Jewish stars--the Hollywood kind--lean into their Jewish identities

 There seems to be a cultural shift of a younger generation of Jewish celebrities proudly leaning into their Jewish identities.  

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Jewish comedian and actress Hannah Einbinder wearing a Star of David necklace, an accessory she often wears to Hollywood events. (Photo credit: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic for HBO via Getty Images.)

Watching TV late one summer evening, I stumbled upon Stephen Colbert chatting with Hannah Einbinder, the Jewish 20-something comedian and co-star of the hit show Hacks.

While the conversation between the two was entertaining, it was something that Einbinder was wearing--not saying--that drew me in. Adorning her neck was a simple Magen David on a chain.  

We don't often see a "star" wearing a "star"--we rarely see Jewish celebrities wearing conspicuous Jewish symbols like a Star of David, a chai, or a  kippah .  

In fact, despite a sizeable Jewish presence in Tinseltown both in front of and behind the camera- -disproportionate to our small population size--Jewish celebrities have historically represented a highly assimilated segment of the Jewish community.  

Take, for instance, a common practice of Jewish movie stars, in the first half of the 20th century, changing their names to make them sound "less Jewish" and more palatable to an American (predominantly non-Jewish) public.   

Even for those who don't go as far as changing their names, it's not often that Jewish celebrities have played up their Jewish cultural and religious identities. Adam Sandler's "Chanukah Song," his charming ode to the Festival of Lights from 1994, was a rare exception. 

Yet, in the last decade, there seems to be a cultural shift of a younger generation of Jewish celebrities proudly leaning into their Jewish identities.  

To name a handful:  

That 70s Show alum Mila Kunis--who at age seven escaped religious oppression in Ukraine with her family--praises the beauty of Shabbat, which she celebrates with husband, Ashton Kutcher, and their children.   

Ben Platt, of  Dear Evan Hansen  fame, lauds his Judaism--particularly the pivotal role Jewish summer camp has played in his life. 

Oscar-winning actress Natalie Portman, born in Israel, proudly represents the Jewish people and Israel. She also wrote, directed, and starred in an adaptation of Israeli author Amos Oz's memoir.  

On her 40th birthday, comedian and actress Tiffany Haddish celebrated her bat mitzvah, a star-studded affair.   

Megastar Scarlett Johansson appeared on the show  Finding Your Roots , in which she discovered that some of her Jewish relatives had been killed in the Warsaw Ghetto. She has also served as brand ambassador for the Israeli company SodaStream.  

Canadian rapper Drake regularly references his Jewish identity in the public sphere--including spoofing his bar mitzvah when he hosted  Saturday Night Live.  

Wonder Woman herself--Gal Gadot--is a committed Israeli Jew, whose Jewish identity shines through in her media appearances, such as on Jimmy Fallon's show last year who she roped him into trying gefilte fish.  

Finally, look no further than actress and neuroscientist Mayim Bialik, recently named one of the permanent hosts of  Jeopardy! . Bialik--who identifies as Modern Orthodox, almost unheard of in Hollywood--expresses herself Jewishly in everything from her Hebrew name to her modest Orthodox-style dress to her bedtime ritual of singing the Shema prayer with her sons.

How encouraging to watch Jewish stars showcase their cultural and religious identities--especially in an era that has challenged the Jewish people.  

In the last decade, we've seen antisemitism rising at alarming rates in America and abroad.  

In August, the FBI reported that although hate crimes against American Jews dipped slightly between 2019 and 2020, we're still the largest target for religious bias crimes. Jews, who barely comprise two percent of the U.S. population, account for 60% of religiously motivated hate crimes.  

So, in that context, it's even more refreshing to see Jewish ambassadors in pop culture shining a light on their Jewish identities, a trend you'll see celebrated in the October issue of our magazine.

After all, it's only when we get to know one another as people that we dispel stereotypes and combat bigotry.  

So, when a celebrity with a Hebrew name takes on hosting duties of the most iconic of American game shows, we're normalizing the Jewish experience. 

And when an it-actress wears a quintessential Jewish symbol around her neck on TV, we're showing society that we're proud of who we are as Jews.  

We're telling the world--quite simply--that it's cool to be Jewish. 

"When a celebrity with a Hebrew name takes on hosting duties of the most iconic of American game shows, we're normalizing the Jewish experience. "


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