Downton Abbey Portrays Reality of Interfaith RelationshipsBy Gerri Miller
Go inside Season 5 Episode 9 where the story line of Atticus and Rose's interfaith relationship comes to a head.Go To Pop Culture
October 30, 2012
In June, Ashton Kutcher, 34, and Mila Kunis, 29, were first spotted in each other's company on a frequent basis and they appeared to be more than friends. Press reps stuck to the "just friends" story until late this summer, when public displays of affection between the couple no longer made that story tenable.
Kunis and Kutcher have known each other since 1998, when the hit series, That ?70s Show, premiered. They co-starred on the TV show until it ended in 2005. So far as I know, they were friendly, but did not have a romantic relationship while on the show. Even if they wanted to have a romantic relationship, it would have been complicated, legally and in other ways, because Kunis was only 14 when the show premiered (Kutcher was 20).
|On That 70s Show, Kelso and Jackie dated of and on for years. Now, their actors, Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis are in a relationship.|
In any event, when Kunis turned 18, she began an eight-year romantic relationship (2002-2010) with Catholic-raised actor Macaulay Culkin, now 32.
Kutcher was 25 when he married actress Demi Moore, then 40, in 2003. Although neither are Jewish, they were wed before a rabbi affiliated with the Kabbalah Centre in Los Angeles. I profiled Kutcher and Moore in a June, 2011 article here on InterfaithFamily. In November 2011, Moore filed for divorce amidst rumors that Kutcher had been unfaithful. However, Kunis was never mentioned as a party in Kutcher's extramarital affair(s).
Kunis and her parents, as I have written before, fled the former Soviet Union for the United States in 1991, seeking relief from anti-Semitism. All religion was suppressed in the former Soviet Union and, in 2002, Kunis told JVibe, a now-defunct Jewish magazine for young people, that her parents "raised [her] Jewish as much as they could" [while in the Soviet Union]. In the same interview, Kunis indicated that the family had not become regular practicing Jews after they came to America.
It is a testament to Kunis's exploding popularity that this 2002 JVibe interview was "re-packaged" by a big British tabloid last May and passed off as brand-new. In the last four years, Kunis has become a major film star and Esquire magazine just named her "the sexiest woman alive."
The October 24, 2012 issue of People has Demi Moore on the cover. It notes that she is coping with the breakdown of her marriage by clinging to her "Kabbalah faith." It goes on to say that both Moore and Kutcher attended Yom Kippur services this year, but "did so on different days." (I presume this means that they went to the same Kabbalah Centre facility for the holiday, but one went on the evening that the holiday began and the other went during the daylight hours of the holiday. Yom Kippur begins at sundown and ends the next day after sunset.)
The article also says that Kunis has attended at least one function at a Kabbalah Centre facility with Kutcher.
I've wracked my brain and I cannot recall an interfaith relationship quite like Kunis and Kutcher's.
Almost certainly, Kutcher knows more about Jewish religious practice (albeit, through Kabbalah's lens) than Kunis. But this is not unprecedented. I know of interfaith couples in which the non-Jewish partner, for a variety of reasons (formal education, growing up with close Jewish friends, having a Jewish step-parent, etc.), knows more about Judaism than the Jewish partner.
However, in the last 2000 years, there haven't been, for lack of a better term, "parallel religions" to Judaism like the Kabbalah Centre. Therefore, the religious dynamics or path of a couple made up of a born-Jew (Kunis), and a non-Jew who devoutly goes to the Kabbalah Centre (Kutcher), are hard to predict. I suspect Kunis and Kutcher will have to sort this all out pretty much on their own.
Still, my sense is that Kutcher, who says he wants children, wouldn't have any problem seeing children he might have with Kunis being raised in mainstream Judaism.
You might not have heard of the indie film The Sessions, but you will hear a lot about it in the months to come. It's a virtual certainty that it will garner Oscar nominations early next year. The film debuted at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Audience Award (U.S. Dramatic) and a U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Prize for Ensemble Acting.
Reviews for the film have been incredibly good, including an absolute rave in The New York Times on October 19.
|Trailer for The Sessions.|
It is based on a true story of the late Mark O'Brien (played in the film by John Hawkes, 53). O'Brien contracted polio when he was about six years old. It left him with little muscle control below his neck, and, in order to breathe, he had to spend most of his time in an iron lung machine. A smart, funny, and incredibly determined guy, he went to UC Berkeley to study English and was a poet and journalist. He stayed on in Berkeley after getting his grad degree. In 1988, when O'Brien was 38, certain events came together that led O'Brien to make a determined effort to lose his virginity.
O'Brien, a practicing Catholic, frequently sought the counsel of his very humane priest (played by William Macy, 62). The priest and O'Brien discussed many topics, including love and sexuality. The priest suggested that O'Brien also consult a therapist. The therapist told O'Brien that he might be helped, in regard to sex, by seeking the services of a professional sex surrogate. The therapist contacted Cheryl Cohen Greene (played by interfaith actress Helen Hunt, 49), a Berkeley-based sex surrogate. Her relationship and sessions with O'Brien are a large part of the film. The sex scenes between O'Brien and Greene do contain full frontal female nudity, but they are not salacious in the least. They are real and tender and even, now and again, a little funny.
In these scenes and others, I came to perceive that the film's script had been put together like a fine-tuned watch. Gentle humor is woven throughout this dramatic story, and this humor gives what could have been a potentially "heavy movie" a certain lightness that is an unexpected delight.
I just saw the film and, as the reviewers say, Hunt's performance is astonishing. It is as good as her Oscar-winning performance in As Good As It Gets (1997).
