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Interfaith Celebrities: Jews on Ice, Christina's Baby and Meadow's Trip to Israel

Jan. 22, 2008

Aguilera's Infant

Christina Aguilera and Tony Bennett

Christina Aguilera recently gave birth to a boy from her Jewish husband, Jordan Bratman. She and Tony Bennett--shown performing together at the 58th Primetime Emmy Awards in the September--are up for a Grammy for best vocal collaboration for "Steppin' Out." REUTERS/Mike Blake

Famous pop singer Christina Aguilera, 27, gave birth to her first child, Max Liron Bratman, on Jan. 12. Her husband is music executive Jordan Bratman, 30, who she married in a Jewish ceremony in 2006 after a four-year courtship. On her official website, Aguilera writes that "Max Liron means the 'greatest joy' or the 'greatest song' in Hebrew… A Capricorn. Watch out… he's going to be a strong-willed dude!"

On Sunday, Jan. 21, about a dozen family and friends attended Max's bris at Aguilera and Bratman's Beverly Hills home, according to E! News.

Aguilera, who received her first big exposure on the 1993 version of "The Mickey Mouse Club," is up for two major 2008 Grammy awards: best female pop performance and best vocal collaboration ("Steppin' Out" with Tony Bennett).

Almost exactly a year ago, I wrote a column about Aguilera, who was born a Catholic, and her Jewish husband. I contrasted her stability with the downward spiral of singer Britney Spears. As I said in my piece, Britney Spears, who also got her first big break on the "Mickey Mouse Club," was once compared favorably in most of the news media to Aguilera, with Spears depicted as the more respectable and nicer girl.

Spears' personal life has gone from bad to worse in the last year, including a recent court decision that stripped her of the right to even visit her children. A year ago, I said that Spears clearly needed psychological help and now every commentator is questioning her mental stability.

Well, there is one slightly amusing sidelight to the Spears' tragedy. Last year, I wrote that the "junk" gossip press was making up stories that Spears, who was raised a Baptist, was about to convert to Judaism because she was dating a Jewish male model named Isaac Cohen. (They broke up after about a month together).

Spears has recently started dating a British Muslim celebrity photographer who used to stalk her for pictures. Sure enough, the British tabloid press has already made up stories that Spears is about to convert to Islam and that she plans to move to Pakistan with her new boyfriend!

If Spears sticks with this Muslim guy for a few more weeks, there might even be a tabloid story claiming that she wants to join the women's auxiliary of the Taliban.

Jamie-Lynn Sigler
Jamie-Lynn Sigler, whose mother was born Cuban, recently participated in a birthright israel tour of Israel. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

Meadow Goes to Israel

JTA reports that actress 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 the founder/president of a national amateur softball league. He 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 bat mitzvah. She told an interviewer that it was difficult to study for her bat mitzvah because, in the months before her bat mitzvah, she was singing in the road company of a Broadway show. Sigler has a fine singing voice--she has released an album and she had the female lead (2003) in the Broadway musical version of "Beauty and the Beast."

In 2003, Sigler made the same mistake that a lot of young actresses and singers do: she married her much older manager. Sigler was only 22 when she wed A.J. Discala, who was at least 10 years older. Discala isn't Jewish and the couple wed in a secular ceremony. Jamie took his last name and was billed as Jamie-Lynn Discala for two years.

Celine Dion aside, the track record of older male manager/young female entertainer marriages is dismal. Not long after Sigler wed, there were gossip reports that her husband was stepping out on her. These reports continued and the couple broke up in 2005. They do not remain "friends." Sigler went back to her original last name.

Incidentally, actress Lorraine Bracco, who played Tony Soprano's psychiatrist, has just optioned the movie rights to a memoir by a real-life Italian-American mafia gangster who converted from Catholicism to Orthodox Judaism in jail. I'll tell you all about him in my next column.

The Frozen Chosen

The Jewish Sports Review is out with its annual round-up of Jews in pro and college hockey.

Defenseman Mathieu Schneider, 38, returns for his 18th season, having moved from the Detroit Red Wings to the Anaheim Ducks in the offseason. Schneider is the highest-scoring Jewish player of all-time and has to be judged the best Jewish hockey player of all-time, period. Jeff Halpern, 31, center for the Dallas Stars, is playing much better this year than last. Forward Michael Cammallieri, 25, led the Los Angeles Kings in goals scored and in assists last year. And Eric Nystrom, 24, left wing for the Calgary Flames, has played part of the last two seasons in the NHL, but has been plagued with injuries. He started off this season doing well, but was recently injured again. The one rookie is Mike Brown, 22, a left wing with the Vancouver Canucks. He was called up in November.

Brown and Halpern are the children of two Jewish parents. Cammallieri's mother is Jewish and he was not raised in any faith. Schneider and Nystrom's stories are a little more complicated.

Schneider grew up in New York, the son of an American Jewish father and a French Canadian mother who was born a Catholic. His mother converted to Judaism after marrying his father, but Schneider has said that his family's practice of Judaism was limited to celebrating a few holidays.

About seven years ago, when Schneider was playing for the Kings, he was approached by a rabbi from the Orthodox Chabad movement. This rabbi had many talks with Mathieu and Mathieu's wife, who was born a Catholic. The couple became much more interested in Judaism and took study classes. In a 2006 interview, Schneider said that he now fasted on Yom Kippur and observed other holidays. His wife, he said, already considered herself Jewish, although she had not yet officially converted. They were raising their children Jewish.

Nystrom is the son of retired pro hockey great Bobby Nystrom, who was not born Jewish. Eric's mother is Jewish and Eric was raised Jewish. Bobby has been involved with the Jewish community on Long Island, where he lives. At one point, I got what I considered a reliable report that Bobby had converted to Judaism after his retirement. But another usually reliable source told me that this isn't true. I haven't been able, yet, to run this "issue" down to my satisfaction.

One interesting college hockey player is Wyatt Russell, 21, a freshman goalkeeper with the University of Alabama, Huntsville (Division I). Wyatt is the son of Jewish actress Goldie Hawn and non-Jewish actor Kurt Russell. (Hawn's mother was Jewish and she was raised Jewish.)

When contacted by the Review, Wyatt said that he considered himself Jewish although he hasn't attended High Holiday services with his mother for a number of years.

Wyatt spent his years since high school in the lower minor leagues of pro hockey before deciding to get a college education. His half-sister is actress Kate Hudson, 28, who is the daughter of Hawn and her ex-husband, non-Jewish singer Bill Hudson.

Like Wyatt, Kate considers herself Jewish and has referred to herself as Jewish in a few interviews. Also, like Wyatt, she doesn't really practice. Kate was married from 2000-2007 to Chris Robinson, the lead singer of the popular rock band the Black Crowes, and the couple had one child. Robinson is Jewish on his father's side, but was raised in no faith. (Although Kate said in one interview that Robinson's sense of humor is very Jewish.)

Kate Hudson co-stars in a romantic action-adventure movie, Fool's Gold, which opens February 8. The other lead is Matthew McConaughey, who co-starred with Hudson in the 2003 box office smash, How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days.

An international program that sends thousands of young Jews to Israel each year for free. Hebrew for "daughter of the commandments." In modern Jewish practice, Jewish girls come of age at 12 or 13. When a girl comes of age, she is officially a bat mitzvah and considered an adult. The term is commonly used as a short-hand for the bat mitzvah's coming-of-age ceremony and/or celebration. The male equivalent is "bar mitzvah." Hebrew for "Day of Atonement," the final of ten Days of Awe that begin with Rosh Hashanah. Occurs during the fall and is marked by a 24-hour fast. One of the most important Jewish holidays. 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. 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.
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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