Interfaith Celebrities: Romantic Comedy, Major League Round-up, and Rock Hall of Fame Inductees

The Five Year [Interfaith] Engagement

Jason Segel wrote and stars in The Five Year Engagement

Opening last Friday, April 27, was the romantic comedy, The Five Year Engagement. The film begins in San Francisco where Tom (played by interfaith actor Jason Segel, 32) and Violet (Emily Blunt, 29) have fallen in love and gotten engaged.

Violet is Christian and Tom is Jewish, which provides fodder for a semi-comic scene in which their respective families argue about the roles their religious traditions will play at their kids’ wedding. (Tom’s father is played by Jewish actor David Paymer, 57.)

The wedding is postponed when Violet gets her dream job at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. The job, which was only supposed to last two years, is extended to five, and their wedding plans are repeatedly put on hold. Violet enjoys her job while Tom unhappily works at a bakery. (The bakery scenes were shot at Zingerman’s, a famous Ann Arbor Jewish deli and bakery.)

Interfaith actress Alison Brie, 29, (Community), plays Violet’s sister. (Brie is the daughter of a Jewish mother.) The screenplay is by Segel and Nicholas Stoller, 36, who also directed the film. Stoller, who is Jewish, also directed Segel in the hit films Forgetting Sarah Marshall and The Muppets. Segel wrote Marshall alone and the two guys co-wrote The Muppets.

As I write this, the movie has not yet opened so I cannot tell you, exactly, how much of a role the interfaith angle plays in the film. However, in a recent interview, Segel said, that scenes were shot depicting Tom and Violet discussing, at some length, which religious traditions to incorporate into their wedding. These scenes, Segel added, ended up on the cutting room floor. It’s my sense, therefore, that the scene described above, and partially shown in the trailer, is “pretty much it” in terms of the movie addressing interfaith issues.

Play Ball: 2012 Jewish/Interfaith Major Leaguers

The following is a list of Jewish and interfaith players actively playing in the major leagues as of April 18. Jewish Sports Review helped me with this list:

  • Ryan Braun, 28, outfielder, Milwaukee
  • Craig Breslow, 31, pitcher, Arizona
  • Ike Davis, 25, first base, New York Mets
  • Scott Feldman, 29, pitcher, Texas
  • Ian Kinsler, 29, second base, Texas
  • Jason Marquis, 33, pitcher, Minnesota
  • Kevin Youkilis, 33, first base, Boston
  • Danny Valencia, 27, third base, Minnesota
Milwaukee Brewers’ Ryan Braun speaks during a news conference at baseball spring training in Phoenix, Feb. 24, 2012, after he was cleared of banned substance charges. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Braun, Kinsler and Feldman are the sons of Jewish fathers. Braun and Kinsler were raised secular, while Feldman’s family belonged, for a time, to a synagogue. Valencia and Davis have Jewish mothers. Davis was raised secular, while Valencia was raised religiously Jewish and had a bar mitzvah ceremony. Breslow, Youkilis, and Marquis have two Jewish parents and all three came from moderately religious homes.

There is no question that Braun is now the best player in this group, with Kinsler a fairly close second. Last year, Braun was the National League Most Valuable Player award winner. He batted .332 (second best in the league), hit 33 home runs, and stole 33 bases. He was also the best defensive left fielder in the major leagues, as judged by fielding percentage.

As some of you probably know, in December, 2011, it was announced that Braun had failed a major league drug test. The test indicated he had used a banned performance-enhancing drug. Long story short: the results of the test were overturned on appeal.

Back in 2007, I wrote an article for that criticized writers for Jewish newspapers who “claimed” Braun as Jewish, but virtually never mentioned that he was of interfaith background and that he was raised secular. This article was widely re-printed by Jewish papers in a condensed form. A major point of my article was that these writers should have a balanced approach to Braun. They shouldn’t, I wrote, make him out to be something he isn’t — a practicing Jew.

