Celebrity jews

Jewish ‘Roots’

Barbara Walters

In 2010, the terrific PBS program “Faces of America” explored the ancestry of 12 famous Americans. The host, Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., returns to host PBS’ “Finding Your Roots,” a new famous-person ancestry series.

The first two programs in the 10-part series (Sundays at 8 p.m.), aired March 25, and one featured singer Harry Connick Jr. However, there will be encore showings and all aired shows can be viewed online. As I write this, I don’t know if Connick’s Jewish ancestry was explored. (Connick’s late mother was Jewish. She died when he was 14, and shortly thereafter Connick decided to follow his father’s Catholic faith.)

Barbara Walters, 82, will be one of the two people profiled on Sunday, April 1. The spotlight will be on actress Kyra Sedgwick, 46, and her actor husband, Kevin Bacon, 53, on April 8. Sedgwick’s mother is Jewish and she identifies as Jewish. I’ll cover the rest of the Jewish and “part Jewish” celebs who will be the subjects of later programs in my next column.


Sharif Jr. comes out

A commentary by Omar Sharif Jr., grandson of Egyptian actor Omar Sharif, was published March 16 in the gay magazine the Advocate. He wrote that his mother is Jewish and he is gay, and said he could no longer “remain in the shadows” about these identities. He added that the Arab Spring revolution had been “hijacked” by intolerant Islamist parties and he didn’t feel welcome in Egypt. Sharif Jr. lives in the United States.

Virtually all media outlets treated Omar Jr.’s disclosure that he is “half Jewish” as news. It really isn’t. Ten years ago, his grandfather told several American publications that he paid for the “biggest bar mitzvah in the history of Canada” for Omar Jr. The elder Sharif, a convert to Islam from Christianity, added that he and Tariq, his only child and the father of Omar Jr., were “tolerant atheists.”

However, in 2007, when Sharif was asked about his “Jewish grandson” by the news organization al Jazeera, there was no talk of a bar mitzvah. He knew he was speaking to an Arab audience, so he forcefully denied that his grandson was Jewish “at all” and claimed he was a Muslim (how Omar Jr. religiously identifies now isn’t clear). He would only say that his grandson “respected his Jewish mother.” It was clear to me that the elder Sharif fibbed or really fudged the facts because he was scared for the safety of Tariq (who was living in Egypt with a “new” Muslim wife) and for his grandson, who often visited Egypt.


Peet gets ‘Bent’

Amanda Peet

Late alert: One of my favorite actresses, Amanda Peet, 38, stars in the new NBC romantic comedy series “Bent.” It began March 21, with new episodes airing Wednesdays at 8 p.m. She plays a recently divorced lawyer with a 10-year-old daughter. San Francisco native Jeffrey Tambor, 67, is a series regular, playing the father of Peet’s possible love interest.


Political pandering flops

Veteran MSNBC/NBC news anchor Chris Matthews recently commented that all politicians “pander” to regional and ethnic groups, but that Mitt Romney was the worst of any he had ever seen. Matthews pointed out how awkward Romney sounded when he said he was “eating cheesy grits” while courting Southern voters.

Perhaps Matthews has not heard about one of the biggest “pandering gaffes” of all time. In spring 1972, Sen. George McGovern was campaigning in New York’s Democratic presidential primary. He entered a Queens kosher deli and ordered a hot dog. Up to this point, McGovern was just doing “regular pandering.” But he totally blew it when he followed up his hot dog order with the following request: “And can I have a glass of milk?”


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

Nate Bloom

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