A few years ago, I read and deeply enjoyed My Jewish Year: 18 Holidays, One Wondering Jew by Abigail Pogrebin. She wrote about her year of observing every single Jewish holiday (having not previously observed most of them), and what she learned from this, about Judaism, herself, and her place in Judaism. It’s a really neat book, a great primer on the Jewish holidays, and I appreciated her takes on the holidays I was fuzzy on. So when I learned she had written a book interviewing Jewish celebrities about being Jewish, I knew I wanted to read more of her writing. I put Stars of David: Prominent Jews Talk About Being Jewish (Broadway Books, 2005) on my TBR and was fully prepared to request it from interlibrary loan, but wouldn’t you know, I ran into a copy of it at the used bookstore earlier this month (first time I stopped there in over a year!), and it just so happened to follow me home.
Each chapter in Stars of David focuses on a different well-known Jewish personality, and Ms. Pogrebin questions them on what being Jewish means to them. Are they observant? (Most aren’t.) Why or why not? What have their experiences been with antisemitism? What does being Jewish mean if you’re not observant? How has it shaped you and your life, your personality, your family? What are you hopes for your children, your grandchildren, in terms of Judaism? What do you think the Jewish future looks like?
While this book is by now a bit dated in terms of the people she interviewed (a depressing number of the people she interviewed have since passed on; many are no longer as active in public life as they were when these interviews took place), it’s still an interesting take on the many, many ways one can be Jewish. There are a handful of people who are in some way observant and who are a bit grumpy with those who aren’t, or who at least don’t even know what it is they’ve rejected; others roll their eyes at the idea of engaging with the more religious aspects of Judaism (which is a lot different from Christianity; the phrase Judeo-Christian gets thrown around a lot, but I haven’t met a single Jewish person who appreciates its use, because the two are just so far apart in terms of belief, action, thoughts about what God is, and so much more). There are political figures, actors and directors and television personalities, people from the financial industry, athletes, musicians, Broadway stars, and more.
If you’re my age (40!) or older, these are the celebrities you grew up with and heard about constantly on television, and it’s a nice look back at…well, most of those voices. (I can’t say I loved the interview with Dr. Laura Schlessinger- remember her? I’m sorry if you do- who makes sure to weaponize her Judaism just as she does everything else, and then of course whines when people point out how repulsive that is. *yawn*) It’s a lovely look into a part of their lives that you may not have spent much time considering, about a part of themselves they find meaningful in a variety of different ways, and how they express that part.