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Interfaith Celebrities: a Royal Wedding, May-December Romance and Montreal Connections

May 10, 2011

Getting Two Thoroughbreds Together

When a Jewish jockey, who happens to be the grandson of a former Lord Mayor of London, helps reunite the heir to the British throne with his future wife, it’s definitely worth mentioning.

I refer to Sam Waley-Cohen, who was a guest with a very good seat at the recent royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton. In 2007, he invited the Prince and Ms. Middleton to a party at his family’s mansion. The couple had been broken-up for months, but they re-connected romantically at the party and the rest is history.

Many sources say that Waley-Cohen, 28, has taken too little credit for his role in their reunion. He recently told Yahoo News:

I don't know for sure if I had anything to do with it. They have both been friends of mine for a long time and they make a fantastic couple ... Wherever it happened, I like to think they got back together of their own accord and we are all delighted that they did.

Waley-Cohen has a business career, but he is best known as a top amateur jockey. He competes in races in which the horses must jump over fences and similar obstacles in a several mile course.

Called the English National Hunt, this form of racing is very popular in the UK, Ireland and France; it's a special favorite of the aristocracy and royal family. He just won the most important National Hunt race, the Cheltenhem Gold Cup, riding a horse owned by his father, Sir Robert Waley-Cohen.

Sir Robert is a major racehorse owner and the founder of a very successful diagnostic imaging company. Sam Waley-Cohen’s mother, the Hon. Felicity Ann Samuel, is the daughter of a Jewish Baron.

Robert’s father, Bernard, and grandfather, who was also named Robert, were successful businessmen and were both knighted. They also served terms as Lord Mayor of London.

A Celebrity Lesbian Interfaith Wedding

In 1858, after a long battle, English law was finally changed and Lionel de Rothschild, a Jew, was allowed to take his elected seat in the House of Commons without taking an oath on the Christian Bible. In 1885, his son, Nathan, was the first Jew raised to the peerage with the right to sit in the House of Lords.

Today, milestones such as this seem logical and just, and most people view them as “ancient history.” After all, as I just wrote, Prince William and his wife have a Jewish pal whose father, grandfather and great-grandfather were all knighted.

Years from now, a lesbian, interfaith, celebrity wedding may not be news. But today, this milestone in equal rights is still cutting-edge and definitely news.

Country Music star, Christian and LGBT activist Chely Wright shares her story of activism and faith at Auburn Theological Seminary's Lives of Commitment Breakfast on May 6th, 2011. The first openly gay female country music star, Wright is a tireless activist for LGBT issues.

Last month, People Magazine ran a feature about the upcoming (August) wedding of country singer Chely Wright and gay activist Lauren Blitzer. Wright is Christian and Blitzer is Jewish; they are planning an interfaith wedding with a rabbi and minister presiding. They plan to be married in Connecticut where same-sex marriages are legal.

Wright has had a pretty successful career as a country singer. She was constantly invited to perform on the stage of the famous Grand Ol’ Opry performance hall in Nashville, the so-called “home of country music”. However, as she says in the People piece, that the management of the Opry has stopped booking her since she announced, last year, that she is a lesbian.

May-December Interfaith Celeb Romance

Yes, it’s now “virtually” official: actress Scarlett Johansson, 26, and actor Sean Penn, 50, are a romantic couple.

After months of hanging out with each other, they have put their romance on display via public signs of affection like holding hands and, most notably, kissing openly at the White House Correspondents Dinner (where President Obama skewered Donald Trump) held on April 30. Many witnesses said that Johansson was even seen sitting in Penn’s lap during a break in the dinner. The actress’s mother is Jewish and Penn’s late father was Jewish.

Douglas Thanks a Jewish Hospital

On May 2, interfaith actor Michael Douglas, 66, traveled to Montreal to headline a benefit dinner for the city’s Jewish General Hospital which is affiliated with McGill University. He did so to thank the staff of the hospital for their part in the diagnosis of his throat cancer. Toronto’s Globe and Mail, which interviewed Douglas just before the event, says:

He said he’d been having bothersome symptoms over the course of nine months: pain in his throat, in the back of his gums and up toward his ears. He consulted various ear, nose and throat doctors and was prescribed antibiotics for what was thought to be an infection.

But while summering last year in Quebec’s Mont Tremblant, where he shares a home with his wife, actress Catherine Zeta-Jones, Mr. Douglas went to see Dr. Saul Frenkiel at the Jewish General, a McGill teaching hospital.

The doctor put a tongue depressor in the actor’s throat.

“I looked in his eyes and I immediately knew what I thought had been the problem,” Mr. Douglas said. “We identified it and did the biopsy. It was the Big C.”

“[The diagnosis] turned out to be extremely crucial,” he said. “Because I was Stage 4 cancer.”

“I felt something nine months earlier and brought it to the attention of my doctors,” he said. “So there was frustration involved, to say the least.”

Mr. Douglas was treated at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, undergoing aggressive chemotherapy and radiation. He declared in January that he was cancer-free, but continues to get regular check-ups and remains “cautious.”

His biggest fear was having surgery to remove part of his tongue if other treatments failed. “I would imagine it affects your speech, to say the least. I don’t think tongue cancer is the best cancer for an actor.”

A Bit of “Royal” Trivia about the Jewish General Hospital

The official name of the Montreal Jewish General Hospital is the Sir Mortimer Davis Jewish General Hospital.

Davis (1866-1928) was the first Canadian-born Jew to be knighted. His enormous list of Jewish philanthropies included co-founding the hospital that now bears his name. It was re-named after him when, 50 years after his death, his last descendant died and per his will the remainder of his estate ($10 million) went to the hospital.

His first wife, Henriette Meyer (1872-1963), known as Lady Davis, invested her divorce settlement money so well that she was able to fund the Jewish Hospital’s research institute which is named after her.

She also helped thousands of Jews flee from Europe during WWII, provided funds to re-settle refugee scientists in Canada, and provided funds that have allowed thousands of scientists to study at the Technion Institute in Haifa, Israel.

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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