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Is Drew Barrymore Jewish? No, But She’s Converting to Judaism with Adam Sandler’s Help

Cross-posted to the Community Next blog

Is Drew Barrymore Jewish? The answer is that she currently is not, but she appears to be interested in converting to the Jewish faith. She is engaged to marry Will Kopelman this year.

While many non-Jews preparing for conversion to Judaism reach out to rabbis or Jewish friends for guidance, Drew Barrymore has sought out a colleague who has been an Israeli hair stylist, a water boy, a hockey player/golfer, and a surrogate father. Yep, Adam Sandler is reportedly offering guidance to Barrymore during the transition to the Jewish people.

Perhaps Drew Barrymore will hear her name in the next version of Adam Sandler’s Hanukkah Song, which would be the fourth installment in Sandler’s humorous song that lists Hollywood’s Jews who celebrate Hanukkah.

The celebrity gossip magazine In Touch Weekly reported that Sandler might even play a major role at Drew Barrymore’s wedding:

According to insiders, Drew Barrymore wants her favorite co-star Adam Sandler to be her best man when she marries fiancé Will Kopelman in a traditional Jewish ceremony later this year.

In fact, Adam and 36-year-old Drew have grown so close while working on several movies together that “he’s even helping her with the process of converting to Judaism,” a source tells In Touch.

“Those two absolutely adore each other, so it only made sense to Drew that he will be right by her side playing an important role at her wedding.”

Although her rep denies the story, Drew, who has gotten very close to Will’s family, has told them she will raise their children Jewish, says the friend.

Unlike her experience with Adam Sandler, Drew Barrymore probably didn’t have to go through 50 First Dates before becoming engaged to Kopelman. But there is a good chance that her best man will also be the Wedding Singer on her big day!

For now, she’ll likely be studying in anticipation of her conversion. When Drew Barrymore makes it official and converts to Judaism, coming up with fun headlines will not be a challenge. “Barrymore Becomes Drewish” or “Drew A Jew” are two of my favorites.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
Antisemitism Celebrities Hollywood Mel Gibson Robert Downey Yom Kippur

Robert Downey Jr. Appeals For Mel Gibson’s Forgiveness

As anyone who was paying attention during the recent Yom Kippur services will tell you, one must seek repentance on their own. In Judaism, there are three ways to atone for sins: asking for forgiveness, praying, and giving charity. Nowhere in Jewish law does it say that a friend can ask for forgiveness on your behalf.
That’s precisely what actor Robert Downey Jr. attempted to do on Friday during the American Cinematheque Awards Friday in Los Angeles. Downey Jr. urged the Hollywood community to forgive Gibson for his recent troubles, which include anti-Semitic rants, racial tirades, and spousal abuse.

At the annual award ceremony occurring exactly one week after Yom Kippur, Downey Jr. (whose father is half-Jewish) paraphrased the New Testament when he said to the audience that “unless you are without sin…you should forgive him and let him work.” The two actors appeared in the 1990 movie “Air America” together. Downey continued, “I urge you to forgive my friend his trespasses. Allow him to pursue this art without shame.”

At least one rabbi has spoken out against Downey Jr.’s attempts to gain forgiveness from his Hollywood colleague. The Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Rabbi Marvin Hier, said that only Mel Gibson can seek and receive forgiveness for his sins. “The sins between man and his fellow man can only be forgiven if the person who committed the sin asks for forgiveness from those whom he shamed and insulted and caused harm to,” Hier said Monday.

Hier even mentioned that Mel Gibson’s plans to make a movie about Judah Maccabee won’t help his cause either. “”You can’t ask forgiveness indirectly through a movie,” Hier said. “You can’t do it by saying, ‘Look at the part that I have. I’m producing a film about a Jew.’”

In September, the Anti-Defamation League has asked Warner Brothers to remove Gibson from the Judah Maccabee film. Abraham Foxman of the ADL released a statement in September saying, “We would have hoped that Warner Bros. could have found someone better than Mel Gibson to direct or perhaps even star in a film on the life of the Jewish historical icon Judah Maccabee. As a hero of the Jewish people and a universal hero in the struggle for religious liberty, Judah Maccabee deserves better. It would be a travesty to have the story of the Maccabees told by one who has no respect and sensitivity for other people’s religious views.”

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
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Ben Stiller is Not a Patrilineal Jew

My friend and co-blogger for The Jewish Week, Julie Wiener, writes about Ben Stiller’s opening monologue on Saturday Night Live this past week. Julie’s “In the Mix” blog focuses on issues facing the intermarried.

