Celebrity Jews

Seeds of tolerance

The Foundation for Ethnic Understanding brings together ethnic communities in face-to-face dialogue to promote understanding. Its founder and president is Rabbi Marc Scheiner, head of the North American Board of Rabbis. The Foundation Chair is Russell Simmons, an African American impresario who was a co-founder of the famous Def-Jam hip-hop label. Last month, the foundation said that it would mount a campaign against anti-Semitism featuring TV and radio ads by non-Jewish celebs. Will Smith and Ben Affleck have signed on, along with Stevie Wonder and Beyonce Knowles.

A Parade magazine interview with Smith (July 11) sheds some light on his involvement. The black actor’s father ran a successful refrigeration business. Smith told Parade that his father’s dream of owning a business was made possible by the support of the Philadelphia Jewish community.

Hamilton spoke Hebrew

For the first time in almost 200 years, the life of Alexander Hamilton is being covered everywhere. It reached its peak two weeks ago, when every media outlet covered a re-enactment of Hamilton’s death in an 1804 duel with Aaron Burr. Meanwhile, Ron Chernow’s biography, “Alexander Hamilton,” has been on the best seller list for months.

Chernow, who describes himself as “Jewish, but more in the breach than in the observance,” covers Hamilton’s Jewish connections.

Hamilton’s French Protestant mother was married to a Dane named Lavien, which lead to speculation that Lavien was Jewish — but Chernow notes there is no real proof of this. Hamilton’s mother left Lavien and took up with a non-Jewish Scot named James Hamilton — who fathered Alexander. The terms of her divorce forbade her marry again, and Alexander was born out-of-wedlock.

Chernow writes that Hamilton, like Ben Franklin, had a high opinion of Jews. No doubt the prosperous Jewish community on the West Indian Island of Nevis, where he grew up, influenced his attitude. Hamilton wrote that a Nevis Jewish woman tutored him as a child, and he once recited the Ten Commandments in Hebrew before her.  As an adult, Hamilton defended Jews from the bigoted attitudes of the day — like “all Jews” were untruthful.

Justin as Jewish journalist hero

Justin Timberlake (who isn’t Jewish) has just finished filming “Edison,” a big-budget flick co-starring Morgan Freeman and Kevin Spacey. Timberlake plays Joshua Pollack, a rookie journalist who covers the local Jewish community for a general newspaper. (Timberlake told the Memphis Commercial Appeal, “[Pollack’s] Jewish. But not religious.”) but then uncovers official corruption.

To get ready for his dramatic screen debut, Timberlake tagged around with a Pulitzer-winning AP investigative reporter. No mention of him learning how-to-be a Jewish community reporter by following a reporter for a Jewish paper to Federation luncheons.

Sport Shorts

The Baseball Hall of Fame will host a two-day conference honoring Jewish former major leaguers on Aug. 29 and 30. Former A’s pitching star Ken Holtzman will be among those attending … Congrats to Philip Rabinowitz, 100, of South Africa, who just broke the world’s record for the fastest 100-meter run for a person 100 or older. Known as “Flyin Phil,” to his friends, he attributes his good health to diet and “not worrying.”… Look for sprinter Jason Lezak, and not the injured Lenny Krayzelburg, to be the Jewish star of the 2004 US Olympic swimming team.

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

Nate Bloom

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