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Interfaith Celebrities: Nate Silver, Another Bond, and Happy Endings

November 13, 2012

Politically Correct

"Nate Silver is the only white male winning tonight."

So tweeted Late Night with Jimmy Fallon producer Gavin Purcell on election night, after it became clear that Barack Obama would win.

Who would have thought, a month ago, that a plausible candidate for "interfaith celebrity of the year" would be a New York Times blogger?

Nate Silver, election prediction guru.

I speak of statistical analyst Nate Silver, 34, who writes the "FiveThirtyEight: Nate Silver's Political Calculus" blog for the Times. In 2008, he correctly predicted the presidential candidate who would win 49 out of the 50 states. (His only error was Indiana, which went for Obama by a tiny margin.)

In 2012, he correctly predicted the winner (Obama or Mitt Romney) in all 50 states.

Silver's mathematical modeling and evaluation of state and national polls was criticized by many on the political right, but now we know that he was correct.

Silver's perfect crystal ball has turned him into an in-demand television guest. His new book, The Signal and the Noise: Why Most Predictions Fail — but Some Don't, has soared up to the top of best seller lists since the election.

Silver's basic bio may be found in many sources. I found a short, very informative interview with Silver that aired on NPR the day after the election.

So far as I can tell, Silver has only once commented on his interfaith background — when he responded to the question "What is your favorite body part (on yourself) and why?" with this answer: "Nose. I'm half Jewish and it strikes a nice Jewish, Gentile balance."

By consulting primary family history sources, I was able to confirm that his father is Jewish and his mother is not Jewish.

Silver was born and raised in East Lansing, Michigan, where his Jewish father, Brian D. Silver, 68, a native of Connecticut, is a political science professor at Michigan State University. Brian Silver was head of the department for a time. His mother, Sally Thrun Silver, 69, is described in bios as a "community activist" and has served on community boards.

Nate Silver, whose full name is Nathaniel Read Silver, has one sister, Rebecca Gard Silver, a design and environmental sustainability manager for a New York company.

I couldn't find much on his father's family background. It appears that his mother's family, which includes many intellectually and professionally distinguished men and women, is of non-Jewish English and German (or possibly Scandinavian) background. His mother is the granddaughter of the late Harmon Lewis, once head of the Alcoa Steamship Company. Silver's middle name is also the first name of a maternal great-aunt and the middle name of his mother's sister.

I'd like to extend kudos to these other two election 2012 journalists, one of whom is of interfaith background: David Corn, 53, and Chuck Todd, 40.

Corn, who is Jewish, is the chief of the Washington Bureau of Mother Jones magazine. He released the now-famous Mitt Romney 47%" video. James Earl Carter IV, President Jimmy Carter's grandson, located the maker of the video (a small, blurry section of which was on the web) and put that person in touch with Corn because, Carter said, he had worked well with Corn before. Corn then worked directly with the maker of the video and got him/her to release it in full to Mother Jones. No doubt, it helped influence the election's outcome. (The name of the maker of the video has still not been released to the public.)

Todd, the NBC news Political Director, Chief Whitehouse Correspondent, and host of the MSNBC show, The Daily Rundown, distinguished himself with his informative, "down the middle" analysis of the race. He also worked to make sure that NBC's polls were accurate. Todd, who was raised Jewish, is the son of a non-Jewish father and a Jewish mother.

Bond News: Now and Then

The new James Bond movie, Skyfall, starring British actor Daniel Craig, 44, opened last Friday, November 9. This one is directed by British director Sam Mendes, 47, whose previous films include American Beauty, Road to Perdition, Revolutionary Road, and Away We Go. Mendes is the son of a non-Jewish father from Trinidad (of Italian and Portuguese ancestry) and an English Jewish mother. His father (a college professor) and his mother (an author of children's books) split up when he was young, and he was raised by his mother. While not religious, he gives the impression in interviews that he identifies as Jewish.

Trailer for Skyfall, the latest Bond movie.

Mendes dated interfaith British actress Rachel Weisz, 42, for several years, ending sometime in 2000. The next year, Mendes, who is also a top theater director, made the acquaintance of British actress Kate Winslet, now 37, when he asked her to consider taking a stage part. They wed in May 2003, had a child in December 2003, and divorced in 2010.