I also tuned in to Saturday Night Live following a 25-hour fast and then watching my Detroit Tigers lose in their first game of the ALCS to the Texas Rangers. I thought it was funny that Ben Stiller opened his monologue with a Yom Kippur reference and stated that “My father’s Jewish, my mother’s Irish-Catholic, which means according to the Torah I’m not actually Jewish, but according to all mirrors I am.”

Julie used Ben Stiller’s line to argue that not all Jews would interpret the Torah as saying that he’s not Jewish. She’s correct that Reform, Reconstructionist, and — based on a recent survey — many Conservative Jews believe that one parent is enough for Jewish status. However, Ben Stiller’s mother, Anne Meara, actually converted to Judaism before giving birth to Ben. That means that Ben would be considered fully Jewish.

According to Anne Meara’s Wikipedia entry, “Meara was raised Catholic in an Irish American family, and converted to Reform Judaism six years after marrying Stiller. She has long stressed that she did not convert at Stiller’s request… She took the conversion seriously and studied the faith in such depth that her Jewish-born husband quipped, ‘Being married to Anne has made me more Jewish.'”

True, there will be many who say that Meara’s conversion was in the Reform tradition and might not have included immersion in a mikvah (ritual bath). It is, however, possible that it did include immersion and should be regarded as a kosher conversion. That would mean that Ben Stiller is not a patrilineal Jew as Julie Wiener maintains.

What is most interesting is that while Stiller (who is married to the non-Jewish Christine Taylor) should regard himself as a full member of the Jewish people because of his mother’s conversion before his birth, he used his mother’s former faith for laughs. And that is something that Anne Meara did for years in her comedy routine with Jerry Stiller.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
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Apple Removes Jewish App in France

Cross-posted to the Jewish Techs blog at The NY Jewish Week

It’s the age old question: Is so-and-so Jewish or not? I’m not talking about the controversial “Who is a Jew” question that gets into matters of lineage. Rather, the dinner party question of whether a celebrity is Jewish or not.

Occasionally I blog about Jewish celebrities here and I peek at the analytics that show what search strings people used to land on my blog. There is an overwhelmingly high number of referrals to my blog from searches from all over the world like these: “Is Justin Bieber Jewish?” “Is Madonna Jewish?” “Is Bruce Springsteen Jewish?” “Is Lenny Kravitz Jewish” “Is Benjamin Millepied Jewish” and so on. What does that mean? It means that people from all over the globe are curious about which celebrities are Jewish.

Well, if people are curious about which celebrities are Jewish and which aren’t… There’s an app for that. But not in France anymore.

The French version of the “Jew or Not Jew” app, called “Juif ou pas Juif?” in French, was selling for 0.79 euro cents ($1.08) in France when Apple decided to kill it. An organization in France called SOS Racisme argued that the app, which was designed by a Jewish man, violated French laws banning the compiling of people’s personal details without their consent. Apple agreed. The app still sells outside France, including in Apple’s U.S. App Store where its price is $1.99.

SOS Racisme released a statement explaining that it called on Apple to remove the app from its online store and to be more vigilant about the applications it sells. In an interview, published Wednesday in Le Parisien newspaper, the “Jew or Not Jew?” app developer Johann Levy said he developed the app to be “recreational.”

“I’m not a spokesman for all Jews, but as a Jew myself I know that in our community we often ask whether a such-and-such celebrity is Jewish or not,” Levy, a 35-year-old Franco-British engineer of Jewish origin said. “For me, there’s nothing pejorative about saying that someone is Jewish or not. On the contrary, it’s about being proud.” Levy said he compiled information about famous people around the world from various online sources.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
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Happy Birthday Adam Sandler

Happy Birthday to Adam Sandler, who turns 45 today. Sandler doesn’t always get the respect he should as a comedian, actor and writer but I’ve always been a fan. I recently watched “Funny People” for the second time and was left impressed with Sandler’s range as an actor. Billy Madison, Happy Gilmore, Waterboy and Big Daddy remain my go-to movies when some mindless humor is in order.

I had a chance to meet Adam Sandler in November, 1999 when he was filming “Little Nicky” on the Manhattan streets just around the corner from my apartment. Walking from 110th Street and Broadway up to the Jewish Theological Seminary at 122nd Street for morning minyan on a brisk November morning at 7:00 AM I did a double-take when I spotted Adam standing by himself on 112th Street trying to stay warm. We started talking. He told me about his brother who studied in a traditional yeshiva. After talking for about twenty minutes, he invited me to come back around lunch time to watch him shoot the movie.

