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Interfaith Celebrities: Irish-Jewish Connections; Another Waltz Story; and Miller's Jewish Novel

March 19, 2013

Admission

Trailer for Admissions.

Admission, a comedy/drama which opens in theaters on Friday, March 22, is based on the acclaimed 2009 novel of the same name by well-respected writer Jean Hanff Korelik, 51. Korelik, who is Jewish, has lived in Princeton, N.J. since 1990. Her husband, Paul Muldoon, 61, a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, is a Princeton University professor. He holds a distinguished endowed professorship and is chair of the Lewis Center for the Arts. (More on Korelik and Muldoon, below.)

The movie's plot: Princeton University admissions officer Portia Nathan (Tina Fey, 42) makes a recruiting visit to an alternative high school run by John Pressman, a former college classmate (played by Jewish actor Paul Rudd, 43). Pressman has guessed that Jeremiah, a gifted student of his, might be the son that Nathan secretly gave up for adoption while she was in college.

Nathan finds herself putting her career at risk to help Jeremiah (played by interfaith actor Nat Wolff, 18) get into Princeton. Meanwhile, she finds herself falling for Pressman. Jewish actor Wallace Shawn, 69, who can be quite funny, has a supporting role as Nathan's stiff colleague. Lily Tomlin, 73, reportedly almost steals the film with her slightly over-the-top performance as Portia, Nathan's fiercely feminist mother.

Interfaith actor Nat Wolff, 18, the former co-star of the hit Nickelodeon kids' show, The Naked Brothers Band, plays Jeremiah.

Nat Wolff in Admissions.

Back in 2007, I profiled Wolff, then 12, and his brother, Alex, then 9. They had just begun their co-starring roles on The Naked Brothers Band. The series ran from 2007-2009 and would have run longer, except their parents decided that the demands of the TV show would disrupt their schooling.

I wrote, in part:

Naked follows the boys' rock band, their friends, and their kiddie crushes. The boys really do play instruments and are entertaining "naturals." But how they got on the air is a bit more complicated. Their dad is highly respected Jewish jazz pianist Michael Wolff [now 60]. He met the boys' mother, actress Polly Draper [now 57], when he was music director for Arsenio Hall's talk show in the early '90s. Draper is best known for co-starring as Ellen Warren on TV's thirtysomething. I am sure Draper is not Jewish by birth. However, my sources are unclear whether she converted to Judaism upon marrying Michael Wolff. I don't think so, but I cannot say one way or the other with certainty.

Inspired by their sons' real-life band, Wolff and Draper made a comic film about the boys in 2005 called "The Naked Brothers Band." Nickelodeon execs loved the film… and turned it into a TV series. Polly Draper produces the TV show and Michael plays the boys' father on TV.

Michael Wolff told the Cleveland Jewish News that his family is "culturally Jewish" and that he, Draper, and his sons celebrate Passover and Chanukah.


Since the series ended, the brothers have kept a hand in music. They composed all the songs for their TV series, and, in 2011, they formed a duo called Nat and Alex Wolff and released a CD in October, 2011. Nat has been the much more active actor of the two brothers, with nice supporting roles in recent feature films, including New Year's Eve (2011) and Peace, Love, and Misunderstanding (2012).

Admission is directed by Paul Weitz, 47, who is the brother of filmmaker Chris Weitz, 43. Together they directed two hits: the original American Pie film (1999) and About a Boy (2001). Paul's solo directing projects include Little Fockers (2010) and Being Flynn (2012).

Back in 2009, I went through Weitz's family background, which includes two fairly famous parents and two well-known grandparents. In short, three of his grandparents were Jewish and his only surviving grandparent, Mexican actress Lupita Tovar, now 102(!), is of Catholic background. The brothers Weitz were raised in a secular household.

I guess it's appropriate that just before St. Patrick's Day, I discovered another interesting Irish/Jewish interfaith couple.[1] I am speaking of Jean Hanff Korelitz and her husband, Paul Muldoon. While checking whether Korelitz was Jewish, I discovered an interesting blog post from 2009 in which she describes herself as Jewish. The article, which should interest readers of this column, is entitled "A (Jewish) Christmas Carol."

Muldoon was born in Northern Ireland to Catholic parents. The couple met while Korelitz was living in England. They married in 1987 and have two children, Dorothy, now 20, and a son, Asher, now 14. Their New York Times wedding announcement notes that they were married at the bride's parents' home by Reform Rabbi Michael A. Robinson, an almost legendary social activist rabbi who died in 2006.

Andy Samberg Gets Engaged: Irish-Jewish Connections

Joanna Newsom and Andy Samberg at the premier of The Dark Knight Rises.

Jewish comedian and actor Andy Samberg, 34, announced last month that he and his girlfriend of five years, musician Joanna Newsom, 31, had become engaged.

Like Samberg, Newsom is a native Californian. He grew up in Berkeley and she grew-up in Nevada City, a smallish town not far from Lake Tahoe. Her varied talents as a harpist, vocalist, and songwriter are on the linked biography. Newsom comes from a Catholic family, like her second cousin, once removed, Gavin Newsom, now the Lieutenant Governor of California and, previously, the mayor of San Francisco. (All members of the Newsom family are of at least partially Irish Catholic descent. Their original Newsom ancestor was of Irish Catholic background.)

When I looked up previous references to Samberg in this column, I came across one in which I noted that he co-starred in the hit movie I Love You, Man with Paul Rudd (who seems to be in everything!) and interfaith actress Rashida Jones. Since I wrote that column, I realized that I had left Jones out of my prior St. Patrick's Day coverage. Her mother, actress Peggy Lipton, is the daughter of a Jewish mother who was born and raised in Ireland and Jones, as I reported, traveled to Ireland in 2012 to explore her family roots. Her father, famous musician/producer Quincy Jones, is African-American.

