Introducing the Light’s new column on celebrity Jews

Geoffrey Rush is one of two actors portraying Albert Einstein in National Geographic’s new series, ‘Genius.’

By Nate Bloom

Shalom, my name is Nate Bloom and I’ve written a column on Jewish celebrities for more than 10 years. It appears in a number of Jewish papers around the country. Before that, I edited a Jewish biographical website. I stumbled into that position because my almost lifelong hobby was finding out if this famous person or that famous person was Jewish. It stemmed, I think, from my interest in general history, Jewish history, and popular culture.

The internet has made it much easier to research if someone is Jewish. On the other hand, as we all know, misinformation can be presented in a plausible manner on the net. I learned this early, and I was determined when I began working on the website (and later writing my column) that the information would be accurate. I would not assume someone was Jewish because their last name was “Cohen” or “Goldberg.”

Of course, everybody makes mistakes and I make a mistake now and again. It most often happens when a trusted source is wrong.  If I make a mistake, I work in a correction in a later column.  I gather my information from good media sources and family history research. Now and again, I do interviews with celebrities, too.

I like to think of myself as someone who writes an intellectually honest column even if my standards as to who is a Jew are liberal. Let me explain.

I count as “Jewish” any famous person who has at least one Jewish parent, was not raised in a religion other than Judaism, and does not practice, as an adult, a faith other than Judaism.

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Converts to Judaism are an exception. Quite rationally I count them as Jewish even if they did not have a Jewish parent or were raised in another faith.

Readers will quickly notice that the celebrities I count or designate as Jewish are named in capital letters in my column. This allows me to avoid constantly using the adjective “Jewish” in connection with a person.

Most of my column items are about popular culture, including some pro sports items. But I do some political, science, and business items, too. I think the column has value in promoting Jewish continuity by letting people know how many famous people are Jewish and, I hope, they will realize that that somewhat hard-to-define thing, “Jewish culture,” is an engine — an engine of certain valuable cultural traits — that constantly produces accomplished people incredibly out of proportion to Jewish numbers. I hope readers will be influenced to believe it is a culture worth preserving.

I am not saying that the high place that celebrities have in our culture is good or that an actor or rock star is more important than a Nobel Prize winner. On the other hand, it is a good thing, I think, to give Jewish people — especially young people — examples of “cool Jews,” so they feel a specific Jewish connection to “celebrity culture.”

Feel free to e-mail me with questions or comments at [email protected] I welcome celebrity tips, including famous persons you know to be Jewish via a family or other very personal connection.

 

Einstein on ‘Genius’

“Genius” is a National Geographic Channel series that will present the lives of brilliant people. The first “Genius” 10-episode series began on Tuesday, April 25 and the subject is ALBERT EINSTEIN (1879-1955). The consensus of advance reviews is that the series depicts Einstein’s colorful life and multi-faceted personality pretty accurately. The series relied on the release, in the last 30 years, of Einstein’s huge correspondence by the Einstein Papers Project in Israel. They also used, as a major source, “Einstein, His Life and Universe” (2007), by WALTER ISAACSON, 64.  

I liked Isaacson’s book because it explained Einstein’s science in a way I could mostly understand. It also was very good on how much his Jewish background influenced him. Sadly, the series’ reviews say that “Genius” is not the place to get a lay understanding of the scientific breakthroughs that made Einstein “a genius.”

If you missed the premiere of “Genius,” National Geographic currently has repeat airings scheduled for Friday and Saturday (see local listings).

 

A free offer you can’t refuse

The Tribeca Film Festival in Manhattan, founded by Robert DeNiro, has become a major cultural event that now includes every type of media. DeNiro used “all his powers” to persuade “Godfather” film director Francis Ford Coppola to appear at a reunion panel of the major surviving actors in “The Godfather” and The Godfather: Part II”. Coppola doesn’t like to appear at such events.

 The panel discussion will air, live-on-line, on Saturday, April 29, at 8:10 PM EDT. Log on to the Tribeca Film Festival Facebook page (at facebook.com/tribeca).

The panel: DeNiro, Coppola, Diane Keaton, Robert Duvall, JAMES CAAN, 77, and Talia Shire (she’s Coppola’s sister and the mother of actor JASON SCHWARTZMAN, 36. His late father was Jewish).

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