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
Our celebrity columnist, Nate Bloom, just gave us a head’s up: This Friday’s episode of Who Do You Think You Are? will follow Gwyneth Paltrow’s exploration of her Jewish ancestry.
The Canadian Jewish News tells us,
Actor Gwyneth Paltrow’s ancestral search, which will be told in a new episode of the NBC TV program Who Do You Think You Are? (WDYTYA), might not have happened if not for Jewish Records Indexing – Poland (JRI Poland).
The Paltrow roots go back to a long line of rabbis named Paltrowicz from northeastern Poland and the towns of Suwalki, Lomza and nearby shtetls.
You can read the full article here.
Or watch the trailer for the Friday, April 1 episode here.
She was really one of the first people in the public eye to take on the AIDS epidemic and embrace those living with HIV and AIDS. She took some of the fear away, and led a fight that still survives.
Late in life she became a social activist. After her friend Rock Hudson died, she helped establish the American Foundation for AIDS Research and helped raise money for it. In 1997, she said, “I use my fame now when I want to help a cause or other people.”
She was a really remarkable woman.
Increasingly, Ms. Taylor divided her time between her charitable works (including various Israeli causes) and commercial enterprises, like a line of perfumes marketed under her name. She helped raise more than $100 million to fight AIDS. In February 1997, she celebrated her 65th birthday at a party that was a benefit for AIDS research. After the party Ms. Taylor entered Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles for an operation on a brain tumor. (From the NYTimes obit.)
Elizabeth Taylor also converted to Judaism over 50 years ago, sometime between her marriage to Mike Todd and wedding Eddie Fisher*. Fisher was Jewish, so it’s possible that she converted to marry him.
Which got me thinking: How common were conversions circa 1958/1959?
In the book of Ruth, Naomi tried to get Ruth to go back to her own people 3 times before Ruth became a part of the Hebrew people. As a result, some rabbis “reject” a potential convert three times before discussing conversion with them. In 1950s Hollywood, did Taylor have to do that? And how did that take less than a year?
Today, it’s common for conversion to take at least a year (at least two years in many cases). And for many individuals it’s an even longer process than that, between deciding to explore Judaism, talking with a rabbi, taking conversion classes, and finally taking the dip in the mikvah (or otherwise completing the process). How did Dame Elizabeth convert in under a year? Was that the norm back then?
*This got the office excited, so I’ve got to include a footnote: Eddie Fisher was married to Debbie Reynolds, who wasn’t Jewish. Together, they had two children: Carrie and Todd (quite probably named after Elizabeth’s husband, Mike Todd, who died around the time of Todd’s birth). Eddie ended his marriage to Debbie to marry Elizabeth. Elizabeth is Carrie’s step-mother (maybe). But more importantly: Princess Leia is from an interfaith family!
Wait, what? Now we find out that Charlie Sheen and John Galliano are… Jewish?
The question is: can these revelations be believed? After all, a very clever way to defuse bad press about anti-Semitism would be for the perpetrator to end up being Jewish himself.
Though their website doesn’t mention it (yet?), Hadassah just sent out a press release:
NEW YORK – Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, salutes Academy Award-winning actress Natalie Portman for speaking out publicly against John Galliano, Christian Dior’s recently dismissed head designer. Portman, who endorses Dior’s Miss Dior Cherie perfume, recently used her spotlight from winning this year’s Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in Black Swan to denounce Galliano’s remarks.
Hadassah National President Nancy Falchuk released the following statement:
So here’s the question I pose to The Jewish Establishment in general: are we now acknowledging that Jews who have interfaith families (Portman is engaged to Benjamin Millepied, who is not Jewish, and is also pregnant) can be Jewish leaders? Great!
Good to know that denouncing anti-semitism is all it takes to have Jews welcomed back into the community’s good graces.
