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The Top 10 Actors & Actresses You Didn’t Know Were Jewish

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It’s not exactly hard to bump into a Jewish actor in Hollywood, especially with superstars like Natalie Portman, Sascha Baron Cohen, Adam Sandler, and Mila Kunis all being openly proud of their Jewish roots. However, even in Hollywood, some members of the tribe manage to fly under the radar. This month, Kosher Cinema is bringing you a list of the top 10 actors and actresses you may not have realized are Jewish.

ACTORS

1. Daniel Day-Lewis

Yes, the multiple Academy Award-winning star of such films as There Will Be Blood, Gangs of New York, and Lincoln is an Irish Jew. Day-Lewis once told TIME Magazine that growing up Jewish and Irish in England was not an easy life, and that he was bullied constantly. Seth MacFarlane called some attention to Day-Lewis’ Jewish heritage when he mentioned him as part of a controversial joke at last year’s Oscars.

2. Eric Dane

Grey’s Anatomy’s own Doctor “McSteamy” was raised Jewish in Northern California. His wife, actress Rebecca Gayheart, who was raised Baptist, is apparently a big fan of Jewish tradition, and once sang the praises of brisket and macaroons to an Atlanta magazine before reciting some Hebrew prayers for them.

3. Yaphet Kotto

Kotto, an African-American actor famous for his roles in movies like Alien and The Running Man, as well as his long-running stint on Homicide: Life on the Street, is a Cameroonian Jew!   “It was rough coming up,” Kotto once told South Coast Today. “And then going to shul, putting a yarmulke on, having to face people who were primarily Baptists in the Bronx meant that on Fridays, I was in some heavy fistfights.”

4. Oded Fehr

Oded Fehr has made a career out of playing Arabs and Latinos in roles like Resident Evil’s Carlos Oliviera, Ardeth Bay in the Mummy franchise, and Faris al-Farik in Sleeper Cell, but the Israeli-born actor is 100% Jewish.

5. Daniel Radcliffe

While the Harry Potter star recently came out as an atheist, his South-African born mother is Jewish, and he’s claimed to be very proud of his Jewish heritage in past interviews, even stating that he thinks of himself as more Jewish than British.

6. Justin Bartha

Bartha, who’s made a name for himself in The Hangover and National Treasure film series, as well as on The New Normal, was raised in a Reform Jewish household in Michigan.

7. James Callis

Yes indeed, Gaius Baltar is Jewish. The Battlestar Galactica star, who some will also recognize from his role in the Bridget Jones movies alongside Renee Zellwegger, is the descendant of Russian and Polish Jews.

8. Mathieu Amalric

Amalric, a French actor best known to Americans for his role as the villain in the James Bond film Quantum of Solace, and for his role in Munich, is Jewish. His mother’s family fled Poland and hid in France at the outbreak of World War II.

9. Scott Glenn

The longtime character actor who’s had roles in classic films like The Hunt for Red October, Silence of the Lambs, and The Bourne Ultimatum, converted to Judaism when he married his wife Carol Schwartz in 1967.

10. Jon Favreau

This one’s a bit puzzling to me, as I’ve always known Favreau was Jewish, but his Hebrew roots are often a source of surprise among my friends. Favreau was born to a Catholic father and a Jewish mother and was raised Jewish, attending Hebrew school and even having a Bar-Mitzvah.

ACTRESSES

1. Maya Rudolph

Rudolph, the daughter of famous soul singer Minnie Ripperton, is the daughter of Jewish composer and record producer Richard Rudolph.

2. Scarlett Johansson

The blonde actress, who has a history of playing shiksa goddesses onscreen, is actually the daughter of Melanie Sloan, a Jew from the Bronx. She gets her Scandinavian surname and looks from her father, a Danish architect.

3. Romola Garai

The fiery British actress, who had a sensational turn in Atonement, may not have a very Jewish-sounding first name, but her grandfather, Bert Garai, was a Hungarian Jew who founded the Keystone Press Agency.

4. Kat Graham

The modelicious Graham, who stars on Vampire Diaries and also has a busy music career, made a hit comedy video called “Black and Jewish,” that lit up the internet a couple of years back.  Graham’s father is Liberian, and her mother is a Russian Jew. Besides speaking fluent Spanish and French, Graham can also speak some Hebrew and even a smidgen of Yiddish.

5. Eva Green

The French-born actress known for her turns as villains in films like Casino Royale and Dark Shadows is considered by many critics to be one of the best at playing the modern femme-fatale.  Her mother is an Algerian Jew, though Green was raised without much religion in her life.

6. Elizabeth Banks

Banks, who is married to Max Handelman, a Jewish author and producer, has gone through part of the process of conversion, and has stated that she is a practicing Jew, who attends synagogue, and practices Jewish rituals at home.

7. Kat Dennings

The 2 Broke Girls star was actually born Katherine Litwack, and it’s hard to blame her for taking on a different screen name. While Dennings has played Jewish characters in the past, most notably in Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, she’s not often mentioned prominently among lists of Jewish actors and actresses.

8. Sophie Okonedo

The Hotel Rwanda star was born to a Nigerian father and a Jewish mother. Okonedo, who was raised by her mother, was brought up Jewish, and has proudly embraced her Jewish heritage in the past.

9. Jennifer Connelly

Despite her highly Irish surname, Connelly is Jewish. Her mother was born into an Orthodox Jewish family, and even attended Yeshiva.

10. Amanda Bynes

The Irish have Lindsay Lohan, the Armenians have the Kardashians, and Jews have Amanda Bynes. Like that cousin you don’t want people to know you’re related to, Amanda Bynes is the Black Sheep of the tribe. Bynes has stated in the past that she’s proud to be Jewish, and that she grew up learning about both her mom’s Jewish faith and her father’s Catholic background.  Today, no one’s quite sure what the wacky actress believes, but she clearly doesn’t follow traffic laws.

Jonathan Maseng is a Los Angeles based screenwriter and journalist. He is a frequent contributor to the LA Jewish Journal, and his work has appeared in publications around the globe. His mother would like him to find a nice Jewish girl — he’s still looking.
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