Gwyneth Paltrow Discovers Her Roots

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).

Founded by Montrealer Stanley Diamond, JRI-Poland is an online searchable database of 4.2 million records related to Polish Jewry.

The April 1 episode of the celebrity documentary series will feature the Academy Award-winner’s genealogical journey.

And,

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.

“The show’s researchers tapped into into JRI-Poland’s online database as the starting point in documenting Paltrow’s ancestry,” said Diamond.

You can read the full article here.

Or watch the trailer for the Friday, April 1 episode here.

Sheen and Galliano are… Jewish?

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.

That way, he is no longer a racist but merely a self-hating Jew:  a tragic figure with a twisted psychic relationship to his own roots.

Mel Gibson must be kicking himself for not having thought of it first.

On the other hand, maybe this new twist of events is just bizarre enough to be true.

Read more.

Natalie Portman, Hadassah and Dior

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.

It continues…

Hadassah National President Nancy Falchuk released the following statement:

“Natalie Portman has had quite a week; she won the Academy Award for Best Actress, and she proved herself to be a leader in the Jewish community by condemning anti-Semitic comments made by designer John Galliano.  We are proud to have Natalie as a passionate advocate and supporter of Hadassah’s work in the fields of health, medical advancement and Jewish education, advocacy and volunteerism.  We congratulate her not just for her Academy Award, but for her willingness to be a leader and role model for those around her.”

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.

Charlie Sheen

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 Bieber: Honorary Jew?

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?)

Amen.

For more on this story, check out these other sources.

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…

A Shame That It Takes a Tragedy

Yesterday Benjamin Maron put up a blog post about the awful attack on US Representative Gabrielle Giffords. Everyone at InterfaithFamily.com, like most people, feels terribly about what happened in Tucson.

The violent incident in itself is not something that we would ordinarily comment about. (My personal view that there should be a huge outcry about gun control isn’t something that is an issue for InterfaithFamily.com either.) If Congresswoman Giffords didn’t have an interfaith family background, we wouldn’t have commented. But she does, and we thought it would be interest to our readers, and in part it was our way of expressing our distress.

The mission of InterfaithFamily.com is to empower people in interfaith relationships to engage in Jewish life and make Jewish choices. There are so many interfaith couples that are potentially interested in Jewish life, we want to present information that will attract them to give it a try. When a person of celebrity comes from or is in an interfaith relationship and is engaged Jewishly, we want to let our site visitors know, because it may trigger interest or steps in that direction. From all accounts, Gabrielle Giffords is a very wonderful person in the public eye, who came from an interfaith family — her father is Jewish, her mother is not — and was not raised very Jewishly and yet chose to identify Jewishly as an adult. We think it’s important for our readers to know that.

There is another significance to the Giffords story that is very relevant to IFF’s advocacy work for more welcoming of interfaith families by Jewish communities. Thankfully Gabrielle Giffords apparently was not greeted, when she decided to get more Jewishly involved, with an attitude that she was not welcome, she was not “really” Jewish, etc. In that regard, the Jerusalem Post ran a very important editorial yesterday. The Post, not exactly known to be liberal on intermarriage issues, basically says that Giffords should be considered to be a Jew – even though she is not halachically Jewish.

Some of the Post’s language is striking. They say for example that Giffords “actively embraced Judaism” after a 2001 trip to Israel – this about a person who has not converted. They also say that the “broadening definition of Jewishness is not restricted to the Reform movement,“ citing a paper about halachically non-Jewish offspring of intermarried parents not being excluded from Conservative congregations. The editorial concludes:

Is it conceivable to exclude Giffords, another “non-Jew,” who is so unequivocally Jewish? With all our desire for a universally accepted definition of “Who is a Jew?” that would unify the Jewish people, we cannot ignore the complicated reality that many “non-Jews” are much more Jewish than their “Jewish” fellows. Congresswoman Giffords is one of them.

The flip side of IFF’s work trying to attract people in interfaith relationships to Jewish life is that Jewish communities need to welcome them. It’s a shame that it takes a tragedy like this one for leading Jewish commentators to come to that conclusion.

From Mormon to Jew

New kid on the block blog Kveller has a new post up, written by Mayim Bialik. You might remember her from Blossom – she played the title role. You might now notice her on The Big Bang Theory, playing the deliciously nerdy (and stealthily modestly dressed) girlfriend to Sheldon.

She’s written about her husband Mike’s conversion to Judaism. He was raised a Mormon:

Yes, you heard me right: my husband was raised Mormon. How Mormon? Well, let’s see… Sunday school, accepting the priesthood, baptizing the dead, family in Utah who don’t drink hot beverages and strongly disapprove of “Big Love.” Should I stop now? Yes. Very Mormon.

So how did his family react?

Mike’s decision to convert to Judaism after five years of dating “SuperJew” (that would be one of my nicknames) was welcomed by his family. They saw his identification with any religion better than the identification with none  that he had happily had since he left the Church due to disbelief and disinterest at the age of 12. In addition, an understanding and appreciation of Judaism is integral to the Mormon religion, and the Jews are regarded as a people chosen by G-d to receive the Ten Commandments and the Old Testament.

Really, you should just head over and read the full article on Kveller.