A celebrity’s origins and background are always fascinating to their biggest fans. After all, getting to know one’s idol also entails taking a peek into his or her past and where he or she came from. That’s why there are shows like Who Do You Think You Are and Finding Your Roots, both genealogy documentary programs that feature celebrities as they go on a journey to trace their family tree as far back as research can take them. Many have discovered surprising tidbits about their ancestors.
One of the many traits that tie a lot of our favorite celebrities together is the fact that many of them just so happen to be Jewish. This ethno-cultural group descended from the Israelites from Biblical times and has scattered to the far corners of the globe through the centuries. Jews have also gone through unspeakable hardships, such as the massacre of thousands of them by Hitler during World War II. Yet, many of them survive today and are also quite successful in their respective fields, particularly in Hollywood. Here are some celebs who happen to be Jewish, though we may not know it because they aren’t as vocal as the likes of more well-known Jews such as Natalie Portman and Steven Spielberg.
14. Paula Abdul
Singer and former American Idol judge Paula Abdul proudly embraced her Jewish origins by embarking on a pilgrimage to Israel.
According to Billboard, Abdul had a belated bat mitzvah to celebrate her coming-of-age as a girl born to Jewish parents usually does. With her father being a Syrian Jew and her mother tracing back her Jewish origins to Ukraine, Abdul felt it necessary to capture the spiritualism of her past.
During her pilgrimage to the Holy Land, she shared that visiting museums, holy sites, and markets was truly an experience she’d carry around with her forever.
13. Daniel Day-Lewis
He’s one of the greatest actors ever to grace the stage and screen and Hollywood was lucky that Daniel Day-Lewis took his talents across the pond from his native England. He’s known as a method actor, essentially becoming his character to be able to emulate it onscreen.
Not very many people know that Day-Lewis is part Jewish. His mother was a Jew whose parents migrated to England from Latvia and Poland. However, he said in a 2002 interview that he doesn’t practice the Jewish rituals and is agnostic.
12. Joseph Gordon-Levitt
One of the few child actors who was successfully able to transition into serious adult roles is Joseph Gordon-Levitt and he’s definitely riding the wave of success nowadays. The Inception and G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra star is of Jewish origin, his parents both being Jewish and even founders of the Progressive Jewish Alliance.
Of his role as Tommy Solomon in the hit TV sitcom 3rd Rock From the Sun, the San Francisco Chronicle quipped that Gordon-Levitt was a “Jewish kid playing an extraterrestrial pretending to be a Jewish kid.”
11. Jake Gyllenhaal and Maggie Gyllenhaal
OK! Magazine has identified Jake Gyllenhaal as one of several hot male Jewish celebs. He was born into privilege, as his father Stephen Gyllenhaal was a film director and a descendant of a Swedish noble family. But Jake and his sister Maggie’s parents wanted to make sure that their kids were brought up with their feet firmly planted on the ground.
They identify as Jewish, with their mother coming from a Jewish family that migrated to the United States from Poland and Russia. To keep with living a simple life, Jake’s bar mitzvah was celebrated without pomp or fanfare and he was made to volunteer at a shelter and have summer jobs to support himself.
10. Winona Ryder
Winona Ryder describes herself as Jewish, being born Winona Horowitz. Her father was a Jew that originated from Romania and Russia and she admitted that she had many relatives who tragically perished during the Holocaust.
Ryder claimed that fellow actor Mel Gibson lashed at her at one point with some racist remarks, calling her an “oven-dodger” in reference to the gas chambers used by the Germans to kill the Jews.
9. Andrew Garfield
As mentioned in OK! Magazine, the Amazing Spiderman himself, Andrew Garfield is actually Jewish, though not many people are privy to this fact. He was born in Los Angeles, but raised in the United Kingdom, where his mother is from. His paternal grandparents were from Jewish immigrant families that moved to London from the Eastern European areas of Poland, Russia, and Romania.
