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Interfaith Celebrities: Major League Hebrews 2009

April 14, 2009

The following list of Jewish baseball players was prepared with the help of Jewish Sports Review newsletter. All these players have at least one Jewish parent, were raised Jewish or without religion and do not practice a faith other than Judaism as an adult.

As of opening day, a minyan of Jewish players are on major league rosters. The players are: Brad Ausmus, catcher, Los Angeles Dodgers, Ryan Braun, outfielder, Milwaukee Brewers, Craig Breslow, pitcher, Minnesota Twins, Scott Feldman, pitcher, Texas Rangers, John Grabow, pitcher Pittsburgh Pirates, Gabe Kapler, outfielder, Tampa Bay Rays, Ian Kinsler, second baseman, Texas Rangers, Jason Marquis, pitcher, Colorado Rockies, Scott Schoeneweis, pitcher, Arizona Diamondbacks, and Kevin Youkilis, first baseman, Boston Red Sox. Three of these players made the 2008 all-star team (Braun, Youkilis, and Kinsler).

Brian Horwitz
Brian Horwitz, or as his San Francisco Giants teammates call him, "the rabbi," rounds the bases after hitting a three-run homerun last June. Photo: Reuters/Robert Galbraith.

There are three more players who have spent some time in the majors, but did not make the cut for their respective major league teams and are now playing for a minor league team affiliated with the major league team noted below. There is a good chance that one or more of these players could be called up to the majors during the season: Rockies pitcher Jason Hirsh, Diamondback first baseman Josh Whitesell, and Brian Horwitz, a 26-year-old outfielder in the Giants system who's been nicknamed "The Rabbi." Also, pitcher Aaron Poreda is considered a very hot prospect in the White Sox minor league system and was on the major league club's roster until the last day of spring training, when he was sent down for a bit more seasoning.

As in recent years, the majority of the players listed above are of interfaith background. Breslow, Marquis, Kapler, Hirsh, Horwitz and Whitesell are the sons of two Jewish parents. Ausmus, Grabow, Schoeneweis and Poreda are the sons of Jewish mothers and non-Jewish fathers. Braun, Feldman and Kinsler are the sons of Jewish fathers and non-Jewish mothers.

Almost all the interfaith players were raised without religion. The only exception is Poreda, who was raised religiously Jewish and always wears a chai while pitching. He talks about his religious upbringing and Jewish identity in an interview with the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle.

Switching Off

I have to thank my friend, Michael, for pointing out an interesting casting twist in the new indie film, Adventureland, which opened in limited release April 3, with more cities being added later in April. The movie and its cast got very good reviews, almost across the board, and it is worth catching.

Michael observed that Adventureland may be the first film where two non-Jewish lead actors played Jewish characters and two Jewish lead actors play non-Jewish characters. I guess one could call that refreshingly non-stereotypical casting.

Jesse Eisenberg, who is Jewish in real life, plays James Brennan, an Irish Catholic young man who has just graduated from college and finds out that his parents' won't, as he anticipated, subsidize his planned, summer-long European trip. He is forced to take a crappy summer job at a local Pittsburgh amusement park called Adventureland. But things look up when he meets an attractive fellow park worker, the Jewish Emily Lewin. Lewin is played by Kristen Stewart, 19, who became famous this past year as the co-star of the mega-hit Twilight.

Not much is made of Lewin's Jewishness. However, early in the film Lewin defends another Jewish park worker, played by Martin Starr, from anti-Semitic comments. Stewart isn't Jewish in real life and neither is Starr. As a matter of fact, Starr played the one buddy of Jewish actor Seth Rogen who wasn't Jewish in Knocked Up. A 2007 Australian Jewish News piece lays out how this came to be:

To create a sense of natural chemistry, [director Judd] Apatow cast Rogen's real-life friends Jonah Hill, Jason Segel, Jay Baruchel and Martin Starr to play his stoner housemates. All, save for Starr, are Jewish.

In one of many laugh-out-loud scenes, Starr is castigated for not being a member of the tribe.

"I'm glad I'm not a Jew," he gloats to his friends.

"So are we," Rogen quips. "You weren't chosen for a reason."

For the record: Segel and Baruchel are the sons of Jewish fathers and non-Jewish mothers. Segel was raised Jewish, and Baruchel was sort of raised "both."

Adventureland's "hot" girl park worker, called "Lisa P," is played by the very cute actress Margaret Levieva. It seems pretty clear that the character Lisa P isn't supposed to be Jewish.

Levieva, 27, just gave her first interview in which she talked about being Jewish. Her parents are Russian Jewish immigrants.

Deja Vu Lohan/Jones

In my March 16 column, I talked about interfaith actress Rashida Jones, who is in the current comedy hit, I Love You, Man.

I also had a column item on actress Lindsay Lohan possibly converting to Judaism, the faith of her then romantic steady, disc jockey Samantha Ronson. I noted in passing that Rashida Jones was once engaged to Samantha's brother, Mark Ronson, a top music producer.

Well, all these folks are back in the news. Jones' news is happy and Lohan's, alas, is not.

A new TV series that Jones co-stars in, Parks and Recreation, premiered last week on NBC (airs Thursdays at 8:30 p.m.). The sit-com stars Amy Poehler of Saturday Night Live fame. It's filmed in mock documentary style. Documentary cameras follow Poehler as Leslie Knope, the ditzy deputy commissioner of the parks department of a small Indiana city, as she tries to beautify her town. Knope has an ally in local nurse Ann Perkins (played by Jones).

Lohan's bad news is more personal. Last week, Ronson and Lohan and their immediate families were all over the media as reports came out that that Ronson had ended their relationship and Lohan was distraught and abusing alcohol again.

On a much, much lighter note, satirist Andy Borowitz, who is Jewish and very funny, used the report of Lindsay's possible conversion to Judaism as the jumping off point for a Passover week article for The Daily Beast in which he (satirically) analyzed Lohan's films for their Jewish religious meaning.

Hebrew for "count," it refers to the quorum of ten Jewish adults (in some communities only men are counted; in others both men and women) required to hold a Torah service, recite some communal prayers, and the home-based recitation of the Kaddish. Minyan may also now refer to group that meets for prayer service, similar to a synagogue's congregation or a havurah. 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.

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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