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Interfaith Celebrities: Scarlett, Gwyneth and Goat Cheese

By Nate Bloom

Aug. 28, 2007

Diary of a Jewish Nanny, Vol. 1

Scarlett Johansson (L) is acting in another Woody Allen (R) film. Deflecting nasty rumors that the two are having a romantic relationship, she says, "Any girl my age has a fondness in the most innocent way for older men their father's age. It's like your father, and I'm close with my dad." REUTERS/Albert Gea  (SPAIN)

Scarlett Johansson , whose mother is Jewish, has done great as a sex symbol and as a paid celebrity endorser of various products, but most of her movies haven't exactly sizzled at the box office.

There is a ton of talent behind her new film, The Nanny Diaries , which opened last Friday, Aug. 24. I was hoping that Diaries would be as good as The Devil Wears Prada , which it thematically resembles. However, most of the reviews I have seen haven't been kind and it is doubtful that Diaries will be a popular hit.

Johansson plays a college student who is paying for school by working as a nanny for rich New York families. Johansson starts working for "Mr. and Mrs. X," played by Oscar-nominees Paul Giamatti ( Sideways ) and Laura Linney ( Kinsey ). "Mrs. X" is a snobbish and insufferably demanding boss and the couple's child is a little brat starved for parental attention.

The book from which the movie was taken barely had any romantic angle. However, since Hollywood loathes a romantic vacuum, the movie has Johansson's character seriously interested in a handsome young Harvard student who lives in the same building as the "X" family. He returns this interest.

If Johansson's films were as good as her longer press interviews, the actress would have had a string of box office smashes. Just last week, she gave a smart and charming interview to USA Today .

Among other topics, Johansson talked about her budding musical career (a CD of her singing Tom Waits songs will come out in October), about an upcoming trip to Iraq to entertain the troops and about acting in her third film for Woody Allen.

She described her relationship with Allen in funny and understandable terms, subtly putting to rest the thought in many people's minds, given Woody's scandalous past, that there is something romantic going on between the 23-year-old actress and the 72-year-old director.

"I just adore Woody. We have a lot in common. We're New Yorkers, Jewish. We have a very easygoing relationship. I have seen things like, 'Are you his new muse?' Yeah, I go over at 2 a.m. and make him grilled cheese sandwiches, and he writes. Ha. It's just a very easy friendship. Any girl my age has a fondness in the most innocent way for older men their father's age. It's like your father, and I'm close with my dad."

To the best of my knowledge this is the first time that Johansson has described herself simply as Jewish. In past interviews, she has understandably been reticent to talk about her religious beliefs, just noting that her American mother, a talent agent, is Jewish, and her Danish architect father (who lives in New York) is not Jewish, and that neither of her parents (who are long-divorced) is religious.

Sure I'm "glad" that Scarlett identifies as Jewish, but I don't read a huge amount into this statement. I suppose we just have to wait and see if her ethnic identification as Jewish shows itself it some tangible ways in her life or career.

Diary of a Jewish Nanny, Vol. 2

Diaries was written and directed by the husband/wife team of Shari Springer Berman , 43, and Robert Pulcini , 42 (she's Jewish, he isn't). They got a best screenplay Oscar nomination for their previous film, American Splendor . Splendor , about real-life Jewish cartoonist Harvey Pekar , got great reviews and it has to be called a "wonderful little movie." It starred Paul Giamatti as Pekar.

I really don't know anything about Pulcini and Berman's marriage other than it is an interfaith one and they have been married more than 10 years--and that they adopted a son, now 11 months old, after finishing The Nanny Diaries . Berman did tell a Jewish newspaper that the notoriously neurotic Harvey Pekar could relax with them because they came from ethnic groups that he could relate to: "Jewish and Italian."

Giamatti, who isn't Jewish, does play a lot of Jews, including his Oscar-nominated role as real-life Jewish boxing manager Joe Gould in Cinderella Man . Paul is the son of the late Bart Giamatti , who was the president of Yale University and, at the time of his death, the commissioner of Major League Baseball.

Last year, Giamatti, 40, told an interviewer that: "[My wife's] Jewish and my son [now 6] will probably be raised Jewish. I'm an atheist, so I'm waiting for my time to step in and tell him how things really are but I'll do that when he's a teenager. I figure he'll be ripe for atheism when he's a teenager."

Gwyneth Welcomes the Night

If you didn't have enough reasons to fall in love with Gwyneth Paltrow, add reading One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish to little kids in Dr. Seuss hats (shown here) to the list. Sigh. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni (UNITED STATES)

Earlier this month, actress Gwyneth Paltrow , 34, went to a special screening of The Good Night , the first film directed by her brother Jake , 31.

It was a summer season celebrity event, held at a movie theater in the fancy resort town of East Hampton, Long Island, N.Y. The moviegoers included Jewish rock and roller Billy Joel (accompanied by his ex-wife, '70s supermodel Christie Brinkley , who isn't Jewish. She is the mother of Joel's only child, singer Alexa Ray Joel , 21), actress Kate Capshaw (who converted to Judaism shortly after marrying director Steven Spielberg ); and Paul McCartney , accompanied by his daughter, fashion designer Stella McCartney (whose late mother, Linda , was Jewish. Stella calls herself Jewish, but she was raised without religion and practices no faith).

The Good Night , a romantic comedy, co-stars Paltrow and Martin Freeman , of the British The Office fame. It will open in limited general release this October. Also this October, Gwyneth, who speaks fluent Spanish, will travel to Spain to film a cooking show with Italian-American celebrity chef Mario Batali . It will later be shown on PBS.

Gwyneth and Jake are the children of the late Jewish film and TV director Bruce Paltrow and actress Blythe Danner , who isn't Jewish. Danner was at the screening, too.

Gwyneth and Jake were raised Jewish and Jake had what the press described as a traditional Bar Mitzvah ceremony. Gwyneth, however, did not have a Bat Mitzvah.

Four Degrees of Separation

After I finished writing this item on the Paltrows, which in a slightly shorter form will also be published in the Detroit Jewish News , my editor at the News pointed out to me that chef Mario Batali's wife is probably Jewish.

Batali is married to a woman named Susi Cahn and they have two children. While I don't know for sure that Batali is not Jewish, I think it is a reasonable assumption. He is a third generation Italian-American.

I did an Internet search on Susi Cahn and that led me to uncover some information about an interesting family. Susi's Jewish parents, Miles and Lillian Cahn , founded and long owned the famous Coach leather company, makers of the ultra-chic Coach handbags that, no doubt, could be found on the arms of some of the famous women attending Jake Paltrow's movie premiere.

Miles and Lillian, who have endowed university programs, sold Coach in 1985 and now own a goat farm, Coach Dairy Goat Farms, in upstate New York, where they make some of America's best chèvre (goat) cheese.

Mario and Susi met when, in 1993, she sold him some goat cheese from her parents' farm. Not surprisingly, a magazine profile of Mario Batali noted that his father-in-law shares his love of food.

I googled Lillian Cahn and found out her brother, who is still living, is Lou Lenhart , a fairly famous guy who has led an incredible life.

A Marine Corps fighter pilot in World War II, he went to Israel during the 1947-48 war of independence and was one of just four pilots who constituted the entire Israeli fighter pilot force early in the war. Amazing as it sounds, these four pilots, alone, stopped an Egyptian army armored column of 10,000 men who were marching on Tel Aviv. After the war Lenhart flew for El Al, the Israeli national airline, and then moved back to the States where he became a film producer ( Iron Eagle ) and, a little later, the general manager of the San Diego Clippers, of the NBA. He now has retired to Israel. There's a three-minute movie on Youtube that manages to cover all this and more.

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." Hebrew for "daughter of the commandments." In modern Jewish practice, Jewish girls come of age at 12 or 13. When a girl comes of age, she is officially a bat mitzvah and considered an adult. The term is commonly used as a short-hand for the bat mitzvah's coming-of-age ceremony and/or celebration. The male equivalent is "bar mitzvah."

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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