She is not only Jewish; she is one of the entertainment industry’s most public and recognizable Jews.
She made her Broadway debut, playing the title role in “The Diary of Anne Frank.” Most recently, she played the lead role of Amos Oz’s mother in the beautiful, haunting “A Tale of Love and Darkness.”
Natalie grew up in Syosset, New York, on Long Island. She went to Harvard. (Jewish enough for you, yet?)
She was born in Jerusalem, which fills her with pride: “Israel is where I was born; where my insides refuse to abandon.”
And, like a large number of American Jews, Natalie Portman has a gentile spouse. As well as a child named Aleph. (Anyone want to Bet on what she names her second kid?)
On the Tonight Show on Tuesday night, Natalie Portman and Jimmy Fallon schmoozed about how Christmas eve is also the first night of Hanukkah.
Natalie talked about her seasonal observance:
I celebrate Hanukkah; I’m Jewish. But my husband’s family celebrates Christmas, so we usually do Hanukkah at ours, and Christmas at theirs. But this year, it’s the same time, so they’re coming to us.
So far, so good. This is what I always counsel interfaith families: there is nothing wrong with — and everything right with — families sharing holidays with their non‑Jewish grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins.
And then, my spirits — and the collective spirits of American Jews who care — crashed.
So, I was asking my husband if it’s OK if we don’t have a tree, and my parents said, ‘We can get a tree.’ I’m so excited. All my life, no Christmas tree, and now I have this great excuse, because it’s every Jew’s secret wish to have a Christmas tree. It’s so pretty; why can’t we have that, too? It took 35 years to get here!
Fallon presented Natalie with an ornament for her tree.
Oh, c’mon, Natalie. You should know better.
In fact, you’ve known better all of your life.
First: “It’s every Jew’s secret wish to have a Christmas tree.”
Natalie Portman — Jewish sociologist?
I know many Jews who have had Christmas trees.
But, to say that this is every Jew’s secret wish: I don’t think so.
Second: the thing about “the pretty tree.”
I hear Jews rationalize why they have Christmas trees in Jewish homes. They tell me that Christmas is no longer a religious holiday; it’s a seasonal celebration of good cheer.
Tell that to serious Christians.
And, as for “pretty”… of course, Jewish celebrations and observances can be “pretty” (in fact, they should be).
But, let’s face it: the public spectacles of Christmas will always win the seasonal beauty contest.
Not like it should matter. There was an ancient culture that thought that “pretty” and aesthetics was the Holy of Holies. Those were the Greeks.
Hanukkah symbolizes the Jewish victory over that civilization. We Jews don’t think that aesthetics is the most important thing in the world.
Second: Let’s stop expecting Jewish entertainers to be our role models.
There is a shortage of “Jewish Jews” in the entertainment business.
We all have our favorite exceptions to this rule.
But, when it comes to Judaism and Jewish connections, much of the entertainment industry is a Judaism-free zone. Let’s remember: the entertainment business was the invention of Jews who did not want to be “that Jewish.”
That is why when an A-list personality like Michael Douglas reclaims Judaism for himself and his family, it is newsworthy.
Because, third: let’s remember the real religion of the entertainment world.
Hollywood is a syncretistic religion that mixes pagan, Christian, and uniquely Hollywood elements. The pagan elements are clearly apparent. The Hollywood pantheon contains the same gods of ancient times: Baal-Jupiter, the high god who became the god of money and power; Mars-Udin, who became the fierce fighter and soldier; Venus-Astarte, the goddess of fertility (and, nowadays, mostly of sex). These, and their minor helpers, are the abstract gods; their embodiments are the Movie Stars, who are mythic figures.
The superficial religion of Hollywood has become the real American religion. It takes massive energy and character to fight it.
I might be the only rabbi who publicly declares: “Keep the Christ in Christmas.”
I bemoan what the Christmas season has become.
The “star” of Christmas is no longer the child in Bethlehem. It is, rather, a secularized version of a fourth-century bishop named St. Nicholas, who is incarnated en masse on street corners and in shopping centers.
The mall, rather than the manger, is now this season’s Holy of Holies. Material excess now celebrates the birth of one who cast his lot with the poor and warned against the temptation of riches.
Oh, Natalie: you were doing so well, for so long. You stood up against the culture of imitation, the culture of “it’s so pretty, I have to have it.”
And then, you caved.
Oh, Natalie: say it ain’t so.