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Interfaith Celebrities Play Baseball and Gwyneth Paltrow Plays Dietrich

April 13, 2010

Baseball Season 2010

The major league baseball season has begun. If you like to watch baseball or have family members in the softball league, you're sure to enjoy knowing who all the players from Jewish and interfaith families are. This list was prepared with the help of Jewish Sports Review newsletter:

Marlene Dietrich
 Marlene Dietrich was not a baseball player--she was a movie star and a visible symbol of resistance to fascism.

Brad Ausmus, catcher, Los Angeles Dodgers. Ausmus turned 41 this week, ancient for a major leaguer. A brilliant defensive player, Ausmus has played 18 major league seasons without being on the disabled list once. Ausmus spoke last year to the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles. Here's a brief, but quite interesting excerpt:

Ausmus did not have a childhood steeped in Jewish identity. As a child with a Protestant Christian father and a Jewish mother, he celebrated Jewish holidays with his mother's family, but didn't really identify as a Jew. [Ausmus says]; 'I wasn't raised with the Jewish religion, so in that sense I don't really have much feeling toward it. But, however, in the last 10 or so years, I have had quite a few young Jewish boys who will tell me that I am their favorite player or they love watching me play or they feel like baseball is a good fit for them because it worked for me or it worked for Shawn Green or other Jewish players at the Major League level. It has been a sense of pride. If you can have a positive impact on a kid, I'm all for it.'

Ryan Braun, 26, outfielder, Milwaukee Brewers. The 2007 National League rookie of the year, Braun made the All-Star team in 2008 and 2009 and had another outstanding season in 2009—hitting .320, with 100 RBIs, 200 hits, 30 homers, and 20 stolen bases. Braun's father, who was born and raised in Israel, settled in Los Angeles, where he met Ryan's mother, an American Catholic.

Craig Breslow, 29, relief pitcher, Oakland Athletics. The former captain of the Yale University baseball team, Breslow has a degree in biophysics and biochemistry. Many of his teammates, and many sports writers, have commented that he is the smartest player (in terms of general knowledge) that they have ever met. He's also a pretty effective reliever.

Scott Feldman, 27, starting pitcher, Texas Rangers. Feldman came into his own in 2009; with a record of 17-8. This is the most wins by a Jewish pitcher since 1980 when Oriole Steve Stone won 25. Scott's father, by the way, is an FBI agent.

John Grabow, 31, relief pitcher, Chicago Cubs. An outstanding reliever with the Pirates, Grabow was traded to the Cubs in July. He had a very good 2009 season with both clubs. His Jewish mother was born in Lebanon. Much of her extended family settled in Israel.

Gabe Kapler, 34, outfielder, Tampa Bay Rays. Kapler had a good season in 2009, with his extra base hit production and his ability to hit left-handed pitching making up for a so/so batting average. Kapler has three "Jewish-themed" tattoos, including a Star of David.

Ian Kinsler, 27, second baseman, Texas Ranger. An outstanding hitter, Kinsler was an All-star team member in 2008 and was just beaten out for a spot on the team in 2009. Nonetheless, he racked up 2009 numbers that far eclipsed the player who got the All-Star spot. Kinsler joined the elite "30-30" club in 2009, with 31 home runs and 31 stolen bases.

Jason Marquis, 31, starting pitcher, Washington Nationals. Now in his 11th season, Marquis had a outstanding season last year with the Colorado Rockies, winning 15 games and making the All-Star team. Marquis, a Long Island native, had a bar mitzvah.

Scott Schoeneweis, 36, relief pitcher, Boston Red Sox. An effective reliever over his 12 years in the majors, Scott's 2009 season with Arizona was seriously interrupted when his wife died of a drug overdose. He thought of retiring, but came back to finish the season. Boston signed him in March and he performed well enough in spring training to make the team's roster.

Kevin Youkilis, 31, first baseman, Red Sox. An All-star in 2008 and 2009, Youkilis, now has to be seriously considered as the third best Jewish player of all time, behind Hall of Famers Hank Greenberg and Sandy Koufax. A great defensive player who holds the all-time record for most errorless games at first base, he has become a great hitter in the last few seasons. In 2009, he hit .305 with 27 home runs. Youkilis had a bar mitzvah and he's known to greet other Jewish players with happy (Jewish) holiday wishes.

Ausmus, Grabow, and Schoeneweis are the sons of Jewish mothers and non-Jewish fathers. Braun, Feldman, and Kinsler are the sons of Jewish fathers and non-Jewish mothers. The other players have two Jewish parents.

