Monday, December 6, 2010

Taking a Shyne to Judaism! [Cue rimshot]

Since this blog is, in theory, about conversion, let's talk about some converts! On a practical level, this is very useful knowledge because it's inevitably going to come into a conversation: "Oh, you're a convert?? Did you read the New York Times piece about Shyne??"

Rap star Shyne has taken the Jewish and non-Jewish media by storm with the story of his conversion to orthodox Judaism. Google his name, and you'll get tons of articles! Here's the NYT's piece to get you started.

But in order to give you a well-rounded education, here are more modern converts!
NOTES: Movement is ignored. And since my readership is surprisingly international, I've tried to keep that in mind when writing descriptions.

The One Most Likely to Come Up in Conversation
Marilyn Monroe, converted before marriage to playwright Arthur Miller.
Liz Taylor, converted between Jewish husbands. She is known for being a supporter of Los Angeles' controversial Kabbalah Center.
Tom Arnold, converted before marriage to Roseanne Barr.
Yisrael Campbell, American comedian (a very good one too!).
Connie Chung, Chinese-American television journalist.
Campbell Brown, American television journalist.
Soleil Moon Frye, American actress. (Punky Brewster!)
Sammy Davis, Jr., actor/singer/danger, the only African-American member of Frank Sinatra's Rat Pack.
May Britt, Swedish actress and wife to Sammy Davis, Jr. Actress in Sweden, Italy, and the U.S. They caused a ruckus in America because interracial marriage was still illegal in a majority of the states when they married in 1960.
Nell Carter, African-American Tony and Emmy Award-winning singer and actress.
Cristian Castro, Grammy-nominated Mexican singer.
Dany Boon, French actor (Per Wikipedia, "In the year 2008, Dany Boon was the best-paid actor in European film history.")
Elizabeth Banks, American actress. (I didn't recognize her name at first, but boy did I recognize her face!)
Kate Capshaw, American actress and wife of Steven Spielberg. (You know who she is-she's the female lead in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, the singer!)
Natan Gamedze, member of the royal line of Swaziland and now an Israeli chareidi rabbi.
Isla Fisher, Scottish-Australian American actress. Ms. Fisher is probably the most recent of these converts, converting before her marriage to Sacha Baron Cohen (British comedian most known as "Borat") in March 2010. She studied for conversion for three years.
Mary Hart, American host of Entertainment Tonight.
Capers Funnye, African-American rabbi of the predominately African-American Chicago synagogue Beth Shalom B’nai Zaken Ethiopian Hebrew Congregation.
Cameron Kerry, brother to American presidential hopeful John Kerry.
John King, American journalist and CNN anchor. (Not related to Larry King.)
Karol Sidon, Chief Rabbi of Prague and the Czech Republic.
Anthony Lake, American Executive Director of UNICEF.
"Dr. Laura"/Laura Schlessinger, American talk radio host. Underwent orthodox conversion, but announced on her radio show in 2003 that she is no longer orthodox.
John Lehr, American actor and comedian. You probably know his respectable roles, but did you know he was one of the Geico cavemen??
Ivanka Trump, daughter of Donald and Ivana Trump. She is married to Jared Kushner, owner of The New York Observer.
Ike Turner, American musician and former husband of Tina Turner. (This one was the biggest surprise to me!) 
Anne Meara, American comedian and actress. Wife of Jerry Stiller and mother of Ben Stiller.
Daniel Silva, American author. Many of his books deal with Jews, Islamic terrorism, WWII, and the Holocaust.
Jackie Wilson, African-American singer, one of the fathers of soul music.
Dara Torres, American Olympic gold medalist swimmer. At 41, she was the oldest swimmer to earn a spot on the U.S. Olympic team, and she has competed in 5 Olympics!
Yaniv Ben-David, an Arab-Israeli who discovered Judaism while serving a 12 year prison sentence in Israel (not related to terrorism).
Pawel and Ola, Polish skinheads who discovered they both had Jewish roots and became orthodox Jews. They are the subject of an American documentary by CNN. 
Communities of converts in former colonies that had Jewish populations, including Guatemala and Indonesia. I read about another community in South America, but I can't find it now.