There were certainly many accounts in the Jewish media and blogosphere and from the Jewish Establishment (Haddassah wasn’t among them) about how Portman had done wrong, had made a mistake, etc., for being in an interfaith relationship. What I find interesting is that a mainstream organization like Hadassah is now clearly saying that intermarried Jews (or engaged-to-be-intermarried Jews) can be leaders in the Jewish community and passionate advocates and supporters of Jewish organizations. Fantastic! We agree. Intermarriage isn’t the be all end all. It’s one decision. And it doesn’t detract from someone’s ability to be an involved, passionate Jew.
I admit it: I’m the last person to follow a story about Charlie Sheen. The truth is, I just don’t care. It doesn’t matter to me that his personal life is a mess; that it’s creating a mess in his professional life, though I do feel sorry for the rest of the cast and crew on Two and a Half Men who will get paid less this year as a result of a shortened production schedule; and that the result is creating a mess online, clogging up the series of tubes that make the internet.
But here I am, blogging about Charlie Sheen. Because there’s now two angles that I do find interesting, and relevant to InterfaithFamily.com: Sheen’s ex-wife, Brooke Mueller, is Jewish. His (their) twin boys are Jewish. (Sheen is not Jewish.)
So, first, there’s the rampant anti-semitism in Hollywood, an industry largely run by Jews (at all levels, from actors and writers up to studio executives). And the latest round of drama unfolding for Sheen includes allegations of anti-semitism:
Brooke Mueller, in court documents, has accused Charlie Sheen of sending an anti-semitic text message about his manager, Mark Burg. Mueller alleges that Sheen wrote, “I must execute mark b like the stoopid jew pig that he is.”
Or is Mueller using Sheen’s phone to send messages making him look bad, as Sheen’s (Jewish) former publicist claims?
Is Sheen getting lessons from Mel Gibson (Gibson’s trying to “save” Sheen!)? How does this compare to the John Galliano (Dior) mess? How does the entertainment industry handle this? What are the ramifications (both for Sheen and for the anti-semitic trend in general), if any? Is it possible that Sheen’s former publicist was just trying to protect his former client by claiming that Mueller is somehow using Sheen’s phone to make him look bad when it was Sheen himself doing the dirty work? Sheen is clearly unstable and I think the people in his camp were/are attempting to do damage control at every angle because Sheen is destroying his life. I don’t think we’ve heard the last of the anti-semitism allegations.
The second issue is, what does this mean for the boys? Divorce can be hard enough without a media circus and public scandals. Throwing in anti-semitism (real or alleged) to an interfaith family’s divorce must be confusing, at the very least, for their boys.
Justin felt that if it was something that Jesus would have said, he wanted to say it as well. (-shema/">Jewlicious)
We’re talking, of course, about Justin Bieber saying the Shema before each of his concerts.
But the Biebs isn’t Jewish. His mother, a single parent, is an Evangelical Christian. Before concerts, Bieber and his crew would form a prayer circle. His manager, “Scooter” Braun, and his music director, Dan Kanter, are Jewish.
Bieber’s mother, Pattie Mallette, is a single parent and a devout evangelical Christian. She would lead the prayers, which would end, “In Jesus’ name, Amen.” Scooter, an alumnus of Camp Ramah, along with Bieber’s music director, Dan Kanter, are Jewish; and they decided to add in their own prayer to the circles, the Shema.
If you have a ‘tween girl in your life, or, really, pay attention to the media at all, you know that Bieber’s movie, Never Say Never, opened this weekend. In it,
Bieber is seen reciting the “Shema” prayer in Hebrew prior to the big concert, but the sound is drowned out, and only the most astute listener would be able to figure out what is being said. This scene actually ended up on the “cutting room floor,” but was reinserted into the film at the request of Justin’s mother.
And it’s not just Braun and Kanter reciting it:
By their third pre-concert prayer circle, Justin added his voice to Braun’s and Kanter’s prayer as well. Shocked, Braun asked Justin how he knew the Shema.
Having already cribbed this blog post from Jewlicious rather heavily, I’ll leave you with this final excerpt:
Justin replied that he had looked it up online and memorized it. Justin felt that if it was something that Jesus would have said, he wanted to say it as well. It would also connect him more to his manager. Braun, one of the teen idol’s de facto parents and father figures, explained to him what the prayer meant, the oneness of the Lord, and its centrality to modern Jewish worship. Thus began the tradition of Justin reciting the Shema prior to going on stage. (Of course, one can quibble and argue that in the year zero CE, prayer books were not in use and the order of personal prayers differed from the modern selections and patterns. But who am I to quibble?)
And, for fun, check out the Biebs joining forces with Kanter at Kanter’s wedding in Toronto (Oct. 2010):
And, if that wasn’t enough…
How did I miss this when it originally aired?
I was watching a backlog of House episodes, when I came to the episode “Larger Than Life”, which originally aired on January 17, 2011. I was impressed by the interfaith dating questions that came up.
For those who don’t know. Dr. Lisa Cuddy (Jewish, played by Lisa Edelstein) is dating Dr. Gregory House (who, in this episode, declares himself an atheist and is played by Hugh Laurie). Cuddy’s mother, Arlene (played by Candice Bergen), visits the couple – and meets House for the first time. We learn that she had converted to Judaism to marry Cuddy’s father.
Anyway. They’re all having dinner together, and Bergen asks, “if you were to marry, would you (House) convert to Judaism?” House explains that it’s a little early to be thinking of such things. His best friend, Dr. Wilson, who is also at the meal, jumps in, “actually, that’s really interesting…”
Cuddy’s mother doesn’t see House’s atheism as reason not to convert. “Half the Jews I know are atheists,” she replies. Adding, “it’s about community.”
House, being House, manages to evade the discussion as only he can.
But it made me think: is there such a thing as too early to talk about religious differences in a relationship? Were Cuddy and House real people, and not just characters on a television program, what would we tell them? I’d hope they’d talk about what their expectations were of one another, how they viewed their relationship, plan on spending holidays together. And I’d suggest they take a look at Issues Interfaith Families Confront, Plus Six Tips for Couples Considering Intermarriage in addition to our other resources for couples interdating.
The Boston Jewish Film Festival is underway, running November 3-14. There are a couple screenings of particular interest to interfaith families, or those interested in interfaith and/or intercultural issues. We reviewed a couple already, and are pleased to tell you about another one now.
I Love You Mommy is a stirring documentary about one family’s cross-cultural adoption of their daughter, Faith.
With two biological sons and a daughter previously adopted from China, this American Jewish family is looking to adopt a second daughter. They agree with their children to adopt an older girl so that their daughter can have a big sister. The documentary follows the family as they travel to China, meet their new daughter, Faith, and, over 17 months, go through the struggles of becoming a family together.
If you’re like me, you might have some knowledge of adoption, and might have friends who have adopted children before. None of my friends have adopted older children (Faith is 8 or 9 years old when she’s adopted) who are also from other countries. It was stirring to see Faith’s initial reactions to her new mother (she’s scared, she cries) and to her grandfather (she steps away from him when he approaches and hides behind the adoption agency’s interpreter) — the two family members who traveled to China to get Faith. Watching how her parents react to, and include, cultural differences and celebrations is really refreshing to see, as is Faith’s acclimation to her new culture, family and religion.
It’s amazing to watch her transition, see how the family grows with her, meets her challenges, and welcomes her as a new addition to their family and home.
If you’re in the Boston area, I Love You Mommy is playing on Tuesday, November 9 at 7:00pm at the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline.
I recommend it!
The Boston Jewish Film Festival is right around the corner – November 3-14. There are a couple screenings of particular interest to interfaith families, or those interested in interfaith and/or intercultural issues.
The first is the film Me and the Jewish Thing, a documentary about, and by, Ulrik Gutkin. Through conversations with his wife, Signe, we learn that Ulrik, who is Jewish, and Signe, who is Christian, do not share the same opinion about the need for circumcision. Ulrik, a 4th generation Danish Jew, feels strongly that their son should be circumcised. Signe, however, sees circumcision as a “medieval” act of mutilation and cruelty.
The film covers four years of the couple’s life, spanning from the last weeks of Signe’s pregnancy, through the first few years of their son Felix’s life. Interwoven with Ulrik and Signe’s ongoing debate, we learn about Ulrik’s Jewish history, his attachment to his religion and culture. In addition to questioning the physical purpose of circumcision, Signe wonders why it’s important to Ulrik to become more Jewish, make a film about this Jewish topic, when Judaism wasn’t a big part of Ulrik’s life prior to having kids.
Ulrik struggles to articulate why he feels strongly in favor of circumcising their son. As it becomes clear to him that their son won’t be circumcised, he looks for other ways to impart Judaism on Felix, though he and Signe again feel differently about those efforts.
While this documentary demonstrates a difficult issue that many interfaith couples are faced with, we at InterfaithFamily.com encourage couples to discuss potential conflicts in advance. We have plenty of resources about circumcision, if that’s the specific topic in question; we’re also offering an online group for interfaith couples to learn how to make decisions while still respecting both partner’s religion.
Screening with Me and the Jewish Thing is a short documentary called Michal, Matthias and the Unborn Child. Unlike Ulrik and Signe, Michal, an Israeli Jew, and Matthias, a Christian German, start discussing what their religious life would look like were they to have children together in the future.
They visit a Jewish day school in Berlin, where they live, and meet with another local Jewish Israeli and German couple who are raising their children as Jews. Michal and Matthias are able to see these children, and their father, who is not Jewish, participate fully in lighting the candles, making blessings over the wine, and sharing a Shabbat dinner together.
This process is open, respectful, and proactive. We definitely approve of their early dialogue!
See Ulrik and Signe, Michal and Matthias (along with a third short film, Hasan Everywhere) on Thursday, November 11 at 4:15pm at the Coolidge Corner Theatre.
Stay tuned for more reviews!
I admit that ever since the dramatic season finales of ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy, with its disgruntled widow shooting spree, and its spin-off Private Practice, with the death of Dell Parker by a drunk driver, I was wondering how they would begin the new seasons. I was happily surprised to find both episodes dealt with life-cycle events for interfaith couples on last Thursday’s season premiers.
On Grey’s Anatomy, Dr. Christina Yang (Sandra Oh) married Dr. Owen Hunt (Kevin McKidd). As described on Judaism/2009/08/Jewish-TV-Characters.aspx?p=2">BeliefNet, Christina considers herself Jewish; the character converted as a child when her mother married a Jewish oral surgeon, Dr. Saul Rubenstein. Christina has, from time to time, brought up her Jewish background. Both of Dr. Yang’s engagements were to non-Jews; it would have been great to see her plan/have an wedding that reflected her Jewish identity.
Dr. Yang’s first wedding, which was planned, but never happened, was to happen in a church with no Jewish clergy present. This wedding was planned by Dr. Yang herself, and not by a future mother-in-law, which gave Christina the perfect opportunity to have included a local rabbi in her ceremony. (InterfaithFamily.com has several rabbis and Jewish professionals in the Seattle area to whom we could have referred her.) I am disappointed that the recent season premier episode completely ignored her faith as well. This was a missed opportunity to portray how meaningful an interfaith wedding could be.
On Private Practice, Drs. Cooper Freedman (Paul Adlestein) and Charlotte King (Kadee Strickland) start the season making love while discussing how Charlotte’s pastor wants to talk to Cooper’s rabbi. I hope the powers that be take the opportunity to explore the dimensions of an interfaith wedding for them!
Looking forward to where the season will take these shows… And hoping to see some interfaith issues explored by the two couples!