As I write this, I have almost completed an interview with the real Cheryl Cohen Greene (we had to stop a little early due to time constraints) and I am about to read her autobiography, which hits the stores next month. As depicted in the film, Greene, now 68, was raised Catholic. In real life, she converted to Judaism well before the events in the film. In the film, her conversion takes place during the time she is treating O'Brien. This allows the filmmaker to have a scene in which Greene enters the mikveh bath — part of the Jewish conversion ritual.
It is hard to explain this in a few words. But trust me when I tell you that, very artfully, Greene's dip in the mikveh bath and the comments of the female mikveh bath attendant, taken together, subtly reference O'Brien's physical condition.
I will write more about my interview with Greene and her autobiography for Interfaithfamily. However, I wanted to write this shortish item, now, so that you, my readers, are alerted about this film while it is still playing in theaters.
The film opened on October 19, but it is opening in most cities on the three following Fridays (October 26, November 2, and November 9). Unlike most indie films, it may have a multi-week run, so check theater listings near you to see if it has been held-over.
Fun Size, which opened on October 26, is the first feature film directed by Josh Schwartz, 36. Schwartz, who is Jewish, is the creator of the hit TV series, The O.C. and Gossip Girl. He was only 26 when he created the former series and he's the youngest person ever to create a network show.
The O.C., as I wrote some years back, was one of the few TV shows that featured an interfaith (Jewish/Christian) family, and each year, in December, The O.C., had an episode that showed the family celebrating both Chanukah and Christmas. This joint celebration was dubbed "Chrismukah" by the interfaith couple's son, Seth Cohen (played by Jewish actor Adam Brody, now 32). For a time, the term "Chrismukah" caught on among many people to refer to such real-life celebrations. My sense is that the term is fading now that The O.C., which ran from 2003-2007, has long been off the air.
Fun Size is a comedy in which the lead character is a nice, teen girl named Wren (Victoria Justice, 19). Her mother (played by interfaith actress Chelsea Handler, 37), wants to go out and party on Halloween, and sticks Wren with the job of babysitting her little brother.
While trick-or-treating with her brother, Wren stops in at Halloween party and loses her brother in the crowd. Frantic to locate him before her mom finds out he's missing, Wren enlists an unlikely teen foursome (nerd, sassy friend, etc.) to aid her.
Over the years, people have asked me why there aren't more Jewish or interfaith pro golfers. There's no easy answer and my sociological guesses would go on too long for this column. The three most prominent recent pros are Bruce Fleischer, 64; Amy Alcott, 56; and Morgan Pressel, 24. Fleischer, who won the 1968 U.S. Amateur championship, had modest success on the regular pro tour (one victory), but has won 18 Senior PGA tournaments, including the 2001 Senior Open.
Alcott, now retired, is simply one of the best woman golfers of all time, with 5 major tournament wins and 29 LPGA titles. Pressel started hot, qualifying for the US Amateur championship at age 12, but she's had only mid-range pro success, winning two tournaments since joining the LPGA tour in 2005. (Pressel, Alcott and Fleischer are the children of two Jewish parents.)
A promising future pro is Steven Fox, 21, who won the U.S. Amateur Championship last August. Raised in Tennessee, this University of Tennessee student barely made the tournament, and his victory was a huge upset. By tradition, he will get invitations, now, to the 2013 Masters and U.S. Open.
Fox's Jewish father, Alan, a Long Island native, played pro basketball in Israel. His non-Jewish mother, Maureen, is also from Long Island and she was a college basketball star at Long Island University. Alan Fox caddied for his son for all but the last 19 holes of the U.S. Amateur Championship.
Jewish Sports Review contacted the Fox family and learned that Steven, who was raised secular, had no objection to being described as a Jewish athlete in the Review.
On October 22, interfaith actor Rob Schneider, 48, was given the honor of throwing out the first ball in Game 7 of the National League Championship series. The San Francisco Giants won that home game at AT&T Park and the right to play in the World Series. Its not surprising that Schneider is a big Giants fan. He was born in San Francisco, and raised in the nearby suburb of Pacifica.
There is often confusion between the relationship between Judaism and the Kabbalah Centre. It is a form of Jewish mysticism or esoteric practice, that, traditionally, was believed to be so easily misinterpreted that it could only be learned by men, over the age of 40 — a requirement meant to show that one needed a lot of traditional Jewish learning and life learning in order to learn Kabbalah. The Kabbalah Center is an independent organization, registered in the USA as a non-profit religious organization. Though the founders were Jewish, it is not a Jewish organization.
In an interview done earlier this month about his new film, The Oranges, which mostly got lukewarm reviews, Brody somewhat "corrected the record" about his Jewish background. When he was acting in The O.C., Brody seemed to tell the media that he came from a totally secular background. I suspect many readers of this column have followed Brody (at least a little) since he played Seth Cohen and might be interested in this clarification.
|Seth Cohen receiving a Santa hat kippah for Chrismukkah.|
Brody, who was born in San Diego, and raised in nearby Carlsbad, responded to the interview question, "Did you always know you wanted to be an actor?" with this answer:
No, not at all. All I wanted to do was surf. I pretty much lived at the beach. I tried going to community college but dropped out and moved to Hollywood. It was really cool when I moved to Hollywood. There are so many Jews and I immediately liked the camaraderie with people who had the same heritage. It felt good. Where I grew up there were hardly any Jews. I'm not religious but both my parents are Jewish. I was Bar Mitzvahed and we celebrate Hanukah. Growing up, I think there was maybe one other kid who was Jewish. I wasn't teased because nobody cared but I guess on some level, I knew in that way I was different.