Oscar® Follow-Ups — One with an Irish Connection

Frankly, I was a bit surprised when Austrian actor Christoph Waltz, 55, won the best supporting actor Oscar® (for Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained) at the recent Academy Awards®. Waltz, who isn't Jewish, won the same Oscar® for playing a horrible "Jew-hunting" SS Officer in Tarantino's 2009 film, Inglorious Basterds, and Academy voters tend to vote for actors who haven't been given an Oscar® before. But, they voted for Waltz and now he is in the rarefied category of multiple Oscar® winners.

Oscar winners Daniel Day-Lewis, Jennifer Lawrence, Anne Hathaway, and Christoph Waltz. Photograph: Peter West/Rex Features

In my recent Oscars® coverage, I noted that Waltz's ex-wife was an American Jew and at last report his son was studying to be a rabbi in Israel. I also related how Waltz's grandfather's first wife was Jewish and that her daughter, Waltz's "half aunt," saved her mother from the Nazis.

On March 9, the Jerusalem Post reported that Waltz was set to travel to Israel the following week to attend the wedding of his daughter, Miriam, 30. The Post also reported that his son "is a rabbi in Israel." Long story short: my research has disclosed that the Post was right about the first point, but not about the second. I came across an Austrian magazine report that was published just before the Oscars® and it clarified matters.

Here's the gist of the report:

Waltz's ex-wife, Jackie, whose maiden name I still don't know, is an American Jewish psychotherapist. She and Christoph Waltz had three children: Miriam; Rachel, now 25; and Leon, 27. The Austrian magazine interviewed the chief rabbi of Vienna, Paul Chaim Eisenberg, who knows Leon Waltz very well and has often had Shabbat dinners with him.

Leon, the magazine says, is often in Austria to visit his paternal grandmother. The rabbi said that Leon did finish (within the last year or so) a several-year course of study at a Jerusalem yeshiva. But his studies didn't have to end in rabbinic ordination and Leon chose not to be ordained. Leon, an Orthodox Jew, now works as a scientist in London. He is also working on writing Jewish historical studies. The rabbi added that Leon and his father are close, but Leon couldn't bear to watch his father act in an SS uniform in Inglorious Basterds.

It wasn't a surprise when interfaith actor Daniel Day Lewis, 55, won his third best actor Oscar® for his tour-de-force performance in the title role in Steven Spielberg's Lincoln. Day-Lewis is the secular son of an Irish Protestant father, the late Cecil Day-Lewis, who was the poet laureate of England, and his wife, the late English Jewish actress Jill Balcon.

Day-Lewis has been married to writer and filmmaker Rebecca Miller, 50, since 1996 and they have two sons. Miller is the daughter of the late Arthur Miller, the famous Jewish playwright, and his wife, the late Austrian-born, Protestant photographer Inge Morath. Day-Lewis and Miller travel between homes in New York City and in the Republic of Ireland. Day-Lewis has dual Irish/British citizenship.

Miller, who wasn't raised in any faith, briefly flirted with Catholicism as a teen. But she's has been secular as an adult. Her husband is also secular. She was briefly an actress, but turned to making films that she has both directed and wrote. The best received, so far, is Personal Velocity (2002), which consisted of three portraits of three very different women.

I was not surprised that Miller would try her hand at writing a novel. But I was surprised when I read that her first novel, Jacob's Folly, which was published on March 5, has so many Jewish themes. Miller was interviewed by the Glamour Magazine blog, "The Conversation" on March 11 about her new novel.

Here's how the author introduced her interview. As she puts it, the novel has a very unique plot:

Were I not already a devotee of Rebecca Miller's, I would have picked up Jacob's Folly due to the uniqueness (read: awesomeness) of its plot: An 18th century Parisian Jewish peddler wakes up to find himself reincarnated as a fly in 21st century America, able to influence the lives of a fireman and an Orthodox young woman. As it turns out, unsurprisingly, the novel is as brilliant as it is bizarre. Miller explores themes of identity, religion, ambition, guilt, desire, all through the consciousness of a fly. And yes, she pulls off. I was lucky enough to talk to Rebecca about researching fly sex, Challah, and even a few questions about the novel.

I urge you to read the rest of the interview. As Miller, who describes herself as "half-Jewish," says, the research on the novel took her down all sorts of paths that acquainted her with Judaism, including contemporary Orthodox Judaism, Jewish folklore, and Jewish history.

The Boston Globe gave the novel a mostly positive review.

The Ten Commandments to Air

Happy Passover and Happy Easter to my readers. Once again this year, ABC will air the 1956 blockbuster, The Ten Commandments on Saturday, March 30, at 7 p.m., EDT.

If you want to be the know-it-all in front of your TV set, read my 2011 column on the movie, it also includes some other Passover related celebrity material.


[1]Back in 2009, I wrote the following article for InterfaithFamily in honor of St. Patrick's Day: "A Pint of Guinness, A Cup of Manischewitz: Some Irish/Jewish Connections."

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. The spring holiday commemorating the Exodus of the Jews from slavery in Egypt. The Hebrew name is "Pesach." A bread that comes in a few different varieties; its most common variation is a braided egg bread, though there are water challahs that don't have eggs, and there are whole-wheat challahs which sometimes also don't have eggs. It is customary to being Sabbath and holiday meals by saying blessings and eating challah. The Jewish Sabbath, from sunset on Friday to nightfall on Saturday. 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.

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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