There was a crowd of people trying to watch the filming when I returned to the set around noon with my rabbinical school classmate. Sandler recognized me and told his assistant to let us move up to the front so we could have a good view of the action. Over the next couple days I had the chance to be on a movie set (my first time) and shmooze with Adam Sandler between takes. On his final day of filming I presented him with a suede yarmulke with the Jewish Theological Seminary logo on it and we took a photo together.

For those who think that Adam Sandler’s only talent is making movies with sophomoric humor and silly voices, you should watch “Spanglish,” “Funny People” and “Reign Over Me.” Not only has he made some very good movies, he’s also educated people about Hanukkah with his series of Hanukkah songs and the animation “Eight Crazy Nights.” And not only did he try to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with his humus-loving Zohan character, he donated 400 PlayStations to Israeli children whose homes were damaged in rocket attacks.

Happy Birthday Adam Sandler!

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
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Al Sharpton’s Apology As a Lesson in Repentance for the Jewish High Holidays

Last week about 20 rabbis from the Los Angeles area participated in a High Holiday sermon writing workshop called “Punching Up Your Holiday Sermons.” These pre-Rosh Hashanah sermon workshops for rabbis are nothing new, but this workshop had a twist. It paired the rabbis with Hollywood screenwriters who helped them come up with more engaging sermons.

It’s possible, however, that Rev. Al Sharpton has been more helpful to rabbis writing their High Holiday sermons this year than these talented screenwriters. His recent mea culpa may be the subject of many sermons heard in synagogues this High Holiday season.

Rev. Al has been in the news a lot lately. Just the other day it was announced that he will be hosting his own show on MSNBC to be called “PoliticsNation,” which will debut on August 29. Sharpton will become the network’s only African-American host.

This is good news for Sharpton, who made headlines recently when he wrote an apologetic Op-Ed piece in the NY Daily News in which he admitted to making mistakes during the racially fueled Crown Heights riots 20 years ago. Sharpton has long been blamed for inflaming tensions between Blacks and Jews in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn in 1991. It all began when a car in the late Lubavitcher Rebbe’s motorcade struck and killed an African American boy. Many argue that Sharpton incited the angry crowd leading to the fatal stabbing during the riots of Jewish student Yankel Rosenbaum.

In his apology Sharpton wrote, “Twenty years after the Crown Heights riots, the city has grown, and I believe I have grown. I’d like to share a few of my reflections about the choices I made, including the mistakes, with an eye toward advancing racial understanding and harmony.”

Sharpton concluded his Op-Ed with a reflection from an experience he had at the Jewish Theological Seminary. He wrote:

I would have shared a story about what happened when, as a young man, I was brought to the Jewish Theological Seminary by one of the civil rights leaders who had been an aide to Dr. King.

That day, I was introduced to Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. Rabbi Heschel had marched with Dr. King in Selma in support of the Voting Rights Act. For doing so, Heschel was attacked by some in his community who were very conservative and thought a theologian should stay in his proper place. He gave me a book and autographed it and, as we talked, I asked him about Dr. King — the man and the hero.

That’s when Dr. Heschel said to me: “Young man, only big men can achieve big things. Small men cannot fulfill big missions. Dr. King was a big man.”

Crown Heights showed how some of us, in our smallness, can divide. We must seek to be big. Next weekend, we will unveil the monument to Martin Luther King in Washington. I will speak at the ceremony along with members of the King family and the President of the United States.

I will continue to think about the value of the lives of Gavin Cato and Yankel Rosenbaum as I look up at the big statue of Dr. King. I will look towards the heavens and I will wink at Rabbi Heschel.

Not everyone seems to be ready to move on even if it has been twenty years since the Crown Heights riots. Last week, Sharpton was forced to back out from a scheduled panel discussion on the riots at the Hampton Synagogue after the synagogue’s rabbi, Marc Schneier, came under fire for the event by Yankel Rosenbaum’s family among others.

I think we should take Sharpton at his word. A cynic might say that he believed he needed to apologize for his role in the riots in order to get his show on MSNBC. However, after reading his apology I feel it is sincere. Many apologies by celebrities these days take place before the guilty individual has really had an opportunity to think about their mistakes, not to mention most of those apologies have been written by publicists. Sharpton had twenty long years to consider what he did and appeared contrite in his published apology.

What Sharpton did is what we call “teshuvah” (repentance) in Judaism and it is precisely what is called for before and during the High Holidays. Sharpton’s apology will be a fitting example for rabbis to share with their congregations on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

Rev. Al Sharpton restated what he did in the situation and then explained why it was misguided and why he won’t do it again. I’m sure twenty years ago Sharpton never thought he’d ever be able to apologize for his actions during the Crown Heights riots, but he just might become an example to the Jewish community for doing teshuvah. The two unnecessary deaths in 1991 must be remembered and mourned, but the time has come for the Black and Jewish communities to move on from the Crown Heights riots.

