Interfaith Celebrities: Ivanka’s Jewish Wedding

As you probably heard, Ivanka Trump, 27, wed New York Observer newspaper publisher Jared Kushner, 28, on Oct. 25. The modern Orthodox Jewish wedding was held at the Trump National Golf Club in New Jersey. Five-hundred guests attended what was reported to be a very nice but tasteful reception. The bride wore a lovely white modest wedding gown designed by Vera Wang (who was also a guest). Barbara Walters, another guest, said on The View that the dress reminded her of Princess Grace Kelley‘s wedding gown. Walters, who is Jewish, also showed the invitation on TV–it was written in English and Hebrew. Orthodox Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, who supervised Ivanka’s conversion to Judaism studies for the last 18 months, married the couple. (In a July column, I discussed Ivanka’s conversion and her husband’s family background.)

Ivanka Trump Kushner
Ivanka Trump. Photo: Reuters/Carlo Allegri

Trump is the daughter of real-estate mogul Donald Trump. In a recent Nightline profile that can be read or viewed on the Nightline website, Trump admitted that “nepotism got me in the door,” but added that her father would quickly fire her from her position as a vice president of his company if she couldn’t do the job. Right now, she is supervising the construction of the Trump Soho, a 46-story hotel condominium in downtown New York that will cost $450 million. She is also the author of the new book The Trump Card: Playing to Win in Work and Life. Nightline says: “Trump’s [book] is about life lessons for business success that she learned from her upbringing. She tells young women how to focus at work, negotiate with gumption and thrive in uncertainty.” I have to say that although “the Donald” is often over the top, his daughter comes off as a total class act who tactfully protects her private life. Nightline reports: “[Ivanka] Trump declined to discuss her recent conversion to Judaism–the newfound religion she now shares with her fiancé. ‘I’ve converted to Judaism not to marry him, but I am marrying him,’ she said, highlighting the distinction. ‘I choose not to talk about this because I think in life there are some things that are personal and between people, and once I open this can of worms everyone will think it’s OK to have this discussion with me.'”

Though Trump drew a distinction between her conversion and her marriage, the author of a USA Today article in its “Beliefs” section took it as a given that Ivanka’s sole reason for converting was to marry her now-husband. I didn’t like the article much, but readers of this column may be interested in reading some of the hundreds of posted comments about the question the author posed to her readers: “Would You Convert For Love?”

The groom’s parents (who, like the Trumps, made their millions in real estate) also threw a post-wedding gala party to which the bride wore another incredible dress. Sounds like everybody enjoyed the good (kosher) food and dancing.

Barack Obama’s Jewish Half-Brother

On Nov. 4, the New York Times and the Associated Press ran similar articles on the background of President Obama‘s half-brother, Mark Okoth Obama Ndesandjo, 43. Neither I, nor the rest of the world, knew much about this fellow because, as the articles report, he avoided the press until now. Obama describes meeting his half-brother in his memoir, Dreams From My Father.

Ndesandjo is the son of an American white Jewish woman who was married to President Obama’s father, Kenyan Barack Obama Sr., after Obama Sr. split with President Obama’s white, American mother, Stanley Ann Dunham.

Mark’s American Jewish mother is identified as Ruth Nidesand Ndesandjo. Her maiden name is reported to be Nidesand. After her divorce from Barack Obama Sr., she married a Tanzanian man whose last name was Ndesandjo. She took his last name, as did Mark and his brother, David.

Ndesandjo has just written a novel, From Nairobi to Shenzen, closely based on his life. It’s about the son of a white American Jewish woman and a black African man who falls in love in China.

There is nothing in the articles about Mark being raised in any faith. He does indicate that his Lithuanian-born maternal grandmother was a great mentor to him when he left Kenya to study in the States. His mother, Ruth, still resides in Kenya.

Ndesandjo is not the only Jewish relative the president’s family has. As noted previously on, the First Lady’s cousin is African-American Rabbi Capers Funnye. He converted to Judaism, became a rabbi and leads a mostly African-American, Jewish congregation in Chicago. He attended the president’s inauguration.

Bell Clearly Heard in Warsaw

American violin virtuoso Joshua Bell, 40, appeared in a charity concert at Warsaw’s Opera House on Oct. 21. Bell helped raise thousands of dollars for the construction of the Museum of the History of Polish Jews. After years of seeking sponsors, construction of the museum is finally starting. It will be built next to the monument honoring the fighters and victims of the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto uprising against the Nazis.

The city of Warsaw is contributing funds for the museum, which will chronicle, in an interactive way, some 1,000 years of Jewish life in Poland. The museum will be an important focal point for the remaining Polish Jewish community of about 20,000 people. Before the Holocaust, there were about 3.5 million Jews in Poland. About 3 million were killed by the Nazis and most of the rest settled elsewhere after the war. A substantial proportion of today’s self-identified Polish Jews are persons of mixed religious heritage who have felt more comfortable identifying as Jewish since the collapse, in 1990, of the Communist regime.

Bell got a standing ovation from an international audience that paid the highest ticket prices ever for a Polish concert. He used his Stradivarius violin, which, appropriately, once belonged to the late Bronislaw Huberman, a Jewish violin genius who grew up in Poland.

Bell is the son of a Jewish mother. He identifies as Jewish, although he was raised secular and remains secular.

Nate Bloom

Nate Bloom writes a weekly column on Jewish celebrities, broadly defined, that appears in the Cleveland Jewish News the American Israelite of Cincinnati, the , Detroit Jewish News and the . New Jersey Jewish Standard. It also appears bi-weekly in j., the Jewish news weekly of northern California. Starting April 2012, a monthly version of his column (featuring relevant “oldies but goodies”) will appear in the following Florida newspapers: the Jewish News (Sarasota and Manatee County), the Federation Star (Collier County) and L’Chayim (Lee and Charlotte counties). The author welcomes questions and celebrity “tips,” especially about people you personally know. Write him at


Author: Nate Bloom