Funny, You Don’t Look Jewish


Five celebrities you may not have known were Jewish.

If you’re anything like me, and God help you if you are, I know what you’re going through. Day after day, night after night, you agonize over whether your favorite actor, musician, scientist, athlete, businessperson, or historical figure – is Jewish. Isn’t it bad enough all the precious time that Facebook and Twitter suck out of our day without having to spend even more of it worrying about who is or is not a M.O.T. (Member of the Tribe)?

Relax. Help is at hand. By the time you finish reading this, you’ll at least have the facts about four celebrity Jewish identities and be able to return to your beloved Facebook, Angry Birds, Talmud or whatever else you choose to do with your time. And if the topic comes up on “Jeopardy,” you’ll be in good shape. No, don’t thank me. I do this solely as a public service. It’s a calling, really. You’re welcome.

Jack Black

Screen-shot-2013-03-05-at-8.47.24-AMMost of us first became aware of Jack Black in his breakout role as Barry, the record store clerk, in the movie “High Fidelity.” He went on to entertain us in “Shallow Hal,” “School of Rock,” and “Bernie,” among many other memorable films. Black is the son of two satellite engineers, Judith (née Cohen), who worked on the Hubble Space Telescope, and Thomas William Black. His mother was born to a Jewish family, while his father converted to Judaism (Black attended Hebrew school and had a Bar Mitzvah). On The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, he said his surname may have come from the occupational name Blacksmith.

Black is trying to send his kids to Hebrew school and according to him, it was a Passover song that helped his 5 year old’s bid for acceptance. Black has also told Conan O’Brien that although he and his wife “have not been to synagogue for years” they want to send their children to a “good Hebrew school.” His oldest child is getting ready for kindergarten and Black says that while he is an unaffiliated, he has experience with Rosh Hashanah and Passover, and the latter ended up coming in handy during the interview process. When the school asked Black and his wife what they do for Passover, the comedian mentioned his wife’s grandfather’s Hagaddah, – the book used during Passover – which the family uses during the Seder each year. Black then began to sing his favorite Passover tune. “I could see the other parents that were waiting in line were looking at us very judgmentally, like, ‘you don’t really care about Passover,’” Black told O’Brien. The song, he said, “is the original heavy metal song.”

Gloria Allred

According to her website, Gloria Allred is the most famous woman attorney practicing law in the nation today, a tireless and successful advocate whose high-profile legal battles on behalf of victims whose rights have been violated have led to many landmark precedent-setting court decisions and hundreds of millions of dollars for her clients. Can we trust Gloria’s website. Hey, do you want to call Gloria Allred a liar?

Allred’s own life has been shaped by men’s misdeeds, criminal and otherwise. And on behalf of the entire male gender, I’d like to apologize to her. The only daughter of a working-class Jewish family in Philadelphia, she married a blue-blood boy during college and was pregnant at 19. Soon, she writes in her autobiography, her husband’s mental health deteriorated and he became emotionally abusive, forcing Allred to leave him. He later committed suicide. As a single mother, Allred became a teacher, working in inner-city schools. By the time she enrolled in law school in 1968, Allred was a 30-year-old woman deeply versed in the challenges faced by women the world over. Her work as a defender of women, built on her own experiences of powerlessness, has resulted in some heroic victories. Men, if you’re on trial and Allred is representing the opposing team, be nervous.

Lena Dunham

Lena Dunham is an American filmmaker and actress. Dunham was educated at Oberlin College, Ohio, graduating with a creative writing degree. It was while at Oberlin that she began writing shorts and feature films. In 2009, Dunham created the web series “Delusional Downtown Divas ,” which gained a cult following. Also in 2009, Dunham released Creative Nonfiction , her first feature film. She went on to write, direct and star in Tiny Furniture, which scored two Independent Spirit Award nominations.

In 2012, Dunham came to the attention of a wider audience with the HBO series “Girls,” created by and starring Dunham and executive produced by Judd Apatow . The show has become a hit and garnered much acclaim for the 26 year old Dunham who is its creator, co-executive producer, director, writer and star. To put that in perspective, I think when I was 26, I was just learning to balance my checkbook.

Dunham was born in New York City. Her father, Carroll Dunham, is a painter of niche pop art, and her mother, Laurie Simmons, is a photographer and designer who creates “disquieting domestic tableaux” with dolls. Dunham’s father is Protestant, and according to Dunham, a Mayflower descendant; Dunham’s mother is Jewish.

Ben and Jerry

Screen-shot-2013-03-05-at-8.54.59-AMBen and Jerry completed a correspondence course on ice cream making from Pennsylvania State University’s Creamery. Are the kings of ice cream Jewish? Here’s a hint: Their full names are Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield. The two lifelong friends met in 7th grade gym class. In 1977, Ben and Jerry completed a correspondence course on ice cream making from Pennsylvania State University’s Creamery. Cohen has ageusia, a lost of taste functions of the tongue, and so relied on “mouth feel.” This led to the company’s trademark chunks being mixed in with their ice cream. The company is known for its support of progressive causes. It renamed a flavor, Yes Pecan, in reference to Barack Obama’s victory in the 2008 U.S. Presidential election. Ben & Jerry’s was the first brand-name ice cream to be taken into space aboard the Space Shuttle—ice cream that’s literally out of this world.

David Copperfield

David Copperfield is an American illusionist, and has been described by Forbes as the most commercially successful magician in history. His illusions have included making the Statue of Liberty disappear, flying, levitating over the Grand Canyon, and walking through the Great Wall of China. As a result, my nephews are no longer impressed by my pulling quarters out of their ears trick.

Copperfield’s television specials have won 21 Emmy Awards of a total 38 nominations. Best known for his combination of storytelling and illusion, Copperfield’s career of over 30 years has earned him 11 Guinness World Records, a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and a knighthood by the French government. He has been named a Living Legend by the US Library of Congress. No wonder I can no longer impress women by telling them I once sold a joke to Rodney Dangerfield.

Copperfield has so far sold 40 million tickets and grossed over $3 billion, which is more than any other solo entertainer in history. He currently performs over 500 shows a year.

Born David Seth Kotkin in Metuchen, New Jersey, Copperfield is the son of Jewish parents, Rebecca, an insurance adjuster, and Hyman Kotkin, who owned and operated a men’s haberdashery in Metuchen called Korby’s. Copperfield’s mother was born in Jerusalem, while his paternal grandparents were Jewish immigrants from USSR (present-day Ukraine). Now, if only Copperfield could make the national debt disappear!

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