Menschen galore, and Jewish just like me

Monthly columnist Amy Fenster Brown is married to Jeff and has two teenage sons, Davis and Leo. She volunteers for several Jewish not-for-profit groups. Fenster Brown is an Emmy Award-winning TV news writer and counts time with family and friends, talking and eating peanut butter among her hobbies.

Amy Fenster Brown, Special to the Jewish Light

When Kamala Harris was sworn in as the 49th vice president of the United States, tears welled in the eyes of many women, some of color, some not. It was moving to  finally see a woman taking her spot in the White House. We’ve never before seen a woman in a position with this kind power making her mark in politics and history, representing every woman in a way. And her husband is Jewish. 

When a famous name in news, entertainment or sports is Jewish, don’t you get a little excited? Whenever a contestant on “Jeopardy” had a Jewish sounding last name, my Grandma Mollie would be sure to point it out. She would say, “Oh! Jewish man.” I guess it made her root for him a little bit more. 

I often feel that way when I learn a celebrity is Jewish. I feel represented. I feel seen. Celebrities, they’re just like us, with some of them vocal about their Judaism, others quiet about it, some born Jewish, others Jewish by choice, and some who don’t practice at all. Some just happen to have a Jewish parent, but they don’t identify that way. 

We all know Adam Sandler’s “The Chanukah Song,” in which he names Jewish celebrities. I mean, Paul Newman? Half Jewish? Who knew? 

Google, that’s who. Take a look for yourself. You’re bound to find the names of dozens of stars who complained about having to go to Hebrew School, just like you did. From sports to politics, movies to TV, reporting news to making news for something terrible, we are represented everywhere. 

We can go back in time a bit to icons such as George Burns, Jack Benny and the Marx Brothers, all of whom were nice Jewish boys.

There are classic screen sirens who embody the term shayna maidel (pretty girl), such as Mae West, Lauren Bacall and Elizabeth Taylor. I wonder if current movie star stunners such as  Scarlett Johansson and Kate Hudson are clearing out their chametz for Pesach right now.

Puppeteer Shari Lewis was Jewish, which is likely why her sidekick was named Lamb Chop and not Pork Chop. And also because the puppet was a lamb and not a pig.

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There have been supercool Jews like Rocky Balboa — yep, Sylvester Stallone’s mother was Jewish — and Fonzie himself, Henry Winkler. The guys who played Ralph Malph and Potsie – Donnie Most and Anson Williams – were Jewish, too. If they ever had Shabbat dinner together, I’d like to think they invited Richie Cunningham, you know, to be inclusive and all.

Remember in the movie “Airplane,” when a passenger asks for some light reading, and the flight attendant gives him a wafer-thin pamphlet titled “Famous Jews in Sports”? It’s not true anymore. It goes beyond Sandy Koufax, which of course is a name even people who are not sports fans know because it is an answer at every trivia night. 

Dude, guess what, Cardinals first baseman Paul Goldschmidt’s father is Jewish. Former Cardinals pitcher Jason Marquis and former Super Bowl MVP Julian Edelman (with the New England Patriots) know a good matzah ball soup when they taste one.

There are the Jews who deliver the news, such as Barbara Walters, Joan Lunden, Mike Wallace, Larry King and former news anchors Maury Povich and Jerry Springer, who now host sensationalized tabloid talk shows.  

Superheroes including Spider Man (Andrew Garfield) and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) muster up major chutzpah to really stick it to the bad guys.

We don’t like when Jews are in the news as the subjects of controversy or crime. We liked Woody Allen when he had a million great films out, but once the Soon-Yi stuff came to light, and the accusations that he molested his daughter Dylan, we had to put him in the category of “giving Jews a bad name.”  

I could make a list of those folks too. Harvey Weinstein tops the list. Bernie Madoff is a close second. Matt Lauer, whose father was Jewish, is up there, too. Such a shanda.

Now, please indulge me as I present a list of my personal menschen, in no particular order. To paraphrase a classic Broadway tune, these are a few of my favorite Jews. 

Mindy Cohn – She played Natalie Green on “The Facts of Life” from 1979 to 1988, also known as my formative years. Talk about feeling represented: The funny, chubby, witty, bubbly friend to all was the character on TV whom I related to most of all. I thought maybe if Mindy called in sick, the producers would call me to fill in for her. These days, I follow her on social media, listen to her podcast “Mondays With Mindy,” and cherish my personalized 50th birthday video of her that my mahjong group got me through the Cameo website. 

Jerry Seinfeld – Jerry brought a sense of New York Jewish culture to his self-titled ’90s hit sitcom, making it a favorite in Jewish homes even now as it airs in reruns. Turns out the actors who played George (Jason Alexander) and Elaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) are also Jewish, adding even more “something” to a show about “nothing.”

Bette Midler – The Divine Miss M, from whom all musical blessings flow. A powerhouse of stage and screen, winner of Golden Globe, Emmy, Grammy and Tony awards, this leading lady has it all and always leaves me wanting more. Praise Bette. 

Michael Landon – Born Eugene Maurice Orowitz, he took command of the “Little House on the Prairie” as Charles Ingalls, the mensch of Walnut Grove. I liked Pa when I watched the show as a child. As an adult, when I watch the reruns, I have a greater appreciation for him and understand why mothers so willingly watched the series with their kids. Melissa Gilbert, who played Laura Ingalls, is also Jewish. Secretly, I think that’s why she was Pa’s favorite child. 

Joan Rivers – The neighbors knew her better as Joan Alexandra Molinsky Sanger Rosenberg. When I was about 14, I begged my parents to take me to her comedy show at the Fox Theatre. I used my own money from babysitting to send her flowers backstage. I included a note saying how I worshipped her, how I wanted to be a stand-up comic, and I gave her my seat number in case she wanted me to open for her that night. Sadly, she never called. I think more people reached out to me when Joan died than when my own father died.

Judd Apatow – His work brings together two of my favorite things: immature humor and smart humor. His films have brought us tons of Jewish leading actors, among them Lena Dunham, Garry Shandling, Ben Stiller, Seth Rogan, Paul Rudd, Jonah Hill, Pete Davidson, Jason Segel, Amy Schumer, James Franco and Judd’s former roommate, Adam Sandler. He even put his own Grandma Molly in one of his movies. Such a good boy.

Adam Sandler – Goofy and adorable, talented and hilarious, this comic and actor is so much fun to watch. For his daughter’s bat mitzvah he hired Adam Levine to perform. Levine gets an honorable mention as a Jewish hottie.

Andy Cohen – Not the one we went to high school with, because didn’t we all go to high school with a kid named Andy Cohen? The one from Bravo. The one who brought us the “Real Housewives” franchise and “Below Deck.” The one who wrote the books detailing his awesomely fun celebrity lifestyle. The one with the long list of famous best friends. We delight in pictures and stories of his son Ben, even though we don’t actually know him. But we feel like we know him, and that’s why we love him. We root for Andy because, growing up in Clayton, he’s our hometown hero and supremely likable. 

I bet he could introduce me to Mindy Cohn.

Monthly columnist Amy Fenster Brown is married to Jeff and has two teenage sons, Davis and Leo. She volunteers for several Jewish not-for-profit groups. Fenster Brown is an Emmy Award-winning TV news writer and counts time with family and friends, talking and eating peanut butter among her hobbies.