Celebrity Passover Bits

Gwyneth Paltrow
Gwyneth Paltrow, looking fresh and gorgeous at the premiere of Iron Man in 2008. She's going to have to act to project Dietrich's world-weary cynicism. Photo: Reuters/Johannes Eisle.

The popularity of Twitter and blogs written by celebrities has resulted in a boomlet in Passover related items during the last month. Jewish fashion designer and model Whitney Port, 25, the star of the reality show, The City, tweeted: "Missing my family on Passover. I'm going to make charoset in honor of them." (Port lives in New York City. Her parents are in Los Angeles.)

Actress Elizabeth Banks, 36, a convert to Judaism, tweeted: "Great Seder last nite. Outfoxed though by scrappy kid in hunt for the Afikomen."

Actress Gwyneth Paltrow, 37, is the son of a Jewish father, the late director, Bruce Paltrow, and actress Blythe Danner, who isn't Jewish. She was raised in her father's Jewish faith.

Paltrow is a mainstay of the blog site, Goop.com, and she frequently posts advice on diet and health. She wrote this to introduce her March 29 Goop newsletter-- well worth keeping a note of for next year, just for the recipes:

Keeping kosher will be easy this year now that I have discovered Claudia Roden's brilliant book, The Book of Jewish Food. I have to say that irrespective of religion, culture, or background, this is one of the best books I've ever cooked out of. The flavors are outstanding and all of the recipes I have tried have been simple to prepare and quick. I included some of my favorites, which are great for Passover, or just any old day for that matter. In keeping with our theme, we have two different versions of matzo brei for brunch and FINALLY, we have found two gorgeous kosher wines from the Napa Valley that are sure to take your Seder up a notch (sorry Mr. Manishevitz).

Gwyneth as Marlene

Paltrow has reportedly signed on to play German screen legend Marlene Dietrich (1901-1992) in a bio-pic to be shown on the BBC and, probably later, on American TV. She has wanted to make a film of Dietrich's life for many years, mentioning the project in interviews repeatedly.

Dietrich came from an upper-class Protestant background; her ancestors included many German army officers. (Her father was a police lieutenant and her stepfather was an officer killed fighting for German in WWI). Nonetheless, Dietrich herself was immune to the anti-Semitism so common among this class of Germans.

The German film that made Dietrich a star, The Blue Angel, (1930) was directed by Joseph Von Sternberg, an Austrian-born Jew who was mostly raised in the United States. (He added "Von" to his name to give himself aristocratic panache). Von Sternberg and Dietrich were lovers. Dietrich's list of famous lovers, both men and women, is lengthy and legendary.

Dietrich followed Von Sternberg to Hollywood in 1930, before the Nazi takeover of Germany in 1933. In Hollywood, he directed her in a series of six films between 1930 and 1935 that made her an international star.

Dietrich was among the most adamant opponents of the Nazi regime. She helped many Jewish friends escape from Germany.In 1937, she refused an offer from the Nazis to return to Germany--she was told she could make any films she wanted and would be paid a colossally high salary. After she refused, her films were banned in Germany.

She became an American citizen in 1939 and her awards including the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the French Legion of Honor.

Though Paltrow is also a blond beauty with a compelling screen presence, her squeaky clean image and ethereal beauty are nothing like Dietrich's earthy sex appeal. Dietrich was a smoker famous for her deep singing voice. Paltrow is a health food advocate whose singing voice sounds best in the soprano range. (You can hear her sing "Bette Davis Eyes" in a film clip.) It will require some playing against type for Paltrow to surprise the critics who have questioned casting her in the role.

Known in Hebrew as "magen David" (literally," shield of David"), it is more commonly recognized as the star of David, a six-point star. The symbol has origins in the Torah, and has been used as a symbol of Jewish identity and Judaism in Europe since the Middle Ages. 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." Yiddish for "fried matzah," a common Passover breakfast dish that can be savory or sweet, ranging in style from closer to an omelette to closer to French toast, made of matzah and egg. "Dessert" in Greek, it refers to the matzah that is hidden at the beginning of the Passover seder and which, customarily, children look for and ransom back to the adults before the conclusion. Derived from the Hebrew word "cheres," which means clay, it's a mixture of fruit, nuts, and wine eaten as part of the Passover seder. Symbolizing the mortar that the Hebrew slaves used to build the cities for Pharaoh in Egypt, it's one of the symbolic food items on the seder plate. The spring holiday commemorating the Exodus of the Jews from slavery in Egypt. The Hebrew name is "Pesach." Hebrew for "fit" (as in, "fit for consumption"), the Jewish dietary laws. Hebrew for "order," refers to the traditional course of events, or service, surrounding the Passover and Tu Bishvat meals.

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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