeli model Bar Refaeli, 24, actress Natalie Portman, 28, actress Scarlett Johansson, 25, actress Mila Kunis, 26, model  Brooke Burke, 38, business executive and recent convert to Judaism Ivanka Trump, 28, comedian Chelsea Handler, 34, former reality show star/fashion designer Whitney Port, 24 and actress Jamie-Lynn Sigler, 28.

Chriqui co-stars in the HBO series Entourage. She was born in Montreal, and raised in Toronto, the daughter of Moroccan Sephardi parents. She was #12 on the Askmen.com list in 2009.

When Askmen.com informed Chriqui of her #1 ranking this year, she diplomatically replied: "Hearing what that vote is made of is the biggest compliment of all because it's not just about being 'hot' but about being a well-rounded woman. That's really empowering -- people recognize that I care about other things."

Bar Refaeli has moved up from #34 in 2009 to #13 this year. Her fame quotient got a rocket boost last year when Sports Illustrated put her on the cover of their annual best-selling swimsuit issue.

 Jamie-Lynn Sigler
Jamie-Lynn Sigler. Photo: Reuters/Danny Moloshok.

Last year, I wrote about the Israeli model: "Refaeli has long been involved in on-and-off romantic relationship with Leonardo DiCaprio, who isn't Jewish. Prior to being with DiCaprio, she briefly dated hunky Jewish actor David Charvet, 36, of Baywatch fame. Charvet found more mature company with Brooke Burke and they've been engaged for three years and have two children together. Burke's mother is Jewish and she identifies as Jewish."

Well, early last year, Refaeli broke up with DiCaprio again. Then reports surfaced in November, 2009 that the absurdly good looking couple were again an item. The rumors of the reunion were confirmed when tabloids and gossip sites ran photos of Bar and Leonardo, together, touring the ruins of Pompeii on Feb. 7, 2010.

Number 17 on this year's list, Portman, the Jerusalem-born, American-raised Jewish actress, didn't make the list last year for some odd reason. Portman is a special favorite of the American Jewish community for the model way she has lived her life: no scandals, classy roles, a "serious" Harvard degree, her work for debt relief for people in Third World countries and her articulate and nuanced statements in support of the State of Israel.

Johansson, who co-starred with Portman in the so/so dramatic film, The Other Boleyn Girl, dropped from #7 on Askmen.com's list in 2009 to #23 in 2010, probably because she had few high profile roles this past year. As noted in past columns, Johansson's mother is Jewish and she identifies as Jewish.

Kunis dropped five places this year, from #27 in 2009 to #32 in 2010. Last year, she was just coming off co-starring in the hit comedy film, "Saving Paula Marshall. Kunis, who was born in the Ukraine to Jewish parents, is still linked with her long-term romantic partner, actor Macauley Culkin, who isn't Jewish.

Burke, the model and Dancing with the Stars champ, mysteriously moved up from #93 to #47 this year. Perhaps fans of relatively older actresses stuffed the web ballot box. She's still living with David Chavret.

The beautiful and brainy Ivanka Trump, a Jew-by-choice recently profiled in this column, appears on the list for the first time, occupying the #62 spot.

Comedian and talk show host Chelsea Handler (#78) is the best selling author of several memoirs laced with humor. As noted in this column, Handler is the daughter of a Jewish father and a Mormon mother. She identifies as Jewish.

Here is an excerpt from Whitney Port's Wikipedia biography: "Port is an American TV personality, clothing designer, model and occasional actress. She is most famous for her former role on the MTV reality television series The Hills and later, as the star of her own show, The City. She is a former fashion contributor for Teen Vogue and used to work for [Jewish fashion designer] Diane von Fürstenberg."

Port, who is #81 on the Askmen.com list, has described herself as Jewish. I am not 100% sure, but I believe both her parents are Jewish.

Finally, last on Askmen.com's list but not least, there's Jamie-Lynn Sigler. In January 2008 I wrote: "Jamie-Lynn Sigler, 26, is currently touring Israel as part of a birthright Israel tour. Sigler is best known for playing Meadow Soprano, the daughter of mob boss Tony Soprano, on 'The Sopranos.' Sigler grew up in a New York City suburb. Her father…is of Greek Jewish (Sephardi) and Romanian (Ashkenazi) Jewish background. Jamie's mother is from Cuba and was born a Catholic. She converted to Judaism around the time of her marriage to Jamie's father."

Sigler had a short-lived marriage to her much older Italian Catholic business manager and, until recently, was dating an Italian-American Catholic actor.

I suspect that Sigler's appearance on the Askmen.com list this year is due to her appearance, last season, in a high profile role on HBO's Entourage. (She didn't make the list in 2009.) Entourage centers on a fictional young movie star who surrounds himself with his childhood friends and his brother. Entourage. The story line had it that Sigler met the Entourage character called Turtle on a plane flight and they hit it off and began an improbable romantic relationship which lasted almost the whole TV season. They broke up when Sigler's character on the show had to move to New Zealand for at least a year to work on a TV series.

This story line was long a mystery to me: I could understand Sigler ignoring the fact that Turtle is fairly homely. But is it remotely plausible that Sigler would also overlook the fact that Turtle is just a minor go-fer for a Hollywood star and that he isn't exactly well-rounded human being? It seems as though Turtle has never read a book. Would Sigler really date such a guy?

Well, the mystery of Sigler's attraction for "Turtle" was solved when I learned that Sigler and the actor who plays Turtle, Brookyn-born Italian Catholic actor Jerry Ferrera, 30, were a romantic item before Sigler appeared on the show.

Sigler gave her (real life) boyfriend and her boyfriend's character a nice boost on the show by appearing as his girlfriend on Entourage. It made the Turtle character more sexy, and, in the way of things, earned Turtle the admiration of his fictional friends. (He was dating 'Meadow Soprano'!)

I have no doubt that Ferrera, a successful actor, is a lot more well-rounded guy than Turtle and his real-life relationship with Sigler is not so improbable. Still, the confusion of TV and reality was pretty bizarre in this case.

In any event, life imitated art when, in December, 2009, Sigler announced that she and Ferrera had recently broke up for real. She told Page Six Magazine: "Jerry Ferrara is a very special person, and I'll leave it there. I'm not a good dater. It takes a lot for me to even want to kiss someone. I have to have a connection, and those are rare for me."

By the way, last season Emmanuelle Chriqui's very likable Entourage character, Sloan, got engaged to Eric, the member of the star's entourage who manages the star actor. Eric is depicted as the most likeable of the star's friends—intelligent, hard-working, sensible—and handsome—but not too handsome (he is short).

My gut tells me that a lot of guys who went to Askmen.com and voted Chriqui the "world's most desirable woman" were confusing her with her role--they like Sloan and they like Eric--a "regular guy"--and so they like Chriqui. So, for Chriqui, the ever blurring line in TV between actors/actresses and the roles they play turned out to be a definite plus.

An international program that sends thousands of young Jews to Israel each year for free. Having Jewish family origins in Germany or Eastern Europe. Having Jewish family origins in Spain, Portugal or North Africa. The term literally means "Spanish" in Hebrew.

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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