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Interfaith Celebrities: Rahmbo, Good Sports, Bad Guys and Political Porn Stars

Nov. 11, 2008

Rahmbo

No more Mr. Nice Guy--Rahm Emanuel is going to be part of another presidential team, this time as the chief of staff for President-Elect Barack Obama. When he was a White House aide to then-President Bill Clinton, Emanuel was known as Rahmbo and was famous for his frequent use of the f-word. (According to a profile on him in the Guardian, he once used it with Prime Minister Tony Blair.) There were also some exciting through unverifiable stories out there about him sending a dead fish to a former co-worker. Though Emanuel has supposedly mellowed in recent years, he still has a reputation as a hard charger.

Emanuel, 49, gives up his position as the fourth-ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives to be Obama's Chief. He may be making this choice for a number of reasons. A web of personal relationships ties the reputedly volatile Emanuel to No-Drama Obama. David Axelrod, Obama's chief campaign strategist, signed Emanuel's marriage contract at his wedding. Emanuel's brother, high-powered Hollywood talent agent Ari Emanuel, hosted a $2,300 a plate fundraiser for Obama last fall, and wrote about the election for The Huffington Post.

Rahm Emanuel
Rahm Emanuel at a recent press conference in Chicago. Photo: Reuters/Carlos Barria.
 

You can see how much Obama likes Emanuel personally when you watch this 2005 video, recently rebroadcast on CNN, of Obama roasting Emanuel at a charity dinner. (If you caught Obama's stand-up comedy style speech at the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation dinner after the debates on Oct. 16, this is similar, though it sounds like Obama wrote his own jokes in 2005.)

Rahm Israel Emanuel, whose Hebrew first name means high or exalted, is one of four children of a Jerusalem-born Israeli pediatrician and an American Jewish psychiatric social worker. His father fought in the Irgun with Menachem Begin before the establishment of the State of Israel and his mother was active in the civil rights and peace movements in the 1960s. He went to Jewish day school growing up in Illinois and was a civilian volunteer in support of the Israeli army in the Gulf War in 1991, though he gave up his dual citizenship with Israel when he turned 18.

Like most American Jews--though the rest of us aren't triathlon competitors whose rabbis give them permission to work on the economic bailout on Rosh Hashanah--Rahm Emanuel has an interfaith extended family. His wife Amy Rule is a Jew by choice who volunteers with children at their modern Orthodox synagogue.

Field of Dreams Come True

Former major leaguer Ruben Amaro Jr., 43, has been named the General Manager of the World Championship Philadelphia Phillies. In an article published just before the election, sportswriter Bill Conlin pointed out the many similarities between Amaro and Barack Obama.

Ruben's paternal (non-Jewish) grandfather, Santos Amaro, was a great Cuban baseball player, but he was dark-skinned, so no American major league team would sign him. Santos Amaro's best playing years came before the Brooklyn Dodgers broke pro baseball's color line and put black ballplayer Jackie Robinson on their team in 1947.

Santos Amaro's son, shortstop and first baseman Ruben Amaro Sr., did make the majors in 1958. He was not the hitter his father was, but he was an excellent fielder. He played for the Cardinals (1958), the Phillies (1960-65), the Yankees (1966-68), and finished his career in 1969 with the California Angels. Ruben Amaro Sr. got the opportunity to play in the majors but still had to endure some racial abuse. Also, in the '60s and early '70s, very few black or Latino players were offered coaching jobs when their careers ended. Ruben, Sr. did get a job as the Phillies' first base coach during the early '80s, but he never got a more important major league coaching or management position. He spent most of his post-playing days as a head coach in the Mexican and Venezuelan pro winter ball leagues.

Ruben Amaro Jr., who was born in 1965, enjoyed advantages his grandfather and father could only dream about. Amaro Sr. married a white Jewish American woman from a middle-class, second generation Philadelphia area family. His mother ran a gourmet cheese shop at Reading Terminal Market, a famous Philadelphia farmers' market. Amaro Jr.'s parents met there.

In a 2002 newspaper profile, Ruben Amaro Jr. related that he never knew anybody who had his exact ethnicity: the son of a black Cuban Catholic father (who was raised in Mexico) and an American white Jewish woman. He added that his high school soccer team got an offer to play in Germany, but his Jewish mother vetoed his participation because of her feelings about the Holocaust. However, his mother, Amaro Jr. said, was always thrilled about and very supportive of his baseball career.

Although Ruben Amaro Jr.'s parents' marriage did not endure, the couple made sure Amaro Jr. got a first class education at a fancy Philadelphia private school. He was raised in his mother’s Jewish faith and had a bar mitzvah. Amaro, Jr. went on to Stanford where he earned a bachelor of science degree in human biology. He was also a member of the Stanford University baseball team. Stanford won the national collegiate baseball championship in 1987, Amaro Jr.'s senior year.

An outfielder, Amaro Jr. made the majors in 1991 and while he certainly wasn't a superstar, he impressed management with his grit and intelligence. Amaro Jr. spent parts of eight seasons in the major leagues, five with Philadelphia (1992-93 and 1996-98). He appeared in 485 major league games and batted .235 with 16 home runs and 100 RBI. Amaro played for the 1993 NL Champion Phillies and 1995 AL Champion Indians.

Ruben Amaro Sr. and his son are the only father-son duo, to date, to play for the Phillies.

The Phillies long had a bigoted owner and, in 1957, they became the last National League team to put a black player on their roster. Fortunately, those owners were long gone by the time Amaro Jr. retired in 1998. The team's new owners offered Amaro, Jr. a job as assistant general manager. Now, like the bi-racial Barack Obama, he has the top spot in his chosen field.

Bond's New Bad Guy

The new James Bond film, Quantum of Solace opens Friday, Nov. 14. Bond (Daniel Craig) battles Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric), a member of an evil organization that intends to take control of Bolivia's water supply.

Amalric, 43, is a star in the French cinema and has also directed some films. His father, a journalist, isn't Jewish. His mother, a Jew of Polish origin, was a literary critic for Le Monde. Amalric identifies as Jewish, although he is secular. Craig, who co-starred as a Mossad agent in Munich, plays another Jewish tough guy in Defiance, a film about Jewish partisans who battled the Nazis. It opens in late December. (Daniel Craig isn't Jewish in real life.)

You may recall that Amalric had the starring role in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007), a French language film by American Jewish director Julian Schnabel that earned four Oscar nominations, including best director and best screenplay. Amalric didn't get an Oscar nomination for his work, but he did win the French equivalent of an Oscar, a Caesar award, as the year's best actor.

Nina Hartley

Adult film actress and director Nina Hartley plays Hillary Clinton in a new political porn movie. Photo: Reuters/Steve Marcus.

Political Odds and Ends

Could Michelle Obama have a Jewish ancestor? A friend who is a family history buff referred me to this recent article in the Columbus, Ohio Dispatch in which Michelle's known ancestry is laid out in detail. Her paternal great-grandmother's name was Rosella Cohen, later Rosella Cohen Robinson. She married Fraser Robinson, Sr., Michelle's great grandfather. There are photographs of both accompanying the article and both are clearly black. Both were born in South Carolina.

The fact that Rosella Cohen has a very Jewish last name is interesting, but it does not mean that she had any Jewish ancestry. There were about 25,000 Jews in the South before the Civil War. Most were merchants, small farmers, peddlers, doctors and lawyers. Because few were plantation owners, very few pre-Civil War Southern Jews, probably fewer than 10 individuals, owned more than 25 slaves. However, a larger number of Southern Jews, like their non-Jewish counterparts, owned a few slaves. (More than half of the Jews in the antebellum South owned no slaves at all.)

It is possible that Rosella Cohen's ancestors had a Jewish owner named Cohen and, like a lot of black slaves, took their owner's last name when they were set free after the Civil War. It is also possible that she had a Jewish ancestor.

As my friend put it, the amateur and professional family history sleuths on the genealogy web sites are now working overtime running down Michelle's ancestry and we will probably get an answer in the not too distant future.

As you probably heard, Sarah Palin was pranked just before the election by a pair of French Canadian radio comedians. One called Palin and pretended to be French President Nicholas Sarkozy. The caller hadn't been vetted by Palin's staff and Palin believed him to be Sarkozy. Among other things, the comedian told Palin how much he "enjoyed her in the documentary they made about your life, Hustler's Naylin Palin."

To this Sarah Palin responded, "Aww, well thank you!"

Clearly, Palin was being polite and hadn't heard about this "documentary." Naylin Palin is a porn film now being rushed to the market by Hustler's Larry Flynt. It features interfaith adult film actress Nina Hartley, 49, as Hillary Clinton. Adult film actresses who look like Palin and Condoleeza Rice also are featured in the film and they do all sorts of, well, adult film things.

Hartley has been one of the most popular adult film actresses for decades. She even broke into mainstream films, sort of, with a role as an adult film actress in the Hollywood movie Boogie Nights.

She grew-up in Berkeley, Calif., the daughter of leftist parents. Her father is not Jewish and her mother is Jewish. In 1989, Hartley gave an interview to Shmate, which billed itself as "a magazine of progressive Jewish thought." An intelligent and literate woman, Hartley talks quite a bit about her interfaith background.

Hebrew for "Head of the Year," the Jewish New Year. With Yom Kippur, known as the High Holy Days. 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." 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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