Many Jewish celebrities wear their heritage on their sleeve. You know them well. Think Adam Sandler or Natalie Portman, for instance. The religion is a huge part of who they are, and is an important thread in the fabric of their celebrity personas. With such outspoken examples, you might be tempted to assume that all of the celebrities raised Orthodox (or converted later in life) are right there in the open. You’d be wrong. There are plenty of celebrities who play their cultural and religious heritage close to the chest and do not often address it in interviews. Don’t believe us? Try to keep your jaw from dropping when you start recognizing big names, including the President of the United States’ daughter.
Traditionally, Jewish heritage passes through the mother, so some don’t consider actress Gwyneth Paltrow to be a true Jew — her great-great-grandfather on her dad’s side was a Jewish Rabbi, and Paltrow raises her two kids in the Jewish tradition. Her personal commitment to the religion is unclear. The closest she has come to self-identifying with a particular religion or philosophy is her practice of Transcendental Meditation.
Best known for playing Nichols on Netflix’s smash-hit Orange is the New Black, actress Natasha Lyonne was raised in an Orthodox Jewish home in Great Neck, New York. She attended a private Jewish school in Manhattan, and her family even lived in Israel for little over a year when she was a child.
Jennifer Connelly’s spot on the A-list has been a given for over two decades. The Requiem for a Dream and Noah actress isn’t just Hollywood gold, she’s also Jewish. Born to a Jewish mother and Irish Catholic father, Connelly has famously joked that she was raised with a “double dose of guilt,” in reference to her Orthodox upbringing.
Former United States Senator from Connecticut Joe Lieberman is most famous for running with Al Gore in the 2000 presidential election as the latter’s VP pick. Surprisingly, he is the first Orthodox Jew to become a vice presidential candidate! He retired a few years back and remains the highest-profile Orthodox Jew in American politics.
Joanna Angel is an adult film star and Orthodox Jew. Raised Orthodox in Brooklyn, New York, Joanna even worked in a completely kosher fast food joint while she was in high school. In an interview, when asked about what her parents think of her chosen vocation, Joanna responded that they accept her career choices completely.
Actress Mayim Bialik is best known for the role of Dr. Amy Farrah Fowler on the hit CBS show “The Big Bang Theory.” She was born in San Diego, California and raised as a Reform Jew. Her first name is even a Hebrew word meaning “water.” Her husband, raised Mormon, also converted to Judaism after the two married in 2003.
The daughter of presidential candidate Donald Trump, Ivanka is a businesswoman, socialite and former model. She’s also an Orthodox Jew, as of 2009. She converted after studying at the Modern Orthodox Ramaz School, and took the Hebrew name “Yael.” She keeps a kosher diet, observes the Jewish Sabbath, and considers herself “pretty observant.”
Ed Asner is a prolific character actor best known for his roles in “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” Elf, and the Disney/Pixar hit Up. He was born Yitzhak Edward Asner in Kansas City, Missouri to Jewish Russian-born parents. Though raised Orthodox Jewish, Asner has since come to identify as an agnostic.
Believe it or not, Canadian record producer, singer and actor Drake is Jewish. Raised by a Jewish mother in a heavily Jewish Toronto neighborhood, Drake went through all of the Jewish rites and rituals growing up. He attended a Jewish day school, had a bar mitzvah, the whole schmear. He still identifies as Jewish and observes religious holidays with his mother.
Canadian actress Emmanuelle Chriqui was raised by Sephardi Jewish parents. Her family is originally from Morocco, and raised the 40-year-old actress in the Orthodox and Sephardic tradition. She has relatives in Israel, and starred as Dalia, Adam Sandler’s love interest in the Jewish comedy You Don’t Mess with the Zohan.
Yep, that’s the Marilyn Monroe. She wasn’t born into a Jewish home, and was actually raised in a foster home that observed strict evangelical Christianity. It wasn’t until later in life that she converted to Judaism, specifically after marrying Pulitzer-winning playwright Arthur Miller in 1956. The marriage ended in divorce in 1961, roughly a year before the actress’ untimely death.
Another later-in-life convert from the Hollywood hall of fame was Elizabeth “Liz” Taylor. She converted to Judaism at age 27 at Hollywood’s Temple Israel. She practiced the religion for the rest of her life, and became a well-known advocate for Jewish causes. She died in 2011, leading the Washington Post to comment that the nation of Israel has “lost one of its best friends in Hollywood.”
Hunger Games actress Elizabeth Banks grew up in a Catholic home in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, and refers to her upbringing as very WASP-y. She met her future husband, Max Handelman, at college (on the first day, no less) and before they got married in 2003, she took steps to convert to Judaism. Though without her mikveh she’s technically not a full convert, she says she has been “essentially a Jew for like 15 years.”
Prolific actor Jake Gyllenhaal doesn’t share much about his personal life in interviews, but he was raised in a Jewish household in Brooklyn, New York. His family, which includes sister and fellow actor Maggie Gyllenhaal, observed Jewish holidays growing up, and he still considers himself Jewish to this day. Jake also considers himself partially Buddhist, and meditates every day.
Rock star Lenny Kravitz comes from a Russian Jewish family, and his mother reinforced this aspect of his identity in him at a young age. Now that he’s an adult, Kravitz considers himself a Christian (and even practices abstinence) though also acknowledges his Jewish roots, arguing “it’s all the same to me.”
Box office megastar Scarlett Johansson is Jewish on her mother’s side, and was raised with basic observance of the Jewish Sabbath and other major holidays. She still considers herself Jewish, though hasn’t gone much into detail about how observant she is, beyond celebrating Hanukkah.
Daughter of the legendary Quincy Jones and multi-talented actress, filmmaker and comic book writer Rashida Jones is Jewish in both heritage and practice. Through her mother, she can trace a Jