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Interfaith Celebrities: Girls and Sports

Thoughts on the Golden Globes® and More Girls Stuff

Lena Dunham at the Golden Globes.

The recent Golden Globes® awards ceremony (January 13) included the expected and the unexpected. As expected, interfaith actor Daniel Day-Lewis, 55, won the Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture — Drama award for Lincoln. Unexpected was the award for Argo as Best Motion Picture — Drama and Ben Affleck’s Golden Globe® for Best Director — Motion Picture.

Anne Hathaway, as expected, won the Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role — Musical or Comedy Golden Globe® for Les Misérables and we got a brief glimpse of her Jewish husband, Adam Shulman, as she thanked him from the Globe stage.

I was surprised that Girls, the HBO comedy created by and starring interfaith actress Lena Dunham, 26, won the Golden Globe® for Best Television Series — Comedy or Musical. TV shows rarely win a Golden Globe® or an Emmy® as “best show” their first year on the air. It seems like voters seem to want to see if the show has legs and can keep up its quality. Likewise, I was surprised that Dunham won the Globe® for Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series — Comedy or Musical the first time she was nominated. Dunham looked pretty surprised, too, on the Globe® stage, although she quickly recovered and did just fine in her acceptance speech.

Girls has just begun its second season and if you follow the show, you know that at the close of the first season, Jewish character Shoshanna Shapiro (one of the four female friends who constitute the “girls”) finally lost her virginity to coffee shop owner Ray Ploshansky. Ploshanksy, who was a recurring character last season, has been upgraded to a series regular this season.

Playing Ploshansky is Jewish actor Alex Karpovsky, a 30-something guy who is also a respected indie filmmaker. The son of Russian Jewish immigrants, he grew up in Newton, MA. His father is a computer science professor at Boston University.

In a January 13, 2013 New York Times article entitled “The Boys of Girls,” Karpovsky has a complaint common to the children of many immigrants. They just don’t “get” what he is doing:

Winning Girls: Zosia Mamet, Lena Dunham, and Allison Williams.

My parents are immigrants. My mom doesn’t speak a word of English. I just don’t think they understand anything that I do. So, when they watch the show, it’s just sort of like a fuzzy bright object swimming across the plasma screen. “When are you going to meet a nice Jewish girl?” That’s what they talk about.

Well, if Karpovsky’s parents are looking for him to meet a “nice Jewish girl,” he landed in the right spot. As I have written before, three out of the four lead female cast members are of Jewish background.

Dunham (who plays Hannah Horvath) is the daughter of a Jewish mother and a non-Jewish father.

Karpovsky’s love interest in the show, Shoshanna Shapiro, is played by actress Zosia Mamet, 24, the daughter of a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother. Shapiro’s cousin, Jessa Johansson, is played by Jemina Kirke, 27, the daughter of a Jewish mother and a non-Jewish father. The only of the four “Girls” who doesn’t have a Jewish parent is actress Allison Williams, 24, who plays Marnie Michaels.

Zosia Mamet, as I have noted before, is the daughter of famous Jewish playwright David Mamet, 65, and his ex-wife, actress Lindsay Crouse, 64. Crouse, who wasn’t born Jewish, is reported to be a devout Buddhist. Zosia has one full sibling, an older sister named Willa Mamet.

David Mamet became an observant Jew later in life. His interest in Judaism came not long before he met and married English actress and musician Rebecca Pidgeon, now 47. Pidgeon, who came from a non-practicing Christian home, converted to Judaism before marrying Mamet in 1991. Together they have two children, a son, Noah Mamet, and a daughter, Clara Mamet, now 17.

I really didn’t know that much about Zosia Mamet until she was profiled in the New York Times Magazine on January 2, 2013. Most of the article, as you would expect, is about her professional career, how she got the Girls role, and its effect on her life. But she does open up about her family/personal life and religious identification. Here are some excerpts:

Mamet, whose first name is pronounced ZAH-shah (“Like Sasha with a Z”), lived in New England until she was 5. Her parents divorced when she was “like, 1.” Later, her mother moved her and her older sister, Willa, to the Pacific Palisades section of Los Angeles, where she went to an Episcopal school — just because it was a good school, not for religious reasons; neither of her parents is Episcopalian, and she identifies as Jewish, like her father. “The only WASPy part of me is that I like gin,” she says. “Oh, and I ride horses.”

I am virtually certain that the Episcopal school she went to is the same school from which interfaith actor Jason Segel, 33, graduated.

She says she always had a tumultuous relationship with her mother, and when she was 17, she left home to live with her father and stepmother, the actress Rebecca Pidgeon, and her half siblings, Noah and Clara. About her current relationship with her mother, she’ll say only that as far as she is concerned, they haven’t reconciled. Other than that, she says, “we’re a very close family.”

Until recently, Mamet lived in L.A., but then she realized that Girls, which is filmed in New York, might be on for a while, so she decided last year to relocate. She says she gets along well with her stepmother and her siblings; in fact, Clara, whom Mamet called one of her best friends, also recently forayed into the family business. She’s an actress, too, and now stars on the ABC sitcom The Neighbors.

She certainly gets why Girls has hit a nerve. “Your 20s are weird, but nobody tells you that,” she says. “I think that’s what Lena’s trying to say. Everyone tells you that your adolescence, that’s going to be hard. High school is going to suck. But nobody tells you that your 20s are going to be rough, that basically you’re cast into the real world and told to figure it out.”

She is proud to be helping her audience figure it out, or at least helping them understand there are other people like them out there who haven’t. And she’s very happy the show is so popular. But she’s not Shoshanna. She’s someone else — someone who’s still getting used to the idea that you might want to tell her all about your sex life. “Like, the closeness that I guess people feel to me, things that people have shared voluntarily with me immediately, are so insane,” she says. “And I’m not an easily shocked human.”

Jews on Ice, Again

The 113-day lockout of National Hockey League (NHL) players by the owners is over. On January 7, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, 60, and Donald Fehr, 64, the executive director of the players’ union (NHLPA) announced a tentative agreement. (Both Fehr and Bettman are Jewish and both are attorneys.) The agreement was quickly ratified by respective votes of the owners and the players and the lock-out was officially over on January 12. The shortened season began on January 19.

Mike Brown of the Maple Leafs.

There are four Jewish/interfaith players in the NHL as the season begins. All are veterans.

  • Mike Brown, 27, currently right wing with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
    Brown, who is the son of two Jewish parents, grew-up in a Chicago suburb. His parents owned several Harley-Davidson dealerships. He played two years with the University of Michigan before signing, in 2005, with the American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate of the Vancouver Canucks. (The AHL, despite its name, has teams in Canada. It is the highest minor league in professional hockey.) In late 2007, Brown was called up to the Canucks and played 19 games with them before being sent down to the AHL. In early 2009, he was traded to the NHL Anaheim Ducks. He saw limited, but effective playing time during the 2008-2009 NHL season. He came into his own during the next season, playing 75 games. In 2010, he was traded to the Maple Leafs, and has had two good seasons with the Leafs.
  • Michael Cammalleri, 30, currently left wing with the Calgary Flames
    Cammalleri was born and raised in a Toronto suburb. Although raised secular, he has no problem being identified as Jewish. Family is a very important value for him and he expressed this sentiment when he talked to the website in January 2012:

    “If you look at my family history,” said Cammalleri, “we’re very strong and tight-knit. My dad’s family are immigrants from Sicily. My mom’s side is Jewish. My grandparents from Poland and Czechoslovakia were Holocaust survivors. It’s a family of deep-rooted closeness and unity coming from very desperate times. It is who I am as a person.

    “My mom and dad and sister Melanie are passionate people. My parents have been most concerned about our happiness as children and in our careers. I think of them with a lot of smiles and a lot of hard work.”

    Like Mike Brown, Cammalleri played for the University of Michigan, where he was a star player for three years before turning pro just before the 2002-2003 NHL season. He signed with the Los Angeles Kings, but bounced between playing for the Kings and playing in the AHL until 2005. He emerged as a top-flight player in the 2005-2006 season, leading the team in goals scored. In 2008, he was traded to the Calgary Flames, where he led the team in goals scored during the 2008-2009 season. Calgary couldn’t afford to keep him and traded him to the Montreal Canadians (who agreed to pay him $30 million dollars over five years). His effectiveness during his first season (2009-2010) with Montreal was limited due to a knee injury, but his play in the NHL playoffs was outstanding. He played well during the next two seasons, but landed on management’s “bad list” by expressing his frustration with the team’s overall performance. In what many called a stunning move, Montreal suddenly traded him to Calgary during the mid-season (January 2012). Many fans were quite upset by the trade. Not only was Cammalleri one of the team’s best players, he was a community favorite for his truly outstanding charitable work on behalf of military families and seriously ill children.

  • Jeff Halpern, 36, currently center with the New York Rangers
    Halpern, who is the son of two Jewish parents, was born and raised in Potomac, MD, an affluent suburb of Washington, D.C. After graduating from Princeton University, he signed with the Washington Capitals in 1999 and almost immediately joined the “big club”. He was the first Washington area native to play for the Capitals. He played very well during his five seasons (1999-2006) with Washington and was named team captain early in the 2005-2006 season. He played one and a half seasons for the Dallas Stars (2006-2008) and was traded in February, 2008 to the Tampa Bay Lightning. He tore up the ice during his first season with Tampa. His statistics have declined somewhat as he has spent the last three seasons with three different teams (2009-2010 with Los Angeles; Montreal in 2010-2011; and the Capitals again in 2011-2012). In July, 2012, he signed a one year deal with the Rangers.

    Jeff Halpern of the Rangers.

    Halpern really opened up about “everything Jewish” when he was profiled by B’Nai Brith magazine in 2011. Highlights include Halpern’s decision to sit out a 2005 game that fell on Yom Kippur. Also, the profile reports that Halpern’s wife, former Washington Redskins cheerleader Kelly Cornwell, who he met in 2002, decided to convert to Judaism a couple of years before they wed in 2010.

  • Eric Nystrom, 29, currently a left wing with the Dallas Stars

    Nystrom is the son of hockey great Bobby Nystrom, who isn’t Jewish, and Michele Nystrom, who is Jewish. The elder Nystrom spent his whole career (1972-1986) with the New York Islanders, and he helped lead them to four consecutive Stanley Cups (1980-1983). Eric Nystrom was raised in Syosset, New York a nice Long Island suburb of New York City. He was raised in his mother’s faith and had a bar mitzvah ceremony.

    Like Brown and Cammalleri, Nystrom played for the Univ. of Michigan. Unlike these guys, he opted not to leave school early to enter the NHL draft. He played for Michigan for four years and earned his undergraduate degree in 2005. Drafted by the Calgary Flames, Nystrom spent three years (2005 through spring, 2008) bouncing back and forth from the AHL to Calgary and trying to recover from injuries. He played his first full season in the NHL in 2008-2009 and was effective that season and the next season. He signed as a free agent with the Minnesota Wild in July, 2010, but didn’t play well during the 2010-2011 season and it looked his career could end prematurely. He made a comeback with Dallas last season, playing very good defense and he scored the most goals of his career.

Jewish Sport Review reports that there are ten Jewish/interfaith players now playing in the AHL. Several have had brief stints in the NHL and may be called up again this season or next.

Sad Sidenote

While researching this item, I came across a sad, slightly related story that has not appeared, so far as I know, in most media outlets, Jewish community or not. I long knew that Donald Fehr, mentioned above, was the executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) before he took the same post with the National Hockey League Players Association (NHLPA). The MLBPA was a powerless entity in 1968 when the late Marvin Miller, another Jewish attorney, and a former Steelworkers Union staff member, became its executive head. He turned it into a strong union, and secured incredible gains for players. In 1977, he hired Fehr and groomed him as his successor. Fehr replaced the retiring Miller in 1983 and stayed until 2009. In late 2010, he became head of the NHLPA.

I was curious who replaced Fehr as head of the MLBPA. His replacement, I learned, is Michael Weiner, 51. Yes, he is Jewish, too, and an attorney.

It didn’t take me long to find out that Weiner has been battling an almost certainly terminal brain tumor since last July. Nonetheless, he continues to teach Sunday school at his New Jersey synagogue and attend fundraisers for brain tumor victims.

He told ESPN that both Jewish and Christian friends are praying for him:

When Jewish friends ask for his Hebrew name so they can say a prayer, he tells them Shlomo Moshe ben-Yitzhak and thanks them for their concern. Several weeks ago, Weiner received a call from Willy Taveras, a former big league outfielder from the Dominican Republic who has started a church with his wife in Houston. Could they say a prayer for Michael on his behalf? Weiner, touched by the gesture, gave them his blessing.

Point of reference: it’s my understanding that there is a tradition that God will be better able to “identify” and aid a Jewish person who is sick if prayers are directed to God reference the sick person’s Hebrew name. Here’s an explanation of the Jewish healing prayer (“Mi Sheberakh”) and a transliterated version of the prayer for those who don’t read Hebrew.

Weiner seems like a real mensch (a good human being). So, if you pray, include him in your prayers.

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