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Interfaith Celebrities: Why Pink is a Mixed Bag

By Nate Bloom

All About Ashley

Ashley Tisdale (L) stars in both the TV and stage versions of High School Musical along with Vanessa Anne Hudgens (C) and Zac Efron. Tisdale is the daughter of a Jewish mom and a non-Jewish dad and got her start in musicals at the Monmouth County JCC in New Jersey. REUTERS/Phil McCarten

Recently, InterfaithFamily.com managing editor Micah Sachs referenced, on the IFF Network Blog , a brief article I wrote for the Jan.17 issue of the Detroit Jewish News about High School Musical co-star Ashley Tisdale . I wrote that piece in connection with the Detroit performance of the currently touring stage version of "High School Musical."

I thought Interfaithfamily.com readers would be interested in more info on this talented young actress. In both the stage and TV versions of High School Musical , Tisdale, 20, plays "nasty girl" Sharpay Evans. Tisdale is also known for playing the "much nicer" Maddie Fitzpatrick in the Disney TV series, "The Suite Life of Zack and Cody."

Tisdale was born in West Deal, New Jersey, and was signed by her current agent (who saw her performing at a shopping mall) when she was just 3 years old. Ashley's first stage appearances were in musicals put on at the Monmouth County Jewish Community Center in New Jersey. She sang for President Clinton at the White House when she was 12.

In the late 1990s, Tisdale and her parents re-located to Los Angeles where Ashley appeared as a guest star in many TV series. In 2005, she got her current role on "Suite Life" and her career took off with the success of High School Musical , which produced the best-selling American album of 2006. Her first solo album, "Headstrong," will be released next month and she will appear in High School Musical, 2 --a film sequel that will open this summer.

Last summer, Tisdale did a special solo appearance at the Monmouth County JCC's new theater to benefit the JCC Maccabi ArtsFest. This is a teen arts program open to Jewish teens, 13-16, from around the world. The international finals of the 2007 ArtsFest will be held at the Monmouth JCC.

Ashley's mother, Lisa Morris Tisdale, is Jewish, and her father, Mike Tisdale, is not Jewish. Ashley's great aunt was kind enough to inform me that Ashley "definitely identifies as Jewish" and that the family attends High Holiday services at a Los Angeles area synagogue.

Fun facts: Ashley's maternal grandfather, Arnold Morris, was the inventor of the "Ginsu" knife---and Arnold (and Ashley) are distantly related to Ron Popeil, the famous Jewish TV salesman and inventor who has sold everything on TV from the "pocket fisherman" (his invention) to fast cooking ovens.

Pink Should Think

Pink is the child of an interfaith marriage but almost never speaks about her Jewish identity or religious practices. That's why it was so disappointing for her to call hersle Jewish--while defending Mel Gibson's drunken anti-Semitic tirade. REUTERS/Siggi Bucher (Switzerland)

The Grammy awards, for excellence in music, are being held on Sunday, Feb. 11, on CBS.

I generally try to be nice about celebrities--but now and again I have to "kvetch." I have a kvetch about Pink , the most prominent interfaith celebrity up for a Grammy award this year.

Pink, who was born Alecia Beth Moore, is a very talented rock singer who has sold more than 20 million albums. Her 2006 CD, "I'm Not Dead," was a smash and produced a number of hit singles. The song, "Stupid Girls," from this CD, has earned Pink a Grammy nomination for best female pop performance.

Pink, who says she was raised in and follows no faith, mentioned in several interviews that her mother is Jewish and that her father is a Catholic. But she has never talked about doing "anything Jewish" and almost never identified as a Jew--until last August, when she mentioned her Jewishness while defending Mel Gibson.

After the Gibson spewed anti-Semitic invective at the police officer who arrested him for drunken driving, she said, "I'm a fan of his [Gibson's} work. I think anybody with opinions like that needs well-wishing. And I'm Jewish. Alcohol makes you do crazy things."

I know I'm not alone in saying that I don't particularly like it when someone does nothing of a Jewish nature (i.e., religious, cultural, charitable)--and the only time they call themselves Jewish is when they are taking a position contrary to the interests of most of the Jewish community. So it was rather bad form that the very first time Pink called herself "Jewish" was to rationalize away Gibson's anti-Semitic screed.

That's my kvetch with Pink. Otherwise, I give her the benefit of the doubt and I assume she doesn't know much about Mel Gibson.

She probably doesn't know that Gibson wasn't "that drunk" when he was arrested--his blood alcohol level wasn't much over the limit. She probably also doesn't know that Mel Gibson was spoon-fed anti-Semitism on his daddy's knee. Hating Jews is virtually Mel's father's life work and the elder Gibson has attended and spoke at many Holocaust denier conferences similar to the one just held in Iran.

The singer is also probably blissfully unaware that Mel Gibson has never issued a clear repudiation of his father's views on the Holocaust. Yes, Gibson apologized for his drunken tirade--but has anyone heard of Mel actually holding a meeting with "Jewish leaders"--as he promised he would do when he apologized?

Last month, Gibson told a newspaper that six months of bad press was enough: "I've apologized…now get the hell over it."

Perhaps Pink is like most people: unable to comprehend that somebody can be good-looking, talented, have Jewish associates--and still have a heart of darkness.

Woody Guthrie's Jewish Wife

A much more upbeat Grammy story concerns the Klezmatics, a famous New York-based klezmer band. They are up for a Grammy this year for their CD, "Wonder Wheel," featuring lyrics by the famous folk singer Woody Guthrie (1912-67).

Guthrie, a working-class WASP from Oklahoma, moved to New York in the early '40s and met a Jewish woman, Marjorie Mazia . They married in 1945 and had five children, including Arlo Guthrie , who went on to be a famous folk singer in his own right, and Nora Guthrie , who has done great work organizing the papers her father left behind.

Woody really liked the vibrant Yiddish-speaking/Jewish leftist culture he found when he lived in Brooklyn with his wife and his labor activist mother-in-law. During the '40s and early '50s, he wrote a bunch of song lyrics and poems that drew their inspiration from this culture. These lyrics and poems were found by Nora Guthrie--who turned them over to the Klezmatics--and they put Woody's words to Jewish-inspired music.

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, literally meaning "Jewish," once widely used by Ashkenazi communities. It is influenced by German, Hebrew and Slavic languages, and is written with the Hebrew alphabet. It is comparable to the language of many Sephardi communities, Ladino.

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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