Black-Jewish relations have certainly improved in the two decades since Crown Heights. A recent video on the Funny or Die website demonstrates just how much commonality exists between Blacks and Jews. In fact, two of the artists mentioned in the song (the Jewish performer Drake and the Jewish biracial artist Lenny Kravitz) have collaborated on a new track called “Sunflower” for Kravitz’s upcoming album “Black and White in America.” Maybe Sharpton will have Drake and Lenny Kravitz perform on his new MSNBC show.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
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Jennifer Aniston Says Shabbat Shalom

In what is certainly a first, a big name celebrity says “Shabbat Shalom” in a movie.

“Horrible Bosses” starring Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis, Kevin Spacey, Jamie Foxx, Colin Farrell, and Donald Sutherland has a scene in which Jennifer Aniston exclaims, “Shabbat Shalom!” Here’s a clip:

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
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Natalie Portman Names Son Alef

I first read the reports last month that Natalie Portman and Benjamin Millepied had named their newborn son Alef. There was no confirmation of the name from Portman so I didn’t blog about it. Now, it appears that more news sources are picking up on this rumor.

Israel Hayom first raised the possibility that Natalie Portman had named her baby “Alef” back in the middle of June, reporting that the name was first mentioned on the Israeli television show “Good Evening with Guy Pines.” The name refers to the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet. While the name might seem odd to some, it is really no odder than many of the names of other babies recently born to celebrities in Hollywood.

The Jewish Portman, who is of Israeli descent, has yet to confirm the birth of her son or whether there was a bris.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
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Natalie Portman Gives Birth to a Baby Boy

Since I launched this blog in March 2003, no post has attracted as much attention as the one I titled simply: “Is Benjamin Millepied Jewish?” That post has received dozens more comments than this blog normally receives. And that simple question: “Is Benjamin Millepied Jewish?” has driven traffic to this blog in record numbers.

So, now that Natalie Portman has given birth to a baby boy I’m sure there will be new questions that arise in the public’s mind. As Benjamin Millepied and Natalie Portman welcome their son into this world, will they choose to have a brit milah (bris, ritual circumcision) for their baby son? What will his name be? Will Natalie Portman choose a Hebrew name for her son? Since she is of Israeli descent, will her son’s name be a common Israeli name?

When Natalie Portman releases the name of her baby, I’m sure people will still want more information. Since Ashkenazi Jewish custom dictates that babies are named after deceased relatives, the public will want to know who Natalie Portman’s son is named for. Also, there is no question that this baby was born Jewish because Natalie Portman is Jewish, so there will likely be an international discussion about whether Portman and Millepied will have a traditional bris ceremony on this new baby’s eighth day of life. With the debate over a ban on ritual circumcision currently taking place in San Francisco, I’m certain this celebrity birth will add fuel to that fire.

Finally, Natalie Portman has stated publicly that she plans to raise her child Jewish. Another high profile Jewish celebrity who is intermarried to a non-Jew but raising her child Jewish will add to the discussion about interfaith families. Benjamin Millepied could choose to convert to Judaism in the future, but if he doesn’t he will be in good company with other non-Jewish parents helping to raise Jewish children. In fact, organizations like the Jewish Outreach Institute and exist to help interfaith families who are giving their children a Jewish upbringing.

Mazel Tov to Natalie Portman and Benjamin Millepied on the birth of their son. For years we’ve watched Natalie Portman as she’s starred in movies and received award after award. Now, she’ll have a chance to shine as a Jewish mother. I’m betting that thirteen years from now, there will be a headline somewhere that reads “Natalie Portman’s son becomes a Bar Mitzvah.”

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
Celebrities Hollywood Humor Jewish Rabbi Rabbis

Isla Fisher Wants to Be a Rabbi

Music Rooms reports that the actress Isla Fisher (“Wedding Crashers”), the wife of comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, joked that after converting to Judaism she now wants to become a rabbi.

Isla became engaged to the comedian in 2004, and studied for three years before completing her conversion in early 2007. The 35-year-old star took on the Hebrew name Ayala, the Hebrew word for Doe. Isla has joked she is so enamoured with the religion that she’s thinking of becoming a rabbi. 

“You study, then have a test. In fact, I’m thinking of becoming a mohel. [Pause] If you knew what a mohel was, you’d laugh. It’s a rabbi who circumcises boys,” she told the April edition of Elle.

Perhaps before becoming a rabbi, Fisher should watch this video, made by YouTube user CFIDSgurl using xtranormal.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |