Jessica’s Surprise Discovery
The only thing Jessica Biel had heard about her father’s side of the family was that they were from Germany. Upon investigating her roots for the TLC genealogy series Who Do You Think You Are?, she discovered that wasn’t the case and got a much bigger surprise: Biel’s great-great-grandparents Morris and Ottilia Biel were from Austria-Hungary and Jewish. They came to America in 1889 and settled in Chicago.
“I never heard any of this before. I’m really surprised,” Biel says in the episode airing April 2. “I can’t wait to share this with my dad.” The actress, who also seeks to verify family lore from her Christian maternal side, admits that she’s “never had any sort of religious community at all,” and now says she’s “going to learn a lot more about the Hungarian Jews. I’m really interested in diving into Jewish culture a little bit more.”
Biel, the wife of Justin Timberlake and mother of their son Silas, will star in and produce the first installment of the crime anthology series The Sinner, premiering on USA this summer. She will play a woman who has no memory of the violent acts she commits.
Iddo’s Upcoming Movie
The must-see new movie The Zookeeper’s Wife, starring Jessica Chastain and adapted from Diane Ackerman’s best-seller, is based on the true story of Antonina and Jan Zabinski, Polish-Catholics who rescued hundreds of Jews from the Warsaw ghetto and hid them in their bombed-out zoo, right under the Nazis’ noses. Israeli-born actor Iddo Goldberg (Salem, Peaky Blinders and the Holocaust-themed movies Defiance and Uprising) plays one of those escapees. “It’s a great story about people who are not Jewish doing something amazing for Jewish people,” he says of the film, which opens March 31. Iddo is not the only Israeli in the movie: His character’s wife is played by Efrat Dor and Shira Haas plays a young girl that Jan (Johan Heldenbergh) rescues after Nazis brutally assault her.
Off screen, Goldberg, who moved to London with his family at age 10, is married to British actress Ashley Madekwe (Revenge, Salem), who is not Jewish. Later this year, he’ll star in the futuristic thriller Anon with Clive Owen and Amanda Seyfried.
Stephen Schneider, known for his recurring roles on Broad City and You’re the Worst, stars opposite Jenna Elfman in the new ABC comedy Imaginary Mary. He plays a single father of three kids juggling parenting and a new relationship. The Jewish actor has been married for almost four years to actress Jenn Proske. The couple met on a short film he wrote, and she converted to Judaism.
“She was Catholic but she wasn’t religious growing up. She wanted to do it so that when we had kids, we’d raise them Jewish,” says Schneider, who was raised in a Conservative Jewish home, went to Hebrew school and had a bar mitzvah with a soup theme. “We gave out shirts that said ‘I Had a Souper Time at Stephen’s Bar Mitzvah.’”
Stephen and Jenn have a 2-year-old daughter who attends a Jewish preschool. While not completely observant, “I’m culturally Jewish and I like a lot of the traditions. We celebrate the High Holidays and sometimes will celebrate Shabbat. We shut our phones off and light the candles,” he says. And, he notes proudly, “My wife makes an unbelievable brisket. She makes knishes from scratch. She has my grandmother’s chicken soup recipe down pat.”
Imaginary Mary, which also stars SNL’s Rachel Dratch as the voice of the childhood imaginary friend of Elfman’s character, will air a sneak preview on March 29 before officially premiering on April 4 on ABC.