It’s not clear if he’s a practicing Jew as he doesn’t talk about his origins much, though he did mention in The Independent that Spiderman is a Jew, just like himself.
8. Sacha Baron Cohen
Sacha Baron Cohen is a Jew through and through and it really comes as no surprise, given his name. His mother was born in Israel but is of German descent, technically making her a German Jew. Cohen’s father, on the other hand, is an Eastern European Jew who moved to the United Kingdom, where the young Cohen was born.
According to Times Online, he claims not to be a religious Jew, though he continues to observe the custom of kosher and attending synagogue twice a year. Incidentally, Baron Cohen’s wife Isla Fisher converted to Judaism just so she could marry him.
7. Elizabeth Taylor
She may not have been born Jewish but with the many husbands she had, it came as no surprise that Elizabeth Taylor married at least one who was. Her third husband, Mike Todd, was Jewish, but she didn’t convert to Judaism until a year after his death, by which time she was already married to Eddie Fisher, who was also a Jew.
Here began her love story with Israel, as reported by The Washington Post. Throughout her life, Taylor fought for Jewish causes and helped raise money for many Jewish organizations. Upon her death, she was given a Jewish burial ceremony.
6. Zac Efron
He has Disney to thank for his rise to stardom, having starred in all three movies of the High School Musical franchise, one of Disney’s most successful ones. Today, Zac Efron is considered one of the sexiest men in Hollywood with biceps and a six-pack that many men would die for and many women drool over.
Though he was raised agnostic, according to Ok! Magazine, Efron is actually of Jewish origins. His paternal grandfather was a Jew and his last name Efron is from a Biblical place.
5. Mila Kunis
Though she’s fluent in English with no trace of an accent, Mila Kunis was actually born and raised in Ukraine, only migrating to the United States when she was seven years old because her parents saw no future in Russia.
Kunis has stated in interviews that because her family was Jewish, they experienced anti-Semitism, as religion was largely suppressed in Russia. Her parents did their best to instill the Jewish customs in her, but she’s no longer a practicing Jew today.
Not very many people know that rapper, singer, songwriter Drake is Jewish. As mentioned in OK! Magazine, he may not look it, but he’s actually part Jewish. His father is an African-American from Tennessee and his mother is a full-fledged Jewish Canadian.
As a child, Drake attended a Jewish day school and even had a bar mitzvah when he came of age. In fact, in his music video HYFR, Drake is depicted reliving his bar mitzvah to the hilt.
3. Gwyneth Paltrow
She’s practically Hollywood royalty, being the daughter of renowned film producer and director Bruce Paltrow and actress Blythe Danner. Not very many people know that Gwyneth Paltrow is actually Jewish from her father’s side of the family.
Her father’s family migrated from Belarus and Poland, but he ensured that he would instill his Jewish practices on his children. And Paltrow is doing the same for her own children. In an interview she did with USA Today, the actress shared that she celebrates both Christian and Jewish holidays, even teaching her kids Hebrew songs to be sung during Hanukkah.
2. Scarlett Johansson
Bombshell Scarlett Johansson has mentioned in passing that she’s Jewish, but has never really gone into specifics. The Avengers star’s mother comes from an Ashkenazi Jewish family that migrated from Poland and Minsk to the Bronx in the United States, while her father is originally from Denmark.
Johansson said that she celebrates both Hanukkah and Christmas, the latter in honor of her Danish Christian father, though by and large, she calls herself an American of Polish-Jewish descent.
1. Ivanka Trump
As reported in ABC News, Trump converted to Judaism before getting engaged to her now husband, Jared Kushner. She has fully embraced her new faith, saying that Judaism “creates an amazing blueprint for family connectivity.” She likewise observes the traditional Jewish practices, such as keeping kosher and observing the Sabbath, even learning how to cook Jewish dishes every so often.
telegraph.co.uk, usatoday.com, washingtonpost.com, abcnews.go.com