On the other hand, I emphasized that there could actually be a big “upside” if Jewish fans rooted for Braun. Make sure to read the comment I added:

Sometimes a marvelous thing happens when the Jewish community fetes a Jewish athlete: The athlete enjoys the attention and becomes “more Jewish.” He thinks of himself as a role model for Jewish kids and is drawn into the sphere of the Jewish community. Such a thing happened with Hank Greenberg, Sandy Koufax and Shawn Green, none of whom was a particularly religious Jew. But all became strong cultural Jews and good role models, overall. There is nothing wrong with Jewish fans having special regard for Ryan Braun. Maybe the attention will make him more of a cultural Jew and prompt him to do some Jewish cultural or charity events.


What I wrote in 2007 has to come to pass. Jewish fans “feted” Ryan Braun. In turn, over time, he has become much more forthcoming in interviews about his Jewish background, its importance to him and his wish to be a role model.

In May, 2010, Braun talked to USA Today about his Jewish background:

“I am Jewish,” says Braun, whose mother is Catholic and dad Jewish,?”It’s something I’m really proud of. But I don’t want to make it into something more than what it is. I didn’t have a Bar Mitzvah. I don’t want to pretend that I did. I didn’t celebrate the holidays. It’s a touchy subject because I don’t want to offend anybody, and I don’t want groups claiming me now because I’m having success. But I do consider myself definitely Jewish. And I’m extremely proud to be a role model for young Jewish kids.”


In December, 2010, Braun happily accepted an invitation to come to the White House for the annual Hanukkah party.

Kinsler, like Braun, had another outstanding season in 2011, hitting .255, with 32 home runs and 30 stolen bases. He finished 11th in the league MVP balloting.

Julie Brady and Kevin Youkilis

Youkilis, another former all-star, started strong in 2011, but was hobbled by injuries in the second half of the season. He has started the 2012 season seemingly unable to hit the ball and observers are starting to wonder if his effectiveness is over.

On April 24, 2012, reports broke that Youkilis had married Julie Brady, 30, the previous week. The bride is the sister of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, 34. The couple wed in a private ceremony attended only by immediate family. Tom Brady and his wife, superstar model Gisele Bündchen, 31, were at the wedding. Youkilis and Brady were engaged in February, 2012. The Bradys are an Irish-American Catholic family.

Back to baseball:

It’s possible that Tampa Bay outfielder Sam Fuld, 30, will return this season. A wrist injury in spring training will sideline him for most of 2012. Look for these players, who had some major league time last season, to possibly be called up from the minors:

  • Josh Satin, 27, second base, New York Mets
  • Ryan Lavarnway, 24, catcher, Boston
  • Michael Schwimer, 26, pitcher, Philadelphia

Pitcher John Grabow, 33, who had been in the majors since 2003, was cut by the Dodgers during spring training and there’s only a remote chance another team will sign him.

Fuld is the son of a Jewish father. Lavarnway and Grabow are the sons of Jewish mothers. As far as I know, Satin and Schwimer have two Jewish parents.

Rockin’ the Hall of Fame: Laura Nyro, Don Kirshner, Hillel Slovak, Jack Irons, the Beastie Boys, and Steve Adler

The induction ceremony for new members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame took place in Cleveland on April 15 and will be televised on HBO on Saturday evening, May 5 (along with many encore showings). Here’s a “scorecard” of the Jewish/interfaith people inducted this year.

First, the individual inductees

Bette Midler speaks at the posthumous induction of Laura Nyro to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

Singer-songwriter Laura Nyro (1947-97), was born Laura Nigro, the child of secular parents. Her maternal grandparents were Russian Jewish, as was her father’s mother. Her paternal grandfather was Italian Catholic. Nyro wrote very well-crafted songs that others turned into big hits, including “Wedding Bell Blues,” “Stoned Soul Picnic,” and “Eli’s Coming.” Laura and her mother both died from ovarian cancer, for which Ashkenazi Jews are at higher risk.

Nyro’s induction speech was given by a tearful Bette Midler, 66, who is Jewish. Midler said of Nyro at the induction ceremony: “In a world of imitators? she was a complete original. She was an ornament on the Earth.”

