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Interfaith Celebrities: Oscar Time! Jewish/Interfaith Nominees

February 21, 2012

The Academy Awards ceremony, hosted for the 9th time by Jewish comedian Billy Crystal, airs live on ABC on Sunday, February 26, at 4 p.m., PST/7 p.m., EST.

Who will take the Oscar home?

Feature Film Nominees

Just below is a list of Jewish/interfaith nominees in the English language, feature film categories (other than "very" technical fields, like sound, make-up, costumes, etc.)

All of the nominees just below are associated with a film nominated for Best Picture, so I have listed the nominees by film.

Nine films were nominated this year for best feature length motion picture. The Descendants is the sole Best Picture nominee without a Jewish/interfaith nominee.

The Oscar for Best Picture goes to the film's producers. Academy rules provide that all producers nominated in conjunction with a Best Picture nomination be "hands-on" producers, very involved in the film's making. The number of nominated producers, per film, is almost always limited to three people.

Two Best Pictures nominees, Hugo and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, are based, respectively, on novels by Jewish writers Brian Selznick, 45, and Jonathan Safran Foer, 34. But neither wrote or co-wrote the film adaptation of their book. Therefore, they weren't eligible for an Oscar nomination.

English Language Best Picture Nominees

  1. The Artist. Producer: Thomas Langmann, 39.
    • The director/writer of The Artist, Frenchman Michel Hazanavicius, 44, is nominated for three Oscars: Best Director, Original Screenplay, and Film Editing.
  2. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. Producer: Scott Rudin, 53.
  3. The Help. Producer: Michael Barnathan, 53.
  4. Midnight in Paris. Producers: Letty Aronson, 68, and Stephen Tenenbaum, 75.
    • Aronson is the sister of Woody Allen, 76, who wrote and directed Midnight in Paris. Allen is nominated for Best Director and Best Original Screenplay.
    • Tennebaum has an interesting career arc: from top accountant, to celebrity business manager, to agent (he's still Allen's agent), to "hands-on" producer starting when he was 55 years old.
  5. Hugo. The film's Oscar-nominated score is by Howard Shore, 65.
    • He won three Academy Awards for his music for the Lord of the Rings films.
  6. Moneyball. Producers: Rachael Horovitz, 50, and Michael DeLuca, 46.
    • Moneyball co-star, Jonah Hill, 28, scored a Best Supporting Actor nomination and he is (almost certainly) the only nominated Jewish/interfaith actor or actress this year.
    • Moneyball is also nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay and two of its three writers are Jewish: Stan Chervin, 54, and Aaron Sorkin, 50.
  7. Tree of Life. Emmanuel Lubezki, 48.
    • Lubezki, born and raised in Mexico, is nominated for Best Cinematography for his work on this haunting film. He's a five-time Oscar nominee and is universally respected as great innovator.
  8. War Horse. It was co-produced by Steven Spielberg, 65, the film's director.

     

To the best of my knowledge, all the nominees, above, are the children of two Jewish parents, except for producers Langmann, Horovitz, and DeLuca.

Nominee Notes and More

OAKLAND, CA - SEPTEMBER 19: Producer Rachael Horovitz (L) and actor Brad Pitt arrive at the premiere of Columbia Pictures' Moneyball at the Paramount Theatre of the Arts on September 19, 2011 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Michael Buckner/Getty Images)

Here are some biographical notes about four of the above nominees. These notes are followed by some interesting observations from actor Peter Coyote, who I recently interviewed.

Rachael Horovitz, 50, is the daughter of famous Jewish playwright Israel Horovitz, 72, and the sister of Adam "Adrock" Horovitz, 45, of Beastie Boys fame. Rachael and Adam have another full sibling, Matthew Horovitz, a TV documentary producer.

Their mother, Doris Keefe Horovitz, a painter, who was born a Catholic, was divorced from Israel Horovitz in the early 80s and died in 1985.

Rachael Horovitz is a "serious player" in the world of indie films. The first major film she produced was About Schmidt (2002), starring Jack Nicholson. In 2009, she won an Emmy and a Golden Globe for producing the HBO original telefilm, Grey Gardens. She is married to TV executive Michael Jackson and has 6-year-old twin sons with him.

