Interfaith Celebrities: Actors and Athletes Warming Up Winter

January 19, 2010

In my last column, I ran down the list of all the Golden Globes nominees with Jewish or interfaith family backgrounds. On Sunday evening, some of those nominees won awards, including Robert Downey Jr., who both comes from an interfaith background and is married to a Jewish woman, Susan Levin Downey. Downey has credited his wife with helping him stay sober and restart his career on more than one occasion.

Many of the stars at the Golden Globe awards ceremony made public pleas for donations to relief efforts for the victims of the earthquake in Haiti. Maggie Gyllenhaal, an actress from an interfaith family whom I’ve profiled here frequently, made a pitch halfway through the show for viewers to donate to the relief fund coordinated by NBC. Other celebrities donated their outfits for a charity auction.

Ice Hockey

Here’s this season’s round-up of Jewish/interfaith players in the National Hockey League. This list was prepared with the help of Jewish Sports Review newsletter.

All the players are returning veterans, including Mike Brown, 24, rightwing, Anaheim Ducks and Michael Cammalleri, 27, forward, Montreal Canadiens. Last year, with the Calgary Flames, Cammalleri really came into his own as a star player and scored 39 goals, the highest total ever by a Jewish NHL player. Jeff Halpern, 33, is the center for the Tampa Bay Lightning. Other Jewish hocky players include Eric Nystrom, 26, defenseman, Calgary. Mathieu Schneider, 40, defenseman, Vancouver Canucks.

Halpern, Brown, and Schneider have two Jewish parents. (Schneider’s mother is a convert to Judaism.) Nystrom, who had a bar mitzvah, and Cammalleri, who was raised secular, are the sons of Jewish mothers. Nystrom’s father is Bobby Nystrom, a retired NHL star.

I wasn’t aware that there is such a thing as the “World Jewish Hockey Championship” until I read this article in the New England Hockey Journal. I venture to say that few of my readers were aware of this amateur competition that takes place in Israel. One of the players who is interviewed discusses his interfaith background.

Net Notes

Last fall, the Sacramento Kings of the National Basketball League signed Israeli (Jewish) basketball star Omri Casspi, 21. He’s turned out to be an exceptional player who quickly made the starting line-up and is now a serious contender for rookie-of-the-year honors.

The other Jewish NBA player is Jordan Farmar, 23, the back-up point guard for the Los Angeles Lakers, last year’s league champion. Farmar, who was raised Jewish, is the son of a white Jewish mother and an African-American father. Farmar has visited Israel and his step-father is an Israeli.

On January 8, 2010, the New York Times had a very interesting feature piece on Princeton University women’s basketball team members Niveen Rasheed and Lauren Polansky. The two players have been friends since high school despite the fact that Rasheed is Palestinian and Polansky is Jewish. To quote the article:

Polansky and Rasheed became friends playing together on an American Athletic Union team, the East Bay Xplosion, in Northern California, where they grew up a few miles apart…. Polansky’s father, Jon, who died in 2005, was Jewish, and her mother, Cynthia, from South Africa, is Catholic. Polansky was raised as a Jew, and she said her focus growing up was on her education, basketball and friends. “Niveen is my teammate and my friend,” Polansky said. “None of that political stuff that is going on on the other side of the world is that important to me. It has never affected our friendship.”

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