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Interfaith Celebrities: Is Sedgwick Closer to an Emmy, or Will Margulies Make Good?

Aug. 17, 2010

Interfaith Emmy Nominees: Sedgwick, Margulies, Lea Michele and More

Julianna Margulies
Julianna Margulies, shown discussing her new show last August, is the favorite to win best actress in a drama at the Primetime Emmy ceremony on Sunday, Aug. 29. Photo by Fred Prousser/Reuters.

With her Screen Actors Guild and Golden Globe wins earlier this year, Julianna Margulies is a heavy favorite to win best actress in a drama series for her role on The Good Wife, at the Primetime Emmy Awards (NBC, Sunday, Aug. 29, 8 p.m. EDT/5 p.m. PDT). But she has some competition from Kyra Sedgwick, who has been nominated five times in a row for her role on The Closer but has yet to win. The daughter of a Jewish mother and a Protestant father, Sedgwick identifies as Jewish.

Margulies, meanwhile, is the daughter of two Jewish parents, but her mother converted to Christianity when Julianna was a small child. She married her husband, lawyer Keith Lieberthal, in a Jewish ceremony in 2007, and they had a son, Kieran, in 2008.

Recently, Margulies told talk show host Ellen DeGeneres and W magazine that she named their son, "Kieran, to honor my husband's Irish side." She added, "Yes, my husband's an Irish Jew. He can drink and think."

My gut interpretation of Margulies' remarks is that Lieberthal's mother is Irish, and probably isn't Jewish by birth. But, I don't know really know for sure. When I checked in 2007, my impression was that both of Leiberthal's parents belonged to a Michigan synagogue.

Margulies also addressed the issue of ethnic typecasting in her W interview, telling them: "It's funny; people always thought I was Greek or Italian--in fact, I'm Jewish." Earlier in her career, her looks presented a problem with casting directors who wanted stereotypical American beauty. "But as I've gotten older, the less ethnic my roles have become. I don't know--maybe it's because I've learned to pluck my eyebrows? They used to be really big and bushy.'"

By the way, Margulies' The Good Wife co-star, non-Jewish actor Alan Cumming is nominated for an Emmy for best guest actor in a drama series for playing political consultant Eli Gold, who is supposed to be a religious Jew.

The Eli Gold character will become a The Good Wife regular (as opposed to guest) series character this upcoming TV season. Cumming is simply terrific as Gold.

Lea Michele
Lea Michele, the daughter of a Sephardic Jewish father and an Italian Catholic mother, is nominated for her role as the feisty, talented Rachel Berry in Glee. She is shown performing at the Tony Awards in June. Photo by Gary Hershorn/Reuters.

Newcomer and hot TV star Lea Michele (Glee) is nominated for best actress in a comedy or musical series. Michele, the daughter of a Sephardic Jewish father and an Italian Catholic mother, was raised with exposure to both faiths.

By the way, Michele's original last name is Sarfati (her father's last name). She decided to use her middle name as her professional last name during high school. She recently told Rolling Stone that other kids teasing her about her funny sounding last name was a factor in her name-change decision.

Larry David, the Jewish star and creator of Curb Your Enthusiasm, is nominated for the fourth time for best lead actor in a comedy for playing "Larry David" in his acerbic pseudo-autobiographical comedy series. Some predict this is his year.

Über-veteran Jewish actor Eli Wallach, 94, is nominated for best guest actor in a comedy for his role on Nurse Jackie. Wallach has been married since 1948 to actress Anne Jackson, 83, who isn't Jewish, and they have three children. They have frequently appeared together, most often on the stage.

Wallach competes with Jon Hamm, who is nominated for his leading role on Mad Men, as well as his guest star role on 30 Rock. Hamm's life partner of many years is interfaith actress Jennifer Westfeldt (Kissing Jessica Stein), who identifies as Jewish.

Also worthy of note is the Emmy nomination of actress Joan Allen (who isn't Jewish), for playing painter Georgia O'Keefe in the made-for-TV movie, Georgia O'Keefe. As covered in this column, the film was about the real-life relationship between O'Keefe, who wasn't Jewish, and photographer Alfred Steiglitz, who was Jewish.

The film itself is nominated for best made-for-TV film and the director, Agnieszka Holland, 61, is nominated for best director. Holland was born in post-war Poland, the daughter of a Polish Jewish father who barely survived the Holocaust and a Polish Catholic mother. Holland's mother fought with the Polish anti-Nazi underground during WWII.

Several of Holland's feature films have dealt with the Holocaust, including her most famous film, Europa, Europa (1990), based on the true story of a German Jewish teenager who evaded the Nazis by pretending to be non-Jewish--and eventually ended-up in a SS youth cadet training school!

Holland's interesting life story is too voluminous for this column, so check out her Wikipedia entry.

Dancing with the Clintons

If you had the sense that every detail of the spectacular wedding of Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky was choreographed, you're more right than you know. The interfaith couple actually hired a choreographer for their wedding dances. Appropriately enough, the choreographer is from an interfaith family himself.

Quoting the Los Angeles Times' gossip blog on the wedding:

Who needs pre-wedding dance lessons from that Arthur Murray guy when you can get choreography from "Dancing With the Stars" pro Maksim Chmerkovskiy instead?
Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky's "sultry" first dance as husband and wife--part of a little wedding celebration that went down Saturday in New York--was not only on-trend, wedding reception wise, but it was choreographed by the ballroom pro, People [magazine] reports.
"It was an amazing, funny, unexpected dance," a friend of the bride told the mag.
Chmerkovskiy partnered with Erin Andrews in the most recent season of "[Dancing with the Stars]" and has in the past danced with Tia Carrere, Laila Ali, Denise Richards, Misty May-Treanor, Willa Ford, Debi Mazar and Mel B, who was the runner-up that cycle.

Back in December 2007, I discussed Chmerkovskiy's interfaith background. I wrote:

Pro dancer Maksim Chmerkovskiy, 27, another good-looking guy from the former Soviet Union, was paired this season with ex-Spice Girl Melanie Brown and the couple finished second. Chmerkovskiy expressed a wish to visit Israel to explore his heritage and told a fan via his website, "My mother is Christian and my father is Jewish (we are a confused family), so my brother and I got the best of both worlds. However, we live a life closer to that of a Jewish family."

By the way, legendary dance teacher Arthur Murray (1895-1991) was born Moses Teichman. His parents, Polish Jews, came to the United States with their children in 1897. Arthur (Moses) was just 2 when he danced on to American soil.

A Major League Bar Mitzvah

On Aug. 9, former major league outfielder Elliot Maddox, 62, celebrated his bar mitzvah at a Jewish summer camp run by the New Jersey "Y" organization. The camp director invited Maddox to celebrate his bar mitzvah there after learning that Maddox, who had converted to Judaism in 1975, never had a bar mitzvah ceremony. Some 300 campers attended the celebration.

For the last five years, Maddox has helped his former New York Yankee teammate Ron Blomberg run baseball clinics at the camp. (Blomberg, as you might guess, is Jewish, too).

Blomberg, famous as baseball's first designated hitter, said of Maddox and the ceremony: "He's a brother of mine and a teammate of mine and this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I would never have missed."

Maddox, who is African-American, grew-up in Union, N.J., the son of religious Christian parents. Many of his friends and Little League teammates were Jewish and one young Jewish friend took it upon himself to acquaint Maddox with Judaism.

Maddox was drawn to Judaism. His interest continued as he went off to attend the University of Michigan, where he took some courses in Judaic studies. He left Michigan after two years when he was drafted in 1968 by the Detroit Tigers. However, he eventually got his degree in 1976 by taking courses in the off-season.

An excellent defensive player, Maddox spent the 1970 season with the Tigers before being traded. All told, he played 10 years in the majors, mostly with the Yankees and Mets. In 1974, while with the Yankees, he had his best offensive year, hitting over .300 and coming in eighth in the voting for Most Valuable Player. The same year, he began his conversion studies with a Conservative rabbi in New York.

Maddox on his "late in life" bar mitzvah:

I'm a firm believer that when you reach one milestone or goal in life, the best thing you can do is set another so that you're always striving for something else. I want the campers here to see that you're never too old to fulfill a dream. There are meaningful things that I wanted to do in my life but never had the chance. I was a pre-med student in college but I never pursued a medical degree. I thought about entering politics but never did so. With this bar mitzvah I was able to do one of the meaningful things that I didn't get done earlier in my life. This was an opportunity for me to carry on the tradition that has passed through generations of Jewish history, and I'm a proud participant in that chain.

Details on Maddox's marriages are hard to find in readily available sources. I gather he has been married twice, both times to African-American women, and he has a least one child, a son. In a 2006 profile, Maddox said that his son had a ritual circumcision, or bris.

Maddox, as I noted in a 2007 column, is not the only former major leaguer to convert to Judaism. Retired Dodger catcher Steve Yeager and retired White Sox pitcher Joel Horlen also "joined the tribe" around the time they married Jewish women.

Hebrew for "son of the commandments." In modern Jewish practice, Jewish boys come of age at 13. When a boy comes of age, he is officially a bar mitzvah and considered an adult. The term is commonly used as a short-hand for the bar mitzvah's coming-of-age ceremony and/or celebration. The female equivalent is "bat mitzvah." Of the culture of Jews with family origins in Spain, Portugal or North Africa. 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 "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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