Friday, November 27, 2015

Marilyn Monroe Was Jewish and Elizabeth Taylor Was Jewish Too?

ADAM SANDLER'S MUCH AWAITED fourth installment of his wildly popular "The Hanukkah Song" was released the other day and it might be his funniest and most creative song about famous Jews yet.

Sandler's production company Happy Madison released the music video of "The Hanukkah Song" on Wednesday and it is a recording of a live performance at the San Diego Civic Theatre on November 18th when he first sang the new version.

In this latest iteration of his celebrity infused Hanukkah song, Sandler includes such celebrities as Joseph Gordon-Levitt (who enjoys eating kugel), Stan Lee, Jake Gyllenhaal, Adam Levine, Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe), Ben and Jerry (Ice Cream Magnates), Scarlett Johansson, Shia LaBeouf and even Jared Fogle from the Subway commercials (whom he recommends Dr. Drew can help). The video quickly made its way around the Interwebs as fans shared the YouTube video on Facebook.

Here's the video of Sandler's new version of The Hanukkah Song:

Two deceased celebs whom Adam Sandler didn't include in this rendition of "The Hanukkah Song," but could have are Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor. I had long heard rumors that both iconic women had converted to Judaism, but I never confirmed it. Sure enough Marilyn Monroe converted with a Reform rabbi before she married Arthur Miller and Elizabeth Taylor converted in 1959 before marrying husband #4 Eddie Fisher. It turns out that Liz Taylor's 3rd husband, Michael Todd, was the son of an Orthodox rabbi, but Taylor only converted after Todd was killed in a plane crash and she was set to marry Fisher.

I only learned about Marilyn Monroe and Liz Taylor's conversions to Judaism this week after I was called by Lauren Markoe, a reporter with Religion News Service, asking me for a few comments on the matter. It turns out that the Jewish Museum in New York (under the auspices of The Jewish Theological Seminary) has a new exhibit about the conversions of the two famous women. In the RNS article, Markoe writes, "Collecting letters from their rabbis, images from their Jewish weddings, and a rarely-heard audio recording of Taylor’s conversion ceremony, “Becoming Jewish,” documents the relatively quiet way in which Monroe and Taylor adopted the faith, and what that said about the America that loved them."


Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Ashton Kutcher Marries Mila Kunis in Secret Ceremony

Jewish actress Mila Kunis and longtime fiance Ashton Kutcher reportedly were married in a secret ceremony.

The couple married over the weekend in California, People magazine reported, citing an unnamed source. Their representatives have not commented.

Rumors have circulated in the past that Kunis and Kutcher, an adherent of Kabbalah who reportedly keeps kosher, were secretly married. They had a daughter in October.


The actors met while co-stars on the sitcom “That ’70s Show.”

According to People Magazine online, the couple were already legally married, and that the wedding party served as a low-key gathering to celebrate with close family and friends.

"Surrounded by friends and relatives, the former That '70s Show costars celebrated at the Secret Garden at Parrish Ranch in Oak Glen, California, a secluded spot featuring acres of apple orchards, ponds and botanical gardens. The gated space, according to its website, only recently became available for exclusive weddings and private events.The pair stocked the green grounds – which had been playfully dubbed "Camp KuKu" – with outdoorsy activities, set up among rows of tents serving as a luxe campground for partygoers.

Although the couple have known each other since their early days together on the Fox sitcom, they didn't start dating until 2012. They got engaged in February 2014 and welcomed daughter Wyatt Isabelle, their first child, in October. (This is Kutcher's second marriage. He finalized his divorce from Demi Moore in November 2013.) 

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Howard Stern's Daughter's an Orthodox Jew Now

WHO KNEW THAT ONE OF HOWARD STERN'S DAUGHTERS had become an Orthodox Jew? It's true. While Howard Stern and his ex-wife Alison Berns raised their three daughters in the Reform Jewish denomination, their oldest daughter, Emily, is a ba'alat teshuva (one who becomes an observant Jew as an adult).

The country's most famous Radio Shock Jock and one of the judges on "America's Got Talent" has a daughter who has studied in a couple yeshivahs in Manhattan including Drisha and also has studied in Jerusalem. She can quote Talmud and midrashic commentaries.

Emily Stern's path toward Orthodox Judaism and her artistic projects were revealed in a recent podcast of Jew in the City, when Allison Josephs interviewed her over the phone.

Emily Stern explained that while she was majoring in theater at NYU when she randomly walked into a havdalah service at Romemu on the Upper West Side. She was spiritually moved and eventually studied at the Drisha Institue and at Nishmat, a women's seminary in Israel.

Howard Stern's daughter Emily Stern

On the podcast, Josephs' shies away from asking Emily Stern about her famous father although it seems that she wants to do just that. They discuss her art projects, original poetry that is inspired by the Torah and her latest venture is a photography project, "The Wells of Miriam."

Monday, May 4, 2015

Kentucky Derby Winning Horse Named Pharoah Owned by Jews

I LOVE THE CREATIVE, AND OFTEN FUNNY, names given to racehorses. This year's Kentucky Derby had some of the best names yet. The winner, American Pharoah, has an unusual name and is actually a racehorse owned by an Orthodox Jewish father and son team.

52-year-old Ahmed Zayat was raised Jewish in Egypt. Together with his son Justin, he has watched three times as his horse opened a lead coming around the final turn in the Kentucky Derby. This past Saturday, however, was different. Ahmed and Justin Zayat watched their horse win the Kentucky Derby.

Ahmed Zayat emigrated from Egypt to the United States at 16 and earned his Master’s degree at Boston University. His family currently lives in Teaneck, New Jersey and also has homes in Cairo and London.

Zayat made a $500,000 donation to The Frisch School in Paramus, New Jersey. His fortune was made when he sold his company, Al Ahram Beverages, to Heineken in 2002 for $280 million.

According to, As Zayat "sat up at the podium with the victorious jockey and winning trainer of the Kentucky Derby-champion horse he owns, Ahmed Zayat was all smiles. Still basking in the glow from watching American Pharoah live up to the billing as the favorite in the 141st "Run for the Roses'' — and still wet from taking a champagne shower in the post-race ceremony — Zayat said he was "speechless and very emotional.''

"We've been very close,'' the 52-year old Teaneck resident said. "This is one special horse.''

It has been said that Zayat's father was the chief doctor to former Egyptian president Anwar Al Sadat.

Thus far, no Orthodox rabbi has come forward to discuss the Jewish legal implications of an Orthodox Jewish man's horse winning the Ketucky Derby, which is always held on Shabbat. The Zayat family was in attendance at Saturday's Derby and collected the prize winnings for Zayat Racing Stables' American Pharoah's first place finish.


Saturday, March 21, 2015

Michael Douglas and Hollywood’s Jewish Identity Problem

“AND THE AWARD FOR 'BEST PUBLIC statement on the Jewish condition by a Jew in the entertainment business’’’?

Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin
“The envelope, please...”

Michael Douglas.

Yes, that Michael Douglas — as in Gordon Gekko in “Wall Street,” Liberace in “Behind the Candelabra.”

In a recent essay in the Los Angeles Times, Douglas recounts how his family was on vacation in southern Europe, and his son Dylan was subjected to anti-Semitic verbal abuse at the hotel pool. Dylan was wearing a Star of David necklace.

This incident prompted Douglas to talk to his son about the pervasive presence of anti-Semitism in the world. In the essay, Douglas analyzes the reasons for the uptick in anti-Semitism. He reminds us that it is everyone’s duty to stand up to the forces of hatred and bigotry that are all too present in the world.

Douglas and his wife, actress Catherine Zeta-Jones, had taken Dylan to Israel for his bar mitzvah ceremony last summer. Then, in January, Douglas received the 2015 Genesis Prize, which honors “exceptional people whose values and achievements will inspire the next generation of Jews.”

Michael Douglas, Kirk-Douglas and Michael's son at his bar mitzvah
Michael Douglas, Kirk-Douglas and Michael's son at his bar mitzvah
There is a shortage of “Jewish Jews” in the entertainment business. While we can all name our own favorite exceptions to the rule, the fact is, when it comes to Judaism and Jewish connections, much of the entertainment industry is a Judaism-free zone. When we scan the list of famous Jewish actors and actresses, we find very few who seem to do anything Jewish with their lives.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

What Happened to Nev Schulman of Catfish?

BACK IN 2010 I BECAME intrigued about the whole Catfish story. Catfish was the documentary film directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, involving Nev, being filmed by his brother and friend. Nev builds a romantic relationship with a young woman on the social networking website Facebook. The film really got people talking -- was it real or a hoax -- and has even inspired the MTV reality TV series, Catfish: The TV Show.

A few months ago I was thinking about Nev Schulman (yes real name is Yaniv) when I noticed that MTV made a reality show based on his story and the movie.

Well, as if Jonathan Reiss heard me thinking about what Schulman was up to, he sat down and interviewed him. The full interview has been published on the Tablet Magazine website as "Nev Schulman, Nebbish-in-Chief of the Social Media Daisy Chain: The original ‘Catfish’ victim, fooled in front of millions, uses his pain to help all the lonely people."

In the interview, Reiss explains the back story of how the whole Catfish fiasco even started:

Schulman got a job filming a ballet workshop taught by Benjamin Millepied (Black Swan choreographer, Natalie Portman husband). To make ends meet he took work as a bar mitzvah videographer, too. Now he needed a work space, although still “just a bar mitzvah videographer,” as he told me. However, he’d had one recent coup: A photo he’d taken of a ballet performance was published in the New York Sun. The moment came and went. Then, in the strangest possible way, it came again.

