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Interfaith Celebrities: New Faces on TV and a Hollywood Legend

October 12, 2010

New Faces on TV

Two more Jewish/interfaith actors starring in new TV series have come to my attention. So, without further ado, here they are.

Lucas Neff plays Jimmy Chance on Raising Hope. (Press photo by Fox.)

Lucas Neff, 24, is a co-star of the Fox TV series Raising Hope, which airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. The series has received fairly good ratings and mixed, but respectable, critical reviews.

It was the first new Fox series to be "green-lighted" for a full season of 22 new episodes. Raising Hope premiered on Sept. 21.

The basic plot: A 23-year-old must raise his infant daughter, conceived by a one night stand, with the help of his flawed family after the baby's mother (who has killed multiple boyfriends) is given the death sentence and executed when the baby is only six months old.

Neff plays Jimmy Chance, the young father. Jimmy's mother, Virginia Chance, is played by the ever reliable actress Martha Plimpton (who is only 39 years old in real life).

Neff's whole life and career is outlined in this (Sept. 20) profile and interview on the website Chicago Now.

When Chicago Now asked Neff about whether the "hoopla" surrounding the launch of the show was making him nervous, he replied:

It really does. I've got a lot of neurosis in my family. My dad is this little Jewish hobbit of a guy and then I've got this really strong-minded Irish mother. And together it's just Irish guilt and Jewish guilt and every type of Woody Allen neurosis you can imagine sort of cycling around in my brain at any given instant. I just try to keep it as truthful as I can and as simple as I can. I figure that way I won't get into too much trouble.

Ben Rappaport, 25, stars in the NBC series Outsourced, which began on Sept. 23 and airs Thursdays at 9:30 p.m. Quoting a recent Daily News profile of Rappaport:

The recent graduate of New York's Juilliard School is doing that now as the star of [the] comedy Outsourced. He plays a guy sent to India when his novelty company downsizes - or "right-sizes," as they say on the show - and has its work outsourced. Rather than be right-sized, Rappaport's character moves to India.

Rappaport, a handsome fellow, was plucked from obscurity to star in this TV show. As the Daily News says, he is a recent drama school graduate and only has a couple of off-Broadway stage credits on his resume.

Outsourced, ironically enough, is in danger of being downsized off of the TV screen as I write this. Reviews were more negative than positive and ratings, so far, are just barely acceptable.

Rappaport grew-up in Spring, TX, a suburb of Houston. His birth name is Bennett Eli Rappaport and his parents are both members of a Reform synagogue in Spring. His parents are alumni of Northwestern University in Chicago.

Jerry's Stories -- Non-Traditional Family and a Stuntman's Conversion

I chanced to see the autogbiography of Jerry Weintraub -- big time celebrity manager, concert promoter and film producer (Ocean's Eleven) -- When I Stop Talking, You'll Know I'm Dead recently.

Jerry Weintraub

No doubt, Weintraub has lived an eventful life. The Bronx-raised Weintraub, now 72, came from a stable, middle-class Jewish family and could have gone into his father's jewelry business. However, Weintraub was always on the hustle for something better. This included a brief stint as an acting student in the late '50s. He didn't make it as an actor, but his studies brought him into showbiz.

To his credit, Weintraub has been a big giver to Jewish causes, especially Chabad, an Orthodox Jewish group run by the Lubavitcher sect of Hasidic Jews. (Weintraub made the acquaintance of a Chabad rabbi and they became friends.)

Weintraub's autobiography also revealed his family life and relationships.

He has been married two times. In 1961, he wed his high school sweetheart and they had a son. Weintraub protects his first wife's privacy by not naming her in his book and by not giving many biographical details. But, reading between the lines, you can tell she is Jewish.

Singer Jane Morgan attends the UNICEF Ball honoring Jerry Weintraub held at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel on Dec. 10, 2009 in Beverly Hills, Calif.(Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images North America)

His second wife, Jane Morgan, is not Jewish. Morgan, now 89, was a popular singer from the late 1940s through the mid-1960s. She and Weintraub met in 1963.

They married in a civil ceremony in 1965 after finalizing divorces from their respective spouses. Together, they adopted three girls, who are now in their 30s. (Weintraub doesn't mention what faith, if any, their girls were raised in. He does mention the bar mitzvah of his son with his first wife.)

Morgan and Weintraub grew apart after their children had grown and their interests began to diverge. Around 2000, Weintraub met Susie Ekins, whose age he does not specify, but I think she is between 35 and 40 now.

After seeing Ekins for a few months, Weintraub told Morgan that he had fallen in love with this fetching young woman and wanted a divorce. Here's the blow-by-blow from ANI:

Movie mogul Jerry Weintraub has claimed that his unconventional home life with his wife and mistress works out well because the two women are "best friends" with each other.

The Ocean's Eleven producer married his wife Jane in 1965, but later found love with mistress Susan Ekins.

Weintraub then discussed divorce with his wife, but Jane rejected the idea of splitting up, fearing they would squander his millions paying for the legal proceedings alone.

And now, the trio lives together happily, and the credit, according to Weintraub, goes to the women in his life. "They make it work. I'm very much in love with my wife, we've been married 48 years and I met this other woman and I'm very much in love with her," the Daily Express quoted him as saying. "We didn't get a divorce because we (he and his wife) didn't want to screw up our estate. I worked very hard for my money. I started out with nothing and ended up with a lot. She didn't want to give it away to lawyers. She said, 'Go to Susie and ask Susie if she needs to be married.' Susie said no, and they became best friends," he added.

Weintraub doesn't specify how this came to be, but Ekins is a convert to Judaism. Weintraub doesn't make clear if this conversion happened before or after he and Ekins met.

The Great Escape - Bud Ekins Interview - 1998

He just mentions her conversion, in passing, as he discusses, in his book, the deathbed conversion to Judaism of Ekin's father, legendary Hollywood stuntman Bud Ekins (1930-2007).

Weintraub describes the very unusual circumstances of Bud Ekins' conversion in his book. Here's most of what he has to say:

Bud was an older man when I knew him, ailing from a life of machines, whiskey, and cigarettes?He was a Catholic, so a priest went into his hospital room, but he did not want a priest. I asked him why. He said, "Because I don't want to confess all the shit I did, that's why." [Bud] asked about rabbis, "When they come, do you have to tell them everything?" "Nah," I said, "you don't have to tell them anything." Soon after that [Bud] told me he wanted to convert to Judaism. "'Cause you're a Jew and Susie is a Jew. And I figure I'm whatever you guys are. Also the confession stuff." I gave a eulogy at Bud's funeral. I spoke of how he had decided to become a Jew. Many of the mourners looked confused. These were stuntmen and bikers, hundreds of tough guys with long hair and leather coats, giant guys named Tiny. "Let me explain why he became a Jew," I said [in my eulogy]. ... "Because Bud Ekins did not want to confess his sins."

I am quite sure most rabbis and most priests would have "issues" with Bud Ekins' conversion. But there's no denying that that it makes for one entertaining anecdote.

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." Hebrew for "pious," commonly refers to a member of an Orthodox Jewish mystic movement founded in the 18th century in Eastern Europe by Baal Shem Tov that reacted against Talmudic learning and maintained that God's presence was in all of one's surroundings and that one should serve God in one's every deed and word. 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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