Celebrity Jews

Bebe and Lilith

While I was in New York last week, I caught an interview with Bebe Neuwirth, 46, who was speaking at the Makor Cultural Center, a Jewish venue, about her hit off-Broadway show. After the formal interview, I was able to ask her some questions.

“Here Lies Jenny,” her stage show, runs through July 25 and is based on the songs of Kurt Weill (1900-50), the famous German Jewish composer. Bay Area theatergoers may recall that Neuwirth appeared in Weill’s “The Threepenny Opera” at ACT in 1999.

But Neuwirth is best known for her 18-year role as Dr. Lilith Sternin-Crane on “Cheers” and “Frasier.”

Lilith, Neuwirth said, wasn’t originally described as Jewish, but her Jewishness was revealed during a Chanukah show well into her “Cheers” run. When she joined “Cheers,” Neuwirth was unaware of the Lilith figure in Jewish folklore — Adam’s “insubordinate” first wife. As Neuwirth put it: “I am just a plain Jew; I mean I have no training.”

‘Fairy-tale endings do occur’

So said NBA commissioner David Stern when the underdog Detroit Pistons won the championship last week. The title is the crown jewel in the career of coach Larry Brown; his father died suddenly when Brown was 7, and Brown found out when he saw relatives come to the house to cover-up mirrors for shiva. Meanwhile, his mother, now 99, had to struggle to support Larry and his older brother, Herb Brown, who also eventually made his career in basketball. Larry went on to be an All-American basketball player, an Olympic gold medal winner, a good pro player, the coach of the University of Kansas 1988 NCAA championship team and the coach of the U.S. team in the Maccabi Games. He will coach the 2004 U.S. Olympic team.

Larry has also lost and he knows winning is better. As Mitch Albom, writing in the Detroit News, put it: “He [Larry] had been talking about his Detroit players, how lucky he felt, how they didn’t complain about his coaching moves, even when it meant they had to sit. He gave that familiar shrug and he lifted his eyebrows and said, in that croaky voice, ‘We haven’t had, you know what they call it, tzuris?'”

It’s also a nice time for Pistons’ owner Bill Davidson, 81, a low-key billionaire. His incredible philanthropy includes major donations to Israel.

Another fairy tale just happened in Kansas City, where a Jewish friend was watching the Red Sox play the Royals. He pointed out to his sons that a rare event was about to take place: Sox Jewish outfielder Gabe Kapler was going to bat just ahead of rookie Jewish Sox third baseman Kevin Youkilis. Kapler then hit a screaming foul and my 50-something friend caught it — the first ball he ever caught! Youkilis, we should add, was named American League rookie of the month for May.

Columnist Nate Bloom, an Oaklander, can be reached at [email protected].

Nate Bloom

Nate Bloom writes the "Celebrity Jews" column for J.