New flicks with celebs in interfaith relationships and from interfaith backgrounds, plus their baby news!Go To Pop Culture
Michelle Obama has a rabbi in her family, Anthony Weiss of The Forward reported on Tuesday:
Meanwhile, according to Ron Kampeas and Eric Fingerhut of JTA, Joe Biden’s son married into a Jewish family.
On the Republican side, no Jewish connections in John McCain’s or Sarah Palin’s families have come to light (unless you count McCain’s newly adopted pet Democrat, Joe Lieberman). But don’t worry, as the 2004 election cycle showed us, if there’s a Jew–or even a miniature Israeli flag–somewhere in their family trees, somebody will find it.
I recently finished reading Philip Roth’s American Pastoral, which won the Pulitzer for fiction in 1997. Roth of course has written extensively about Jewish men who fall in love with non-Jewish women–and the parents who disapprove–and American Pastoral is no different. Except when it is.
Unlike most of his other protagonists, the central character in American Pastoral is not a Roth-surrogate. The hero of American Pastoral (and to be sure, a hero is what he is), is a tall, athletic, endlessly optimistic blonde businessman and former high school sports star nicknamed “the Swede.” In short, he is the anti-Roth. But like Roth’s typical parade of Zuckermans and Portnoys, he is Jewish, and he is from New Jersey.
The list of Jewish players who have ever played in the NBA is short (and the list of notable ones is even shorter). The best ever is Hall-of-Famer Dolph Schayes, who was named one of the 50 greatest players in NBA history in 1996.
The newest Jewish talent in the NBA–and first since Dolph’s son Danny last played in 1999–is Jordan Farmar, the backup point guard for the L.A. Lakers. Even more relevant for our audience, he’s from an interfaith family. His father was a non-Jewish African-American and his mother is Jewish (he was subsequently raised by his mother and his stepdad, an Israeli). Despite being a second-year player and making more than $1 million a year, he continues to live with his parents. (I’m sure his fellow players never give him guff about that.)
My 5-year-old son is really interested in holidays, especially ones that have special costumes. How do you explain St. Patrick’s Day to a Jewish boy–who lives in Boston? We passed people wearing green clothing and sparkly hats on the street yesterday, probably on their way to the famous St. Patrick’s Day Parade, which is the oldest celebration of Irish heritage in the United States. Being Irish is cool in Boston. But is it a Jewish holiday? Maybe!
You can be Jewish and Irish at the same time; it’s not only the stuff of jokes. (I bow to Philologos of the Jewish Forward for having published the aged but still effective Sean Ferguson joke in his column this week–great timing!) Jews have a long history as a tiny minority in Ireland. There was probably a community as early as the 1200s, and unlike the Jews of England, Ireland’s Jews never underwent expulsion. They have had a small, visible and audible presence in the modern period as political and cultural figures.
The Jewish Advocate ran an article this past week in their print edition about Carl Nelkin, recently featured in the documentary Shalom Ireland. Nelkin, a Jewish community leader and a lawyer, is also a musician who has released an album of Yiddish music played on traditional Irish instruments. Jewish-Irish cultural blending goes beyond Leopold Bloom. I now have a small list of Jewish-Irish music CDs I’m going to be forced to acquire. Research for my job here, essential, very important! Continue reading
Most people hold dear books that they read as a child. Me, I can barely recall anything I read prior to turning 15 (and those books that I do remember, like the Encyclopedia Brown and Choose Your Own Adventure series, hold no special place in my heart). So “Judy Blume” has long been just another author name to me: one of several popular children’s authors, banished to the reserve stacks of my mind’s library.
Only recently have I realized that Judy Blume has been one of the most daring authors of the last 40 years. According to a new Q&A with Moment magazine, she “holds the dubious honor of being the second-most-censored author of the past 15 years, according to the American Library Association.” Her “most frequently challenged” novel (according to the ALA), Forever, tells the story of a high school senior named Katherine who had premarital sex and enjoyed it. (Maybe if it weren’t banned when I were a kid, I would have a sharper memory of Blume.)
I find a lot of great stuff on The Jew and the Carrot, a blog about Jews and food, like this blurb about Natalie Portman’s new project. She’s going to star with Irrfan Khan in Mira Nair’s next movie, Kosher Vegetarian. The title alone sends me, and it’s a movie about a relationship between a Gujurati man and a Jewish woman, so we’re sure to review it here. Maybe we’ll get hits from people trying to find recipes. (If you came here looking for vegan knish recipes, just comment and I’ll hook you up.) Plus, I think Natalie Portman is awesome. Continue reading
In Friday’s post, I said Bob Dylan “grew up as a non-participating Jew.”
Leave it to my friend, the sage of Jewish celebrity trivia, Nate Bloom, to correct my error. Turns out Dylan was quite a bit more Jewishly involved than I thought, according to this email message from Bloom:
Last night, both of HBO’s buzziest shows, The Sopranos and Entourage, included interfaith relationships as part of their storylines. And both were chock full of stereotypes.
One of the plotlines on last night’s ep of The Sopranos concerns Hesch (Jerry Adler), a retired Jewish record producer who has loaned money to Tony Soprano and his late father for decades. In the new episode, Tony forgets that he owes Hesch $200,000 for gambling losses; when Hesch demurely asks for the money, Tony starts resenting one of his oldest friends, calling him “Shylock” and making cracks about his Jewish obsession with money–as opposed to Tony himself, who instead of politely asking for repayment of loans, beats you up and steals your stuff to remind you that you’re in arrears.
For the first time in the show’s storied run, we get a glimpse into Hesch’s personal life. His son, Eli, is apparently a religious Jew, and Hesch’s girlfriend is a much younger black woman. To its credit, the show treats Hesch and his girlfriend’s relationship matter-of-factly. No one even notes the racial or age difference between the two. And as much as Tony unfairly stereotypes Hesch, Hesch does the same with Tony–he says that most of the time, Italians are alright, but when you get on their bad side, they’re like animals.
Some random articles I’ve collected over the last week or two:
To pay tribute to his late father’s Jewish heritage, an astronaut from an interfaith home brought a teddy bear into space. The bear was a replica of Refugee, a teddy bear donated to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum by Holocaust survivor Sophie Turner-Zaretsky.
Astronaut Mark Polansky, whose mother is a native Hawaiian, asked the museum for some mementoes that would simultaneously pay tribute to his father Irving, who died in 2001, and bring awareness to the genocide in Darfur, Sudan. The museum also gave him a photo of a child refugee from Darfur. The bear made its 5.3-million-mile journey on the Discovery mission in December, and Turner-Zaretsky, now 80 and living in New York, followed the shuttle’s progress every step of the way.