Yaniv "Nev" Schulman from Catfish
Yaniv "Nev" Schulman from Catfish

One day Schulman received an email from an 8-year-old girl named Abby, from Ishpemig, Michigan. This email would set into motion the chain of events that made him famous, the one that gave birth to Catfish.

The first email Abby sent was a quick introduction, containing some compliments on Nev’s photographs and a request for a critique on some of her paintings. Schulman obliged, looking at some of her watercolors and drawings pictured in her MySpace profile listed as “AbbyLovesBallet.” Her work was impressive for an 8-year-old, and he told her so. Then he received an email from Abby’s mother, checking to make sure that her daughter wasn’t “bothering him” and apologizing if that was the case. Soon after, he received another message from Abby asking permission to paint the photograph that had been published in the newspaper.

Soon Schulman was regularly chatting online with Abby and her mother, Angela.

[Continue reading Jonathan Reiss's interview with Nev Schulman here]

Monday, February 2, 2015

Gisele Bundchen and Tom Brady Have a Menorah in Their Home

I WAS INTRIGUED WHEN I read the headline in Tablet Magazine asking, "Why Does Tom Brady Have a Menorah?"

It turns out that New York Times Magazine reporter Mark Leibovich profiled Tom Brady in a recent issue of the magazine. Leibovitch was granted access to the home of the New England Patriots quarterback, whose team won yet another Super Bowl championship last night.

Inside the sprawling home of Tom Brady and Gisele Bündchen in Brookline, Massacheusetts, Leibovitch was led into a “barnlike guesthouse,” which was being built for the supermodel’s photo shoots. It was inside this guesthouse that the reporter saw a menorah.

Leibovitch explains, that Brady "marched me back into the house, through the kitchen and past a shelf that displayed a large glass menorah. 'We’re not Jewish,' Brady said when I asked him about this. 'But I think we’re into everything. . . . I don’t know what I believe. I think there’s a belief system, I’m just not sure what it is.'"

Why does Tom Brady have a menorah in his home?
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady reacts after winning the Super Bowl. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Tablet Magazine speculates that perhaps the menorah was given to Tom Brady and Gisele Bundchen as a gift by either the Kraft family, owners of the New England Patriots, or by Tom Brady’s brother-in-law Kevin Youkilis, the retired Jewish baseball player who married Brady's sister Julie in 2012.

Jason Miller is a rabbi, entrepreneur and technology expert. He's president of Access Computer Technology in Detroit, Michigan and blogs at Follow him on Twitter at @RabbiJason.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Cameron Diaz and Benji Madden Have Traditional Jewish Wedding

OFTENTIMES RABBIS LAMENT THE FACT that two Jews don't choose to include many of the traditional Jewish wedding elements into their big day. Well, now many rabbis can point to two non-Jewish celebrities who have chosen to include many of those traditional Jewish wedding elements into their wedding.

Cameron Diaz and Benji Madden opted for quite the Jewish wedding although neither is Jewish. On Monday, January 5, 2015 the famous couple became married at Cameron Diaz's Beverly Hills mansion.

The couple got ready in separate rooms prior to the ceremony. The wedding party included bridesmaids Nicole Richie (her new sister-in-law), Drew Barrymore, her older sister Chimene Cain, and Diaz’s assistant Jesse Lutz. Standing up for Benji Madden were his groomsmen Josh and Joel Madden.

As reported on Yahoo! News, the event, which was planned by Yifat Oren and Stefanie Cove, featured a Jewish ceremony on a stage set up inside of Diaz’s home. The bridesmaids wore black dresses and carried white bouquets, entering the room to a Ryan Adams song. See photos of Diaz's gorgeous engagement ring.

An officiant (presumably a rabbi) presided over the service, reading the seven blessings for the couple. When the time came for the pair to exchange rings, Benji accidentally dropped his, and the 100 guests laughed along with the bridal party. To seal the deal — as is custom in a Jewish ceremony — Madden stepped on and broke a glass as the crowd shouted, “Mazel Tov!”

After the vows, Madden requested personal time with Diaz, during which they entered a private room for about 30 minutes, asking not to be disturbed — a Jewish wedding ritual known as Yichud.

Guests, including Gwyneth Paltrow, Samantha Ronson, Lionel Richie, Toni Collette, Nancy Juvonen, Judd Apatow, Leslie Mann, and Robin Antin, enjoyed a cocktail hour in the backyard’s outdoor tent, which was decorated with olive trees, linen tablecloths, and beeswax candles. The newlyweds soon joined their friends and family in the tent, giving a welcome toast.

Sheva berachot, yichud and the breaking of a glass. Maybe now more Jewish couples won't question why rabbis insist on all that tradition!