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Interfaith Celebrities: Weddings and Sports Across the Globe

December 20, 2011

Celebrity Wedding Announcements Catch-Up

Over the last few months, I've become aware of several interfaith weddings involving celebrities. For one reason or another, I haven't been able to work them into this column. However, my conscience tells me I shouldn't let any more time pass without noting a least two of them, with more in my next column.

Without further ado:

Gumbel/Robins

Wiliam Robins and Jillian Gumbel. (Photo by Patrick McMullan.)

On November 13, Jillian Gumbel, 28, married William Robins, 27. Gumbel is the daughter of famous African-American TV journalist Bryant Gumbel, 63, the former co-host host (1982-1997) of Today and the current host of the HBO program, Real Sports. Her father's brother is Greg Gumbel, 65, a famous sportscaster who is currently a CBS football broadcast play-by-play announcer.

Jillian Gumbel and William Robins married in a Jewish ceremony in Palm Beach, Florida. A rabbi presided over the wedding.

Ms. Gumbel is a nanny and is studying for her Bachelor of Science degree at Sarah Lawrence College in New York. The bridegroom is also a college student, studying for a degree in economics at New York University.

A little background research disclosed that the groom is Jewish by birth. It is all but certain that Jillian Gumbel was raised a Catholic.

Bryant Gumbel was raised a Catholic. Jillian Gumbel's mother, Bryant Gumbel's ex-wife, June Baranco Gumbel, 62, is, like Bryant Gumbel, a native of Louisiana. Shortly before her divorce from Bryant (2001), June Gumbel described herself as a "devoted Catholic."

Behar/Janowitz

On August 11, 2011, comedian and talk show host Joy Behar, 69, married her Jewish boyfriend of 29 years, Steve Janowitz, in a private ceremony in New York. No other details about the wedding, such as if a member of the clergy presided, were released. Janowitz is Behar's second husband.

I couldn't find Janowitz's age in any source, but he appears to be about the same age as Behar. The couple met at a singles resort in Woodstock, New York in 1982.

Steve Janowitz and Joy Behar.

At that time, Behar was recently divorced and was working as a receptionist for Good Morning, America. She was just starting out in her career as a professional stand-up comic. Janowitz was then a New York City middle school teacher. I believe he is now a retired school teacher.

Behar was born Josephine Occhuito in Brooklyn, New York. Her parents were Italian Catholic. Her father drove a Coca-Cola truck and her mother was a sewing machine operator. Raised Catholic, Behar now describes herself as an agonistic.

Behar went to Queens College and there she met her first husband, Joseph Behar, a Sephardic Jew. They were married from 1965-1981 and had one child, a daughter, Eve, now 40. They remain friends, according to a 1992 New York Magazine interview. In February, 2011, their daughter had their first grandchild, a boy.

In the same 1992 New York Magazine interview, Behar described her attraction for Jewish men, her weddings to Joseph Behar and the jokes her Jewish former mother-in-law inspired:

I happen to have a thing for Jewish men. I like a tall, thin, Jewish guy with an astigmatism. I just can't do these big Swedes from the Midwest, the typa guy that wants to go camping all the time. This typa guy is only happy if he can pee on a tree... [My wedding was] an Italo-Hebraic affair. First there was a ceremony in a Catholic church, Our Lady of Perpetual Agita. Then we go to Leonard's of Great Neck [a catering hall] to go under the chuppa. My Italian relatives thought the cantor was entertainment....My [Jewish] mother-in-law taught mah-jongg as a second language. She kept a kosher home. One set of dishes for milk. One set of dishes for meat. One set of dishes for Chinese food.

After they married, Joseph Behar became a sociology professor at a Long Island, New York, university and Joy Behar earned a Master's degree and was a high school English teacher until 1980. They had a good life and a nice home, but a near-death experience with an ectopic pregnancy in 1979 convinced Joy Behar that she had to quit teaching and pursue her dream of becoming a stand-up comic.

Career success came slowly but steadily throughout the 1980s. By 1992, she was a well-established stand-up comedian and radio talk show host. In 1997, she became one of the co-hosts of the new ABC talk show, The View, a post she still holds. She also had her own talk show, The Joy Behar Show, on the CNN sister station, HLN. It began in 2009 and was just cancelled.

In 2009, Behar said she was finally going to marry Steve Janowitz (who she says has an astigmatism), but the ceremony was called off at the last minute. In 2011, she obviously got over her cold feet.

