"When my mother got her nose job, she wanted me to get one, too. She said I would be happier."--Dustin Hoffman
"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. Perelman
"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."--William Shatner
"'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
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 she heard.
* Dustin Hoffman, Steven Spielberg, Gene Wilder, Joan Rivers, and Leonard Nimoy talk about their startling encounters with anti-Semitism.
* 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 her hometown.
* Tony Kushner explains how being Jewish prepared him for being gay.
* 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.
Consistently engaging, these 60 interviews conducted by journalist Pogrebin explore the thoughts of well-known artists, politicians and others in the public eye on the complexities of Jewish identity-and the emotions they engender. The issues touched on range from the legacy of the Holocaust to the Middle East, Jewish traditions, intermarriage and much more. The conflicts are typified by Sarah Jessica Parker, who says her supportive feelings about Israel in its conflict with the Palestinians make her feel more Jewish, but she is uncertain about the religious education she will give her child. Others, like Dustin Hoffman and William Kristol, have been firmly committed to passing on Jewish rituals and history to their children. Gloria Steinem, who joyfully attends feminist seders, still remains alienated by the sexist bias of most religions. In two arresting pieces, politician Barney Frank and playwright Tony Kushner address what it's like to be both gay and Jewish. Pogrebin says this book grew out of her efforts to clarify her own Jewish identity. But you don't need to be on such a quest to enjoy the wide range of experiences and feelings recorded here. Photos. Agent, David Kuhn. (On sale Oct. 25) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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October 24, 2005
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Excerpt from Stars of David by Abigail Pogrebin
Dustin Hoffman vividly recalls one afternoon, sitting in his apartment on 11th Street in New York City, talking on the phone to Mike Nichols. The director was trying to convince Hoffman to audition for the part of Benjamin Braddock in The Graduate. "Mike was asking, 'What do you mean you don't think you're right for the part?' " Hoffman says. " 'Because you're Jewish?' I said, 'Yeah.' Mike said, 'But don't you think the character is Jewish inside?' " Hoffman reminds me that Braddock was originally written as a thoroughbred WASP. "The guy's name is Benjamin Braddock--not Bratowski," Hoffman says with a smile. "He's a track star, debating team. Nichols tested everybody for the part--I think he tested Redford, who visually was the prototype of this character."
Hoffman finally agreed to fly to L.A. to audition. "That day was a torturous day for all of us," he says. "I think I was three hours in the makeup chair under the lights. And Mike was saying with his usual wry humor, 'What can we do about his nose?' Or, 'He looks like he has one eyebrow'; and they plucked in between my eyebrows. Dear Mike, who was, on the one hand, extremely courageous to cast me, in the end was at the same time aware that I looked nothing like what the part called for." Hoffman laughs.
We're having breakfast in a Columbus Avenue restaurant near his apartment in New York City. He arrives in buoyant spirits, dressed in jeans, white T-shirt, and blue blazer. Right away he befriends the waitress--"Where did you grow up?" She turns out to be from his childhood neighborhood in Los Angeles: Orlando Street. "Oh my God," he says, "I grew up on Flores!"
He orders very specific "loose" scrambled egg whites with one yoke thrown in, plus onions, salsa, and garlic. "Not too dry, no milk, no butter; a little olive oil." Hoffman shakes his head when I order my omelet. "Omelets aren't the best way to go," he advises me. "Scrambled is tastier. But you go ahead with your omelet."
Back to 1967: Nichols, who had seen Hoffman in an off-Broadway play, invited him to California to audition: "I flew out to L.A. with very little notice, and of course hadn't slept," says Hoffman. "I was very nervous. And in my memory, it was an eight-page or ten-page scene in the bedroom, and of course I kept fucking it up. I distinctly remember Mike taking me aside and saying, 'Just relax; you're so nervous. Have you ever done a screen test before?' I said, 'No.' He said, 'It's nothing; these are just crew people here; you're not on a stage. This is just film; no one's going to see it. This isn't going into theaters.' And I nodded and I was so thankful that he was trying to soften me; but then he put his hand out to shake mine, and his hand was so sweaty that my hand slipped out of it. Now I was terrified. Because I knew, 'That man is as scared as I am.'
"I felt, from my subjective point of view, that the whole crew was wondering, 'Why is this ugly little Jew even trying out for this part called Benjamin Braddock?' I looked for a Jewish face in the film crew, but I don't think I sensed one Jew. It was the culmination of everything I had ever feared and dreaded about Aunt Pearl." He's referring to his Aunt Pearl, who, upon learning that "Dusty" wanted to become an actor, remarked: " 'You can't be an actor; you're too ugly.' " "It was like a banner," Hoffman continues: " 'Aunt Pearl was right!' She'd warned me."
Hoffman reaches into the bread basket to break off small chips of a baguette. "It was probably one of the more courageous pieces of casting any director has done in the history of American movies," he continues. "And an act of courage is sometimes accompanied by a great deal of fear."