Also in 2001, Weisz met American Jewish film director Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan) backstage at a London theater production. Aronofsky, now 43, and Weisz lived together in New York for about eight years and had a son together in 2006. In November, 2010, Weisz and Aronofsky's press representative said that they had been apart for some months, but "remain friends" and intended to raise their son in New York.

In 2002, Mendes became friends with Craig as they were making Road to Perdition. Craig had a small supporting role in the film.

In 2010, Craig and Weisz made the film Dream House together, and in December, 2010, they began dating. They married in June, 2011.

Mendes, who had never directed a an action film before, got the Skyfall job due to a chance encounter with Craig in New York at a 2009 birthday party for actor Hugh Jackman (who was then acting on Broadway with Craig). Mendes, with no ulterior motive, asked Craig about the next Bond film and also asked him who was set to direct the film. Craig told him that a director had yet to be picked and then, on his own, Craig started in motion the process by which Mendes got the job.

Daniel Craig returns to the Bond role.

By the way, it's been fifty years since the first Bond film, Dr. No (1962), opened. It featured Jewish actor Joseph Wiseman (1918-2009) in the title role. The movie was made for about a million dollars, a smallish sum even then, but it didn't look cheap due to the incredible talent of Oscar-winning (Jewish) set designer Ken Adam, now 91. He did the futuristic sets for seven Bond films and equipped Bond's Aston-Martin car with all sorts of cool stuff.

Born Klaus Adam in Germany, Adam fled the Nazis (1934) and settled in England, with his family, when he was 13. He served with the Royal Auxiliary Air Force (RAF) during WWII and was a crack fighter pilot. He and his brother were the only German-born pilots in the RAF during WWII.

It may surprise a lot of people that a number of Jewish/interfaith actresses have played the "Bond Girl" in the films. Jill St. John, 72, (born Jill Oppenheim) played Tiffany Case in Diamonds Are Forever (1971); Jane Seymour, 61, (born Joyce Frankenberg) played Solitaire in Live and Let Die (1973); Barbara Bach, 65, (born Barbara Goldbach) portrayed Major Anya Amasova / Agent XXX in The Spy Who Loved Me (1977); Tanya Roberts, 57, played Stacey Sutton in A View to a Kill (1985); and Eva Green, 32, played Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale (2006). (St. John had two Jewish parents; Seymour and Bach &mash; a Jewish father; and Roberts and Green — a Jewish mother.)

TV Heads-Up: Bar Mitzvah Hype Men — One Jewish, One African American

Getting the bar mitzvah crowd psyched on Happy Endings.

Well, this isn't quite an interfaith celebrities item, but how often do network TV shows have an episode featuring black and Jewish characters teaming up to entertain at bar mitzvahs? So here's the 411:

The ABC series, Happy Endings, about six best friends, premiered in 2011 as a mid-season replacement. It became a much better show in its second season. The third season began on October 23. In this season's premiere episode, Brad (played by African American actor Damon Wayans, Jr., 30), one of the six friends, was laid-off from his job. The episode, airing on Tuesday, November 13, at 9 p.m. is entitled, "Boys II Menorah."

The plot: Brad's buddy, Max Blum (played by Adam Pally, 30), who is supposed be Jewish and gay, has been working the bar mitzvah circuit as a professional "hype guy." In other words, he emcees and he works hard to get the guests excited so they get up and dance. Brad reluctantly agrees to partner up with Max. Things get a little testy between them when Brad turns out to be quite a good "hype man" and Max gets a little jealous.

Pally, who is Jewish, is a regular contributor to the humor website Funny or Die, where he is best known for his series Riding Shotgun with Adam Pally. (He interviews celebrities in his car.) Raised a Conservative Jew in Livingstone, NJ, he's been married since 2008 to Daniella Lieben, 30, a "hometown girl" whose parents belong to the same synagogue as Pally's parents. In December 2011, their first child, a son, was born.

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." 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." Plural form of the Hebrew word "mitzvah" which means "commandment," it has two meanings. The first are the commandments given in the Torah. ("You should obey the mitzvah of honoring your parents!") The second is a good deed. ("Helping her carry her groceries home was such a mitzvah!")

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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