Back in 2009, she gave an interesting reason for getting married. People magazine reported:

The reason behind the move to tie the knot, she said, is mostly practical. "Somebody that I know lost her partner. They were gay women. And the partner was in the hospital, and she had to pretend that she was her sister in order to really deal with stuff," said Behar. "I don't want that to happen to us ... and I also just feel that I want to."

Funny footnote:

There are tons of cultural and other similarities between New York Italian Catholics and New York Jews. The results of mistaking one for the other can have humorous results.

I have always been very amused by this joke that Behar used to do in her stand-up act:

Everyone thinks I'm Jewish. I'm not. Last year I got a call: "Happy Hanukkah." I said, "Ma, I'm not Jewish."

This Sporting Life: Jordan to Israel and Back to Jersey

The NBA lockout saw some players scrambling for other paying jobs. New Jersey Nets guard Jordan Farmar, 25, one of two active Jewish NBA players, traveled to Israel in August to play with the top Israeli team, Maccabi Tel Aviv.

Jordan Farmar played for Maccabi Tel Aviv during the NBA lockout.

The Maccabi Tel Aviv season began on October 1. Jordan's Israeli teammates included former Duke University All-American player Jon Scheyer, 24, an Illinois native who is Jewish.

Farmar, the son of an African-American (non-Jewish) father and a white Jewish mother, has been mentioned in this column before. His parents split-up when he was quite young and he was raised by his mother and his Israeli stepfather, who came to the States from Tel Aviv. Farmar was raised religiously Jewish and had a bar mitzvah ceremony.

In 2008, Farmar visited Israel and gave basketball clinics to Jewish and Arab children.

Farmar was profiled last month (November 8) by the excellent BBC Public Radio International program, The World. At the time of the profile, he had just applied for Israeli citizenship. (Long story short: Israeli professional basketball rules allow only four foreign players per team. Once Farmar got Israeli citizenship, which would be quickly granted, his team could bring in another top notch foreign player. Also, Farmar didn't have to give up his American citizenship to become an Israeli citizen.)

As The World profile began, Farmar had been something of a disappointment to the notoriously demanding Maccabi Tel Aviv fans and he was still getting used to the somewhat different style of play in the Euroleague. But the same fans who were kvetching were singing his praises when he came out smoking in a big home game (November 6) against Real Madrid, a top Spanish team, and scored three quick baskets. He had a brilliant game overall.

After the game, Farmar said with a chuckle, "Gotta make some more free throws. But other than that, it was really a good performance all the way around."

The World reporter then said: "Farmar's coach at Maccabi is a fellow American, David Blatt. At one point, Blatt vowed not to sign any NBA players during the lock-out, fearing it would be too disruptive for team-building. But now that his starting point guard is coming into his own, Blatt is glowing."

The NBA labor dispute was settled in late November. On December 1, Farmar played his last game for Maccabi Tel Aviv.

 

The NBA season is scheduled to start on Christmas Day.

Footnote of interest:

Jordan's half-season in Israel shows how global sports are today. Mikhail D. Prokhorov, a Russian mining billionaire who bought the New Jersey Nets in 2009, is another example of the global nature of sports, politics and business..

On Dec. 10, 2011, Prokhorov announced he would challenge Vladimir Putin for the Russian Federation presidency in elections to be held next year.

Like Farmar, Prokhorov is of interfaith background. His mother is Russian-Jewish and his father is of ethnic Russian, non-Jewish background. You can read about career, his family background and how both sides of his family were victims of Stalinist persecution in this 2010 New York Times profile.

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." Of the culture of Jews with family origins in Spain, Portugal or North Africa. Hanukkah (known by many spellings) is an eight-day Jewish holiday commemorating the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean Revolt of the 2nd Century BCE. It is marked by the lighting of a menorah and the eating of fried foods. A member of the Jewish clergy who leads a congregation in songful prayer. ("Hazzan" in Hebrew.) Hebrew for "canopy" or "covering," the structure (open on all four sides) under which a Jewish wedding ceremony takes place. In its simplest for, it consists of a cloth, sheet, or tallit stretched or supported over four poles. Hebrew for "fit" (as in, "fit for consumption"), the Jewish dietary laws. Hebrew for "my master," the term refers to a spiritual leader and teacher of Torah. Often, but not always, a rabbi is the leader of a synagogue congregation.

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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