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Interfaith Celebrities and the Surprise Celebrity Conversion Meme

July 20, 2010

Chelsea Clinton Headed for the Huppah?

On July 31, Chelsea Clinton, the only child of Bill and Hillary Clinton, will marry her Jewish fiancé Mark Mezvinsky.

Bill Clinton, Chelsea Clinton, Mark Mezvinsky
Former President Bill Clinton, his daughter Chelsea Clinton, and her fiancé, Mark Mezvinsky at the Clinton Global Initiative, a project of Bill Clinton's foundation, last year. Photo: Reuters/Chip East.

Back in 2007, I profiled these two successful, intelligent people. I said that Clinton was a practicing Methodist (like her mother). I also mentioned that Clinton had recently attended a Shabbat dinner to learn more about Judaism.

Last September, there was a brief news item about Clinton attending Yom Kippur services at the Jewish Theological Seminary, the main rabbinical seminary for Conservative Judaism. I learned at that time that Mezvinsky's family was affiliated with the Conservative movement of American Judaism.

As far as I know--and I've looked--the Sabbath dinner and the Yom Kippur services are the only times that Chelsea Clinton has been linked to Jewish religious practice.

My 2007 profile of the couple got a lot of hits when the couple's engagement was announced at the end of November, 2009. It was, then, one of the very few web articles that went into any depth about the couple's respective religious backgrounds. In my profile, I even included what I think is an interesting sidelight about Hillary Clinton's Jewish "half aunt".

The details of the Clinton/Mezvinsky nuptials have been kept secret from the press, other than the location. So, people can speculate as to what type of wedding they will have, civil or religious.

If it is a religious ceremony, one can guess a lot of things. Maybe a rabbi and a minister will preside together, or maybe either a rabbi or a minister will preside alone, but will include something of both parties' faith in the ceremony--and so on.

But I am floored about the speculation, by otherwise intelligent people, that the wedding will be like some sort of TV game show. Do they think that on her wedding day, it will be announced that Chelsea Clinton has been discretely studying to become Jewish and is [drum roll] the newest celebrity convert to Judaism?

InterfaithFamily.com has tracked this issue on their staff blog and in the discussion boards, and these blog posts and visitor comments were prominently mentioned in a long article by Politics Daily (website) religion reporter David Gibson, "Will Chelsea Clinton convert?--Jews Wonder and Ponder the Implications."

Overall, Gibson's piece, which was posted on July 10, is a good article that covers the subject of Jewish/non-Jewish intermarriage in some depth and I enjoyed reading it.

However, Gibson does go on for many paragraphs discussing something that seems illogical to me--the possibility of Clinton converting to Judaism.

Gibson doesn't cover the celebrity beat, like I do, and maybe he is unaware of one fact that seems crystal clear to me. People as famous as Chelsea Clinton don't convert to Judaism without the news somehow getting out that this is what they are doing.

Yes, as I have written many times before, there are constant false reports (in the junk gossip press) of this or that celebrity converting to Judaism after a few dates with a Jew, famous or not.

However, when a really famous celebrity is REALLY studying to convert to Judaism, the fact gets out somehow. The recent conversions to Judaism of Ivanka Trump and actress Isla Fisher were covered in the media well in advance of their weddings.

Clinton and Mezvinsky had been dating off and on for years before they became a steady item in 2007. They've been engaged for seven months. During all this time, not a word has appeared in the media that Chelsea has been studying to convert.

But, Gibson says, there are "tantalizing clues" that she might convert, like her going to one Yom Kippur service.

Boy, is that ever a thin reed to hang paragraph after paragraph speculating that Chelsea might convert--with only three weeks to go before her wedding.

Gibson is not alone. I have seen "Gibson-like" speculation about Chelsea converting in other very recent articles, like blogs connected to Jewish papers. I realize something else is going on here; the possibility of Chelsea Clinton becoming Jewish makes for an attention-grabbing headline for an article. A lot more so than a headline that says: "Clinton could possibly have a rabbi at her wedding."

To my part-time celebrity news journalist colleagues I say: tone down the attention-getting headlines and think more before you write about the dubious possibility of a "surprise" celebrity conversion.

I think it is obvious to just about anyone who really thinks this through that there is only the remotest possibility that Chelsea Clinton has, or is about to convert to Judaism, and that fact has been kept as a closely guarded secret until the day of her wedding.

As a matter-of-fact, I cannot recall a wedding, celebrity or not, in which the conversion of one spouse was kept a secret until the couple's wedding day. I'm sure such a thing has happened, but it isn't exactly a common occurrence.

If I am wrong about Chelsea Clinton? I'll submit to being pelted with those little cocktail frankfurters they serve at many Jewish weddings and post the video of the event on Youtube. I think that's fair.

Ronson Tweets Down Rivers

Lindsay Lohan's legal troubles have been all over the news and it's mostly a sad story of a talented young woman tossing away her career, and maybe even her life, via substance abuse.

Lindsay Lohan in court
Actress Lindsay Lohan looks on in court in Beverly Hills, July 7, 2010. Photo: Reuters.

Back in March, 2009, I had a column item about news reports that Lohan, who was raised Catholic, was considering converting to the faith of her then-romantic partner, English Jewish DJ Samantha Ronson. I said then that the reports of Lohan's conversion had more substance than most gossip items about "celeb conversions," but that I doubted that Lohan "had the diligence to complete a course of studies leading to conversion."

For well over a year there haven't been any new stories about Lohan converting to Judaism. Lohan's ardor for Judaism probably cooled when she and Ronson broke up in April 2009.

Converting or not, Lohan is friendly with another Jewish woman, Israeli Eilat Anschel--but has denied rumors that they are dating. Anschel also came to Lohan's July 6 hearing where Lohan received a sentence of 90 days in jail for violating her drunk driving probation.

Amid the actress's troubles, there was one somewhat amusing sidelight earlier this month.

Jewish comedian Joan Rivers, 77, who is known for sticking the comedic knife in the side of celebrities who act badly, really let Lohan have it in two Twitter tweets.

On July 9, Rivers tweeted: "Lindsay Lohan is so dumb-- her idea of being sworn-in is cursing at the judge." In this tweet, and in another, significantly less family-friendly one the septuagenarian satirist was referring to reports that Lohan, incredibly, went to court with the words "F--- U" painted on the nail of her middle finger.

The "nail message" was caught by sharp-eyed viewers watching the tape of the court proceedings and highlighted in news reports.

Despite what Rivers tweeted, it is doubtful the judge even saw the words on Lohan's fingernail and the fingernail 'incident' didn't seem to influence the judge's decision to give Lindsay 90 days in the slammer for violating the terms of her probationary sentence for drunk driving.

In any event, within hours of Rivers' tweets, Lohan's ex-sweetie came to her defense. Ronson's Twitter response to Rivers was so cutting that I think even Rivers had to grudgingly appreciate it.

Ronson tweeted: "Hey Joan Rivers. You have collagen older than Lindsay, pick on someone your own age; oh wait I guess people that old can't hear."

By the way, Ronson just told the LondonTimes that crushing media attention helped end her relationship with Lohan. The profile, in which Ronson discusses her sexuality, is behind a pay wall, but you can read a summary of it on the blog After Ellen.

This Sporting Life

On June 3, the Minnesota Twins called-up third baseman Danny Valencia to sub-in for another player who was on emergency leave. He's played so well that the Twins have kept him on the roster. Born and raised in the Miami area, Valencia, 25, is the son of a non-Jewish father and a Jewish mother. He was raised Jewish and had a bar mitzvah.

His parents sacrificed a lot so Danny could attend the University of Miami for two years and play on their top-ranked baseball team. I guess Danny can pay them back this year if he lasts out the rest of the season and earns $200K, or half the major league yearly minimum salary (400K).

Los Angeles Lakers back-up point guard Jordan Farmar, 23, joined the New Jersey Nets on July 11. He signed a three-year, $12 million contract. Farmar, who was raised Jewish, is the son of a non-Jewish African-American father and a white Jewish mother.

There is one other Jewish player now in the NBA: Omri Casspi, an Israeli player who joined the Sacramento Kings last season.

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 "Day of Atonement," the final of ten Days of Awe that begin with Rosh Hashanah. Occurs during the fall and is marked by a 24-hour fast. One of the most important Jewish holidays. The Jewish Sabbath, from sunset on Friday to nightfall on Saturday. 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.

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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