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Interfaith Celebrities: People With Pretty Faces

May 12, 2009

People Magazine is out May 11 with their annual "100 Most Beautiful People" issue. They covered many celebrities with one or two Jewish parents, including actor Anton Yelchin, 20, talk show host/comedian Chelsea Handler, 34, actresses Amanda Bynes, 23, Ashley Tisdale, 23, Brooke Burke, 37, Debra Winger, 54, and Rashida Jones, 33.

Handler wrote an amusing, tongue-in-cheek profile of herself in this issue of People called "My Life as a Beauty." In this excerpt she sets forth her beauty regimen:

I love homemade remedies. I exfoliate my face with a stale baguette or if it is Shabbat, a bagel. My hair is damaged, dry and has low self-esteem. People have been recommending mayonnaise for years, but what's missing from this equation is Grey Poupon. Whether you go with Dijon, country Dijon or deli is up to you and your astrologer. I use deli, because I'm half Jewish and have ties to the deli community. The combination of these two delicious condiments is good for a sandwich and and a head of hair that you are trying to keep yellow. This is my life and I'm sorry you had to hear about it.
Debra Winger
Debra Winger at an awards ceremony last year for Rachel Getting Married. Photo:REUTERS/Mike Cassese

In a 2002 profile, Debra Winger discussed her two interfaith marriages. At that time, Winger had stopped going to synagogue after the September 11, 2001 attack and was then sorting out her feelings.

Early this year, Ms. Winger's autobiography came out, and she talked to several Jewish papers about her current life. In a 2009 article, first published in j., the Jewish news weekly of Northern California, Winger says she is again a regular synagogue-goer.

An improbable "beautiful person" in the People issue is White House Chief-of-Staff Ramn Emanuel, 49. He's included in a special section called "Barack's Beauties." As you might expect, First Lady Michelle Obama heads up that section.

On Idols

Also in People this week is a favorable review of the new CD by Jewish singer Elliot Yamin, 30. Yamin finished third in the 2006 American Idol competition and has had a fairly successful career since.

Speaking of Idol, as I write this it looks like Adam Lambert, 27, is going to win the current American Idol competition. There are several videos on the Internet in which Lambert sings in Hebrew. However, there is no confirmation that Lambert is, in fact, Jewish. A lot of Jewish media sources have written that Lambert is Jewish but assumptions can often be wrong and there may be an alternate explanation as to why he is singing in Hebrew.

Certainly British journalist Paul Lester got burnt when he assumed, in a piece published in The Guardian, that hot new rap singer Asher Roth, 23, fit into the history of Jewish rap singers. Apparently Roth, who has a Jewish father, doesn't identify as a Jew. (Not that Lester's piece would encourage someone to do so, replete as it is with stereotyping.) Roth had a spokesperson tell the newspapers that he isn't Jewish and doesn't practice Judaism.

Time's 100 Influential People

Time is out with their annual listing of the World's 100 Most Influential People. Many of the members of the list of 100 are Jewish.

Obviously, Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, 50, is Jewish. Other well-known Jews include personal finance expert and TV journalist Suze Orman, 57, reality show producer Lauren Zalaznick, 46, and Ponzi-scheme king Bernie Madoff, 71.

Architect Elizabeth Diller, 54, a daughter of Holocaust survivors, made the list. Diller's husband and professional partner is Italian-American architect Ricardo Scofidio. They are likely an interfaith couple.

Time listed the female hosts of the TV show, The View, including Barbara Walters, 79, who is Jewish. Another figure on the list was Florida banker Leonard Abess, Jr., 60. President Obama saluted Abess' ethical practices and generosity to his employees during his State of the Union speech. Among the writers on the list were journalist and author David Sheff, 53, best known for his memoir, Beautiful Boy, about his struggle with his son's drug addiction and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, 56, who won the Nobel Prize in Economics last year.

Shai Agassi, 40, an Israeli, is another Time honoree. Agassi made a fortune developing software. Now Agassi heads up a company called Better Place. Its aim is to set up a network of stations that will, via robots, quickly replace batteries for electric cars, thus making electric cars totally practical. (A fully charged battery replaces a depleted one.) Backed by Renault and others, Better Place has already started to build its network in Israel and Denmark.

One child of interfaith marriage on Time's influentials list is Stella McCartney, the daughter of the late Linda Eastman McCartney, a non-practicing Jew, and Beatle Paul McCartney, who is not Jewish. Stella has identified herself as Jewish, but she was raised without religion and isn't religious.

Michael J. Fox Redux

I've previously discussed actor Michael J. Fox, who is not Jewish, and his wife, Jewish actress Tracy Pollan. Fox and Pollan belong to a Manhattan Reform synagogue and their four children have been raised Jewish.

An ABC documentary special, Michael J. Fox: Adventures of an Incurable Optimist, aired May 7. ABC News has a web page devoted to the documentary and to Fox's new memoir: Always Looking Up: The Adventures of an Incurable Optimist‎. Here's a trailer for the documentary:

Fox devotes an entire chapter in his new book to religion. It is hard to encapsulate in a short column item all that Fox has to say about his personal religious beliefs, Christianity, Judaism, raising his children Jewish, and becoming an honorary member, as it were, of Jewish culture and the Jewish comedic tradition.

First, Fox says that he and Pollan had not firmly decided whether to raise their child in a religion when their first child, Sam, was born. But Sam came home at age 9 and said he wanted to go to Hebrew school, so they sent him and, later, his other siblings to Hebrew school.

Sam was circumcised, as Jewish religious law mandates, not longer after his birth. The decision to circumcise Sam was not Pollan's, as you might expect. Pollan is proud of being Jewish, Fox writes, but, he says, she wasn't sure about circumcision given the controversy over the practice.

Fox first goes a bit into the ancient history of the rite and then relates what he said to Pollan: "If the doctor does it now … I'll look [Sam] in the eye and give him someone to scream at. But if in 13 years, if he decides he wants to have a bar mitzvah and he isn't circumcised, then you are going to be in that room with him. I'm going to Vegas."

A ceremony created by the Reform movement as a way for young adults to show their decision to embrace Jewish study and reaffirm their commitment to Judaism. Confirmation is typically held at the end of the tenth grade. 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." The Jewish Sabbath, from sunset on Friday to nightfall on Saturday. 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.

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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