The Ones That Might Come up at Trivia Night and Are Still Super Interesting
Steve Bedwell, Australian comedian.
Polly Bergen, American actress and singer.
Sarah Brown, American soap opera actress.
Eddie Butler, African-American Israeli singer.
Luke Ford, Australian-American writer, blogger, and "former pornography gossip columnist." His blog continues to make breaking news, but is viewed with disapproval by many in the Jewish community. Most notably to me, he was dismissed from one beit din for failure to disclose. Let that be a warning to you! He wrote about his struggles, including being asked to leave two congregations, in XXX-Communicated: A Rebel Without a Shul.
Aaron Freeman, American comedian and writer.
Reuben Greenberg, the first African-American police chief of Charleston, SC. (My adopted hometown! Yay Police Chief Greenberg!)
Carolivia Heron, African-American author and "scholar of African-American Judaica."
Jon Juaristi Linacero, Basque/Spanish writer and political activist.
Felicity Kendall, British actress.
Lenny Kuhr, Dutch singer.
Elliot Maddox, African-American former professional baseball player.
Richard Marceau, Canadian politician.
Françoise Mouly, French artist and designer. She is the art editor of The New Yorker.
Jeff Newman, American former professional baseball player and manager.
Bob Nystrom, Swedish former American professional hockey player.
Lorna Patterson, American actress. (Best known as the stewardess in Airplane!)
Rebecca Pidgeon, British actress and singer. Married to playwright and director David Mamet.
Roger Rees, Welsh actor best known to American audiences for Cheers and the West Wing.
Mary Doria Russell, American novelist.
Jackie Sandler, American actress. Married to Adam Sandler.
Michael Netzer, Lebanese-American comic book artist for DC and Marvel during the 1970s.
Margo Stilley, American-born British actress and model.
Karen Tintori, American author.
Andre Tippett, African-American former professional (American) football player and Hall of Famer.
Mare Winningham, American actress and singer.
Nikki Ziering, American model and actress. She was Playboy's Playmate of the Month shortly after her conversion.
Suzy Menkes, British fashion editor of the International Herald Tribune.
Christian B. Anfinsen, American Nobel Prize-winning biochemist.
Sofi Tsedakah, Samaritan-Israeli actress and singer.
Reza Jabari, an Iranian flight attendant who highjacked a plane in Iran and later converted.
Avraham Sinai, Lebanese informant for Israel, who later fled to Israel and then converted.Andre Williams, African-American musician, who married a Jamaican lawyer "of the Naftali tribe."
Chaviva, who blogs at Just Call Me Chaviva.
Ahuva Gray, African-American former Protestant minister.
Asher Wade and his wife, American former Methodist minister.
Aliza Hausman, Dominican-American rebbetzin. Her blog was well-known, but has recently become private.

The patterns I saw while combing through Wikipedia? (1) Converting at the time of marriage, (2) children of Jewish fathers, (3) lots of entertainers or those married to entertainers (and many other breeds of creative folk!), and (4) lots of brainy (dare I say nerdy!) folk. Most people combined two or more of these patterns. Family-oriented, creative, and brainy? Yep, sounds Jewish to me! On the other hand (since we're being stereotypical here), I was surprised by the number of professional athletes! However, only a few are listed above.

Also, I found surprising amount of Southerners, including two from my own hometowns! As with the converts I know "in the real world," I'm amazed at the variety of converts from all races and creeds. We're an interesting bunch! It's too bad I'm pretty "boring" by convert standards. And what I want to know is where is a book about African-American converts?? There's serious gold here, people!


  1. As you mentioned several other bloggers, I also think that Akira Ohiso is worth mentioning. He's a multiracial convert who has a published book as well as a blog. I can't find the link to the blog offhand. He was also in a few interview-ish type things on a Jewish channel on TV speaking about Jews of Color. Very intelligent individual.

  2. I doubt you are very boring even by convert standards. You have a great blog. Im fascinated by all converts and have a great deal of respect for anyone who makes that kind of drastic change in their life.
    Just discovered your blog. Keep up the great writing!

  3. One for you list of celebrities that are, or were Jewish. Harry Chapin songwriter & singer known for "Cat's IN The Cradle", "W.O.L.D." and other hits was Jewish. He died in an accident on the Long Island Expressway.

  4. Harry Chapin was not Jewish.

  5. Many of these people have a Jewish Mother so they really didn't have to convert. If you're Mother is Jewish YOU are Jewish. No matter what!