Prominent Jews Talk About Being Jewish
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Sixty-two of the most accomplished Jews in America speak
intimately—most for the first time—about how they feel
about being Jewish. In unusually candid interviews
conducted by former 60 Minutes producer Abigail Pogrebin,
celebrities ranging from Sarah Jessica Parker to Supreme
Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, from Larry King to Mike
Nichols, reveal how resonant, crucial or incidental being
Jewish is in their lives. The connections they have to
their Jewish heritage range from hours in synagogue to
bagels and lox; but every person speaks to the weight and
pride of their Jewish history, the burdens and pleasures of
observance, the moments they’ve felt most Jewish (or not).
This book of vivid, personal conversations uncovers how
being Jewish fits into a public life, and also how the
author’s evolving religious identity was changed by what
Dustin Hoffman, Steven Spielberg, Gene Wilder, Joan Rivers,
and Leonard Nimoy talk about their startling encounters
Kenneth Cole, Eliot Spitzer, and Ronald Perelman explore
the challenges of intermarriage.
Mike Wallace, Richard Dreyfuss, and Ruth Reichl express
attitudes toward Israel that vary from unquestioning
loyalty to complicated ambivalence.
William Kristol scoffs at the notion that Jewish values are
incompatible with Conservative politics.
Alan Dershowitz, raised Orthodox, talks about why he gave
up morning prayer.
Shawn Green describes the pressure that comes with being
baseball’s Jewish star.
Natalie Portman questions the ostentatious bat mitzvahs of
Tony Kushner explains how being Jewish prepared him for
Leon Wieseltier throws down the gauntlet to Jews who
haven’t taken the trouble to study Judaism.
These are just a few key moments from many poignant, often
surprising, conversations with public figures whom most of
us thought we already knew.
“When my mother got her nose job, she wanted me to get one,
too. She said I would be happier.”
“It’s a heritage to be proud of. And then, too, it’s
something that you can’t escape because the world won’t let
you; so it’s a good thing you can be proud of it.”
—Ruth Bader Ginsburg
“My wife [Kate Capshaw] chose to do a full conversion
before we were married in 1991, and she married me as a
Jew. I think that, more than anything else, brought me back
to Judaism.”—Steven Spielberg
“As someone who was born in Israel, you’re put in a
position of defending Israel because you know how much is
at stake.”—Natalie Portman
“Jewish introspection and Jewish humor is a way of
surviving . . . if you’re not handsome and you’re not
athletic and you’re not rich, there’s still one last hope
with girls, which is being funny.”—Mike Nichols
“I felt not only this enormous pride at being a Jew; I felt
this enormous void at not being a better Jew.”—Ronald O.
“American Jews, like Americans, have a very consumerist
attitude toward their identity: they pick and choose the
bits of this and that they like.”—Leon Wieseltier
“I thought if I had straight hair and a perfect nose, my
whole career would be different.”—Sarah Jessica Parker
“I’ve always rebelled a little when people say, ‘My Jewish
values lead me to really care about the poor.’ I know some
Christians who care about the poor, too.”—William Kristol
“There were many times when I kept silent about being
Jewish as I got older, when Jewish jokes were told.”—
“‘Jew bastard’ was something I heard a lot.”—Leonard Nimoy.
“I always liked shiksas.”—Larry King
“It specifically says in the Torah that you can eat shrimp
and bacon in a Chinese restaurant.”—Jason Alexander
“Yom Kippur is something I do alone, with nobody else,
because I believe that my relationship with God is mine and
mine only.”—Diane von Furstenberg
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