Don Kirshner (1934-2011), was inducted as a “non-performer.” He was a (Jewish) producer/executive who was critical to the creation of most of the best rock music of the early-to-mid ’60s. His stable of New York-based, in-house songwriters included Carole King and her former husband, Gerry Goffin; Neil Sedaka and his partner, the late Howard Greenfield: Barry Mann and his wife, Cynthia Weil; the late Ellie Greenwich and her former husband, Jeff Barry; and Neil Diamond.

All of the songwriters listed above were the children of two Jewish parents, except for Ellie Greenwich, whom I wrote about not long after she died in 2009. Greenwich, the daughter of a Jewish mother and a Catholic father, was raised Jewish. Some of these songwriters/popular singers wrote an astonishing number of the most popular rock songs of all time while working for Kirshner. All save Sedaka/Greenfield are now in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Kirshner not only nurtured these songwriters. He turned their songs into hits by producing the recorded version and by selecting the right acts to perform them. He also co-created, from scratch, the Archies and the Monkees rock bands.

King gave the induction speech for Kirshner, saying: “He was one of the most significant influences on popular music in the 20th century.”

Inducted Bands

The Red Hot Chili Peppers had two Jewish members in its original line-up, and those two musicians were inducted into the Hall with the rest of the band: Jack Irons, 49, the original drummer, and Hillel Slovak, the original lead guitarist. Slovak was born (1962) in Israel, the son of Holocaust survivors. Slovak’s great talent was overwhelmed by drugs and he died in 1988 of an overdose.

The Red Hot Chili Peppers. It’s surprisingly difficult to find a photo of the group where they’re all clothed!

The Beastie Boys are, unquestionably, one of the best rap groups of all-time. The band’s core line-up has always been: Adam Yauch, 47, Adam Horovitz, 45, and Mike Diamond, 46. (While seven other performers have played with the band over the years, and can be described as members, only Horovitz, Diamond, and Yauch were inducted into the Hall).

Diamond is the son of two Jewish parents. Horovitz is the son of famous playwright Israel Horovitz, 72, who is Jewish, and a Catholic mother, the late Doris Keefe Horovitz.

Last February, I wrote about Adam Horovitz’s sister, Rachael Horovitz, 50, when she was nominated for an Oscar for producing Moneyball, a best picture nominee. Included in that profile were excerpts of an interview with Israel Horovitz, in which he discussed the secular upbringing of his children with Keefe and the Jewish upbringing of his children with his second and present wife, Gillian Adams-Horovitz, who was raised Anglican.

Yauch is the son of a Catholic father and a Jewish mother. Like Adam Horovitz, he was raised secular. However, decades ago, he became a devout Buddhist. He is very involved in human rights campaigns that seek religious and cultural freedom for Tibetan Buddhists. Sadly, Yauch has been battling cancer for several years and was not able to attend the induction ceremony.

The Beastie Boys’ Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz, Adam “MCA” Yauch and Michael “Mike D” Diamond

The Beastie Boys’ Jewish ties aren’t that deep, but they have made a number of Jewish references in their songs over the years. These references are most numerous in the 2004 album, “To the Five Boroughs.”

Another hard rocking band, Guns ‘N’ Roses, was also inducted into the Hall this year. Steven Adler, 47, the group’s original virtuoso drummer, was included in the inductees. Adler has battled a serious drug problem for decades and suffered a relapse as recently as last year. His drug problem got him fired permanently from the band in 1990. Adler was born Michael Coletti, the son of an Italian American father and a Jewish mother. His parents split when he was very young and his mother subsequently married a Jewish man named Adler. He adopted Michael, and the young boy was given a “new” first and last name.

The group’s famous guitarist, Slash (born Saul Hudson), was also inducted into the Hall this year. There is an oft-repeated erroneous story that he is the son of an English Jewish father and a black Nigerian mother. His father is English, but not Jewish. His mother is African-American, and not Nigerian.

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