It is rare for a famous Jew to open up and talk about the religious dynamics in his interfaith marriages and the religious upbringing of his children. This happened in 2007, when Israel Horovitz, who lives in Gloucester, Massachusetts, spoke to The Jewish Journal of the North Shore of Boston. He said, in part:

[Israel] Horovitz is the father of five adult children. His first wife [Doris Keefe], who was mother of the first three, was a painter. "She was Catholic, [Horovitz said] but had no interest in religion. That's probably why [the eldest children] don't have a lot of Judaism in their lives today."

For the past 26 years, [Horovitz] has been married to Gillian Adams-Horovitz, a former British marathon champion. They have 21-year-old twins. [A son, Oliver, and a daughter, Hannah. As of 2007, they had or were about to graduate Harvard and Vassar, respectively.]

"The twins had more of a religious upbringing," Horovitz said. "When they were born, we had to decide: Will the kids be raised in the Church of England, like Gillian, or at synagogue, like me? There was no Church of England in Gloucester, so we started going to Temple Ahavat Achim [a Conservative synagogue located in Gloucester]. We were captivated by Rabbi Myron Geller, and felt a sense of community and family. I think the twins, who were bar and bat mitzvahed here, will be more observant."

DeLuca really opened up about his personal life and his roller coaster career as a top Hollywood producer when interviewed by The Hollywood Reporter a year ago for an article entitled, "The Confessions of Michael DeLuca." He says this about his parents:

"I was a bookish kid, not really athletic," De Luca recalls of his youth in Canarsie, a working-class section of Brooklyn. "My mom, [a Jewish immigrant] was very affectionate but also very loud. My whole house was very loud. My [Italian-American Catholic] father screamed, my mother screamed — everybody screamed? My father was a Depression-era kid, so a little withholding on the emotional validation," he says. His mother was a German Jew who had survived the Holocaust — thanks to her father obtaining fake papers, though De Luca has only a vague awareness of what happened. (She died in 2004.) "I feel guilty that I never got the story, but it was my choice to detach, and part of detaching was not asking questions," he says.

Langmann is the son of Claude Berri (1934-2009), who was born Claude Berel Langmann, in France, the son of Polish/Romanian Jewish parents. Berri had an extraordinary career as an actor, producer and director. Not long before his death, French President Nicholas Sarkozy called him the "most legendary figure of French cinema."

Thomas Langmann (l) and Michel Hazanavicius (r) took home Emmys for The Artist.

Berri's first full-length feature film, The Two of Us (1966), was semi-autobiographical. This universally acclaimed movie told the tale of an 8-year-old Parisian Jewish boy who is sent to the countryside, by his parents, to escape the Nazis during WWII.

An elderly Catholic farmer (the father of Catholic friends of the boy's parents) takes him in. The farmer is anti-Semitic, and doesn't know the boy is Jewish. The boy is pretty sharp, and is careful never to tell the farmer that he is Jewish.

Despite being bigoted, the farmer is a loving man who comes to dearly love the boy. The boy forgives the farmer's bigotry and comes to love him, too.

In real life, Berri took an assumed name during WWII and lived with a non-Jewish family in the French countryside. However, these "righteous Gentiles" knew he was Jewish.

Perhaps the most moving moment at the recent Golden Globes award ceremony came when Thomas Langmann took the stage to accept the Globe for best feature film (The Artist). He dedicated his Globe to his father, Claude (Langmann) Berri.

Langmann broke down in his acceptance speech when he recalled that his father got an Oscar nomination for best short subject film in 1965. However, his father, Langmann told the audience, was then a poor young man and didn't have the money to travel to Los Angeles for the awards ceremony.

Recently, Langmann told the New York Post that he and The Artist director Michel Havanavicus found that they shared an emotional connection when they met. The Post writes, "Langmann's father's first movie, The Two of Us, told the story of a French-Jewish boy sent to the country to hide with an elderly couple. Hazanavicius' parents were "hidden children" in France during World War II."

Langmann, the Post reports, "Had to finance [The Artist] with his own money after no one would take a risk on it. He even sold a home and borrowed from relatives. ?People would make weird faces,' Langmann has said about pitching the film, which has 10 Oscar nominations and won a best picture award at the Golden Globes."

Langmann's mother, Anne Marie-Rassam (1944-1997), was the beautiful sister of another prominent French film producer, Jean-Pierre Rassam. The Rassams are of Lebanese Christian background. I believe that Langmann, like his two siblings, was raised secular.

On a bit more "cheery gossipy" note: Look and see if a young blonde woman is seated next to Jonah Hill at the Oscars. If so, she is probably Alexandra "Ali" Hoffman, 24, the youngest child of Jewish actor Dustin Hoffman. Hill's teenage friendship with two of Dustin's other children led to Hoffman offering Hill his first film role. Ali Hoffman is one of Dustin's four children with his second wife, Jewish attorney Lisa Gottsegen Hoffman. Dustin Hoffman, who was raised secular, credits her with making him moderately religious and their children were all bar or bat mitzvah.

Published rumors that Hill and Ali Hoffman were dating were confirmed when she showed-up as his date at the Golden Globe awards.

Finally, as to this group of nominees, I have to confess that I am still unsure whether, Bérénice Bejo, 35, the real-life wife of Michael Hazanavicius, and a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nominee (The Artist), is Jewish or not.

She is the only major nominee I am unsure about. My educated guess is that Bejo, an Argentine native with a rare Spanish last name, is not of Jewish or interfaith background.

I thought I could "run this down" by talking to Peter Coyote, 70, a famous Jewish[1] actor who lives near me in the San Francisco Bay Area. He was the star of the 2004 French language film, Le Grand Role, about an American Jewish film director (Coyote) who plans to make a Jewish-themed film in France. Bejo played the French Jewish wife of a French Jewish actor whom the director casts for the time as the lead of his film.

I asked Coyote if he and Bejo ever discussed their personal backgrounds as they worked together on a "very Jewish" movie. He said they did not and the reason is simple. They hardly shared any time on the set together and never spoke off-camera. While both Bejo and Coyote had big parts in the film, the script only once brought them together in the same scene. Coyote told me it was a short scene, and Bejo didn't even speak in it.

Coyote then told me that even though he had seen The Artist, he didn't remember that he and Bejo had acted together until I prompted his memory via a telephone message I left with him requesting an interview. In that telephone message, I mentioned that he had acted in Le Grand Role with Bejo.

He said that just before our interview he thought about how he once acted with a (then) virtually unknown actress who has now gone on to get an Oscar nomination.

It occurred to him, he said, that that his relationship to Bejo mirrored the plot of The Artist. When he made Le Grand Role, he said, he was by far the biggest name actor in the cast. Bejo, he said, was just a newcomer, a "pretty ingénue."

Now, he said (over my protest) that he is a "washed-up old actor" and she is a star. (In The Artist, Bejo's character begins as a "pretty, ingénue" and becomes a star. Meanwhile, her mentor, a silent screen star, becomes a has-been).

After this exchange, I said to Coyote that it was "odd" that Bejo was nominated for best supporting actress when she clearly had a co-starring lead role in The Artist.

Coyote, a veteran Oscars voter, gave me the inside scoop on this. Oscar nominations for the acting categories are based on the votes of actors and actresses who are members of the Motion Picture Academy.

Coyote said that the voters obviously believed that nobody was going to beat Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady) this year for Best Actress. But they liked Bejo, so they gave her a nomination in the best supporting category. In other words, they checked the box to nominate her for Best Supporting Actress. They didn't check the box to nominate her for Best (lead) Actress.

Coyote said the voters did this, "to protect her" (his words) and give her a shot at an Oscar.

Documentaries and Foreign Films

Best Documentary Feature: Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory. Co-nominees Joe Berlinger, 40, and Bruce Sinofsky, 55, have long been a documentary filmmaking team. Lost 3 is the third of three documentaries they have made about the case of "The West Memphis Three" (three teens charged and convicted in the 1993 murder of three young boys). The Lost series, which began in 2000, brought tremendous attention to a case marked by police misconduct and shoddy evidence. The "West Memphis Three" were freed in 2011.

Sinofsky's father was executive director of the Boston chapter of Jewish Big Brothers.

These two nominees were profiled in a recent Jewish Daily Forward article.

Best Documentary, Short Subject: The Barber of Birmingham was co-directed and produced by co-nominees Robin Fryday, 53, and Gail Dolgin. It's about James Armstrong, an African-American who was an unsung hero of the civil rights movement. For 50 years, this WWII veteran has run a voter education program out of his Alabama barbershop. Dolgin, who won many awards for her documentaries, died in October, 2010, age 65. She long served on the board of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival. Check out her biography, courtesy of the Jewish Women's Archive.

Best Foreign Language Film: In Darkness (Poland) and Footnote (Israel).

Footnote, a comedy/drama, was directed and written by Israeli Joseph Cedar, 43, an Orthodox Jew who was born in America and moved to Israel at age six. The film is about a father and son who both teach in the Talmud Deptartment of Hebrew University. The son's accomplishments far outshine the father's. The dynamics of their relationship come to a head when the father is mistakenly told that he's to receive an academic award meant for his son.

Cedar's previous film, Beaufort (2007), about an Israeli army unit stationed in South Lebanon in 2000, was also Oscar nominated for Best Foreign Film.

There are many easily found online articles about Cedar and his body of work. One from the Los Angeles Times includes a lively interview with Cedar, a biographical re-cap and a lot about Footnote, itself.

In Darkness is based on a true story of a Polish Catholic man who helped hide Jews in the sewers of the city of Lvov during the Holocaust. The director is Agnieska Holland, who was born (1948) and raised in Poland, the (secular) daughter of a Jewish father and a Catholic mother.

The adapted screenplay is by (non-nominee) David Shamoon, 64, a Canadian who was born in India. He's the son of Iraqi Jews who fled Iraq following the infamous 1941 Baghdad pogrom.

Director Agnieska Holland is nominate for directing In Darkness.

Holland is, perhaps, the "interfaith filmmaker par excellence" of the last 35 years. In some sense, her personal biography and her film-making encapsulates the very complex relationship between Polish Jews and Polish Catholics before and after WWII. It is a relationship that is still evolving, and it seems like surprising developments, of a positive and negative nature, come up almost every year.

However, I cannot write a treatise on all this. I recommend that you read the linked articles and look into three of her prior films that explored the interaction of Jews and non-Jews during the Holocaust: Angry Harvest (1985), Korczak and Europa, Europa (1990). Holland was nominated for a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar for the last film.

As I said, the Polish Jewish/Polish Catholic relationship is always changing. Who would have believed, 25 years ago, that Holland could close her interview with the Jewish Journal with these comments:

Asked about the prevalence of anti-Semitism in Poland, Holland marveled at the changes during the last few decades.

During the Nazi occupation, many Polish "saviors" were paid handsomely by desperate Jews, but then turned them over to the Nazis, Holland said. Many genuine Polish rescuers kept their good deeds secret even after the war, so as not to incur the wrath of their neighbors.

"Now the situation has changed completely, and Poland has the least amount of anti-Semitism of any European country," she said. "Now it is a sign of distinction to say that you have Jewish friends."

[1] Some sharp readers may know that Peter Coyote's parents were Jewish, and that he was raised secular, but became a devout Zen Buddhist decades ago. So his "Jewishness" is of an ethnic, rather than a religious nature. Nonetheless, he has played many Jewish characters and has done a lot of Jewish community cultural "work" (like charitable events). When I mentioned to him that David Shamoon, who wrote In Darkness, is an Iraqi Jew, he replied that this summer he is going to preside, in Venice, over the Zen Buddhist wedding of an Iraqi Jewish woman to an Italian Catholic man who comes from an old noble family. The woman's father would only give his consent to the marriage if the Italian fellow converted to Judaism. This he did, Coyote told me. But the couple wanted, still, a sort of non-denominational wedding and Zen Buddhism, which really has no deity, fit the bill.

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." 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 "instruction" or "learning," a central text of Judaism, recording the rabbinic discussions pertaining to Jewish law, ethics, philosophy, customs and history. It has two parts: Mishnah (redacted c. 200 CE) and Gemara (c. 500 CE), an elucidation of the Mishnah.

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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