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Interfaith Celebrities: Meet Dave, Elizabeth Banks, and Jean Sarkozky

Eddie Murphy‘s new comedy, Meet Dave, opens Friday, July 11. Dave (Murphy) is a human-shaped spaceship controlled by little aliens. Its captain (also played by Murphy) pilots the Dave Spaceship along with his crew from inside its head. Murphy endangers his mission of saving his home planet by falling in love with an Earthling played by Elizabeth Banks, 34.

The film’s director, Brian Robbins, 44, is a former child actor who played Eric on Head of the Class. Robbins, who is Jewish and was born Brian Levine, has created, produced and directed a number of hit TV programs, including the popular Superman spin-off Smallville.

Elizabeth Banks
Elizabeth Banks. Photo credit: REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

Banks has hovered at the cusp of stardom for about five years now. Banks hasn’t yet found that breakthrough role.

Her best known roles include playing the second wife of the owner of the horse Seabiscuit in Seabiscuit; Betty Brant in the Spider-Man movies; the oversexed woman Steve Carell is set up with in The 40-Year-Old-Virgin and Mark Wahlberg‘s love interest in the football movie, Invincible. She has also had a recurring role in 2006 and 2007 as Kim Briggs, Jewish actor Zach Braff‘s love interest on TV’s Scrubs.

An interesting upcoming role is a co-starring slot as Jewish actor Seth Rogen‘s love interest in Zack and Miri Make a Porno, a comedy directed by Kevin Smith of Clerks fame.

Banks grew up in Western Massachusetts and is an honors graduate (1996) of the University of Pennsylvania. She trained post-graduate at San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theater. In 2003, Banks converted to Judaism not long before marrying her Jewish husband, businessman Max Handelman–a very nice-looking guy. They had been dating since college.

Their Jewish wedding was featured in Instyle magazine. Apparently Banks’ mother approved of the wedding and conversion. Instyle reported that she sewed the couple’s wedding canopy, or chuppah:

Banks’s mother even made the chuppah–which included the groom’s baby blanket, Elizabeth’s great-grandmother’s hankie and T-shirts from the couple’s alma mater.


Sounds like a really cool chuppah to me.

Elizabeth Banks played a woman engaged to marry a Jewish man in the 2004 indie film, Heights.

In 2004, I did a brief interview with Jewish author Amy Fox, who wrote the both the original play and the screenplay for Heights. I mentioned to her that Banks was a convert to Judaism, assuming that Fox knew this. I thought it just possible Banks’ own experience in dating and marrying a Jewish guy might have helped her secure her part in the movie–or at least that the subject had come up during production. Well, Fox didn’t know that Banks was a convert to Judaism or that her real-life husband is Jewish. Funny how one can make “logical” guesses that are entirely off-base.

In Diminished Capacity, opening Friday, July 4, Matthew Broderick, 46, stars as a Chicago journalist suffering from memory loss who returns to his rural hometown, where he bonds with his Alzheimer’s-impaired uncle Rollie (Alan Alda) and his old flame (Virginia Madsen).

Alda, who is a lapsed Catholic, has been married for 51 years to his Jewish wife, Arlene Weiss Alda. Their three daughters were raised Jewish. Alan Alda once said that he had “clues” that the Italian side of his family may have been descended from Jews who were forced to leave Spain in 1492 and subsequently settled in Italy. Eventually they were absorbed into the overwhelmingly Catholic population of Italy.

Jews-By-Choice: Fictional, Real and Possible


Kristen Davis, the gorgeous actress who is best known for playing Charlotte in Sex and the City, visited Jerusalem last week to promote Israel’s Ahava cosmetics. As fans of the TV show and movie know, the Charlotte character converted to Judaism after she fell in love with Harry Goldblatt, a Jewish lawyer.

The Jerusalem Post reports that Davis told an Israeli news conference that she admires Israeli women’s natural quality, love of fashion and for “being comfortable in their own skins.”

Davis, who isn’t Jewish, refused to answer political questions. Nor would she talk about her own romantic life or whether she dated Jewish men in real life.

While she didn’t answer the Israeli reporters’ questions about her love life, Davis has had quite open romantic relationships with Jewish actors Liev Schreiber (see my column item on Schreiber) and Jeff Goldblum.


Appearing again in election news items is Cameron Kerry, 57, the brother and political confidant of Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, the 2004 Democratic presidential candidate.

Most of the current election news mentioning Cameron Kerry stems from his post as a member of the executive committee of the National Jewish Democratic Council. The NJDC is currently engaged in an e-mail and press release battle with the Republican Jewish Coalition for the hearts, minds, money and votes of the Jewish electorate.

Cameron Kerry converted to Judaism in 1983 shortly before he wed Kathy Weinman, a Reform Jew. In 2004, Cameron said he was “stunned” when a family history researcher working for the Boston Globe uncovered the fact that his paternal grandparents were Czech Jews who hid their Jewish origins after immigrating to America. It is unclear whether these Czech Jewish grandparents formally converted to Catholicism, but they practiced Catholicism in America and they raised John and Cameron’s father as a Catholic. John and Cameron were also raised as Catholics and John is still a practicing Catholic.


Jean Sarkozy, 21, the son of French President Nicholas Sarkozy, has just become engaged to his Jewish high school sweetheart, Jessica Sebaoun-Darty. Her family controls one of France’s largest consumer electronics companies.

Jean Sarkozy and Jessica Darty
French political heart-throb Jean Sarkozy with his fiancée Jessica Darty at a Jewish community event in Paris. Photo: REUTERS/Charles Platiau.

Jean has just begun a political career with a minor post in his father’s political party. He is so good-looking that he’s become a teen sex symbol in France. (Jean’s mother, the elder Sarkozy’s first wife, is not Jewish).

The European Jewish Press website reports that the Jean and Jessica visited Israel earlier this month to “learn more about Jewish culture.”

In any case, the Sarkozy family has many lines of Jewish heritage. The French president’s maternal grandfather, a Greek Jewish doctor, who was secular Jew, made a pro forma conversion to Catholicism to marry Nicholas’ maternal French Catholic mother. Nicholas’ father comes from an aristocratic Hungarian Catholic family.

Nicholas’ Greek Jewish grandfather had to go into hiding during the Nazi occupation of France to avoid deportation to a concentration camp. (The Nazis usually didn’t care if a Jew had converted to Christianity when they decided whether to persecute and/or kill the convert. Their anti-Semitic pathology was mostly “racially” based.)

Nicholas mostly grew up in his Greek grandfather’s home because his parents split up when he was quite young.

As I have reported in this column before, Nicholas Sarkozy’s second wife, whom he divorced last year, is the daughter of a Jewish father and a Catholic mother. His current and third wife, former fashion model Carla Bruni, had an Italian Jewish grandfather. On top of all this, Carla’s young son, who lives with her in the French president’s palace, is the product of a relationship she had with French Jewish philosophy teacher Raphael Enthoven.

Oh, I almost forgot to mention that the president of France is a practicing Catholic–despite being twice divorced–and he is substantially more pro-Israel in his foreign policy than his predecessor.

Whew! And you thought Barack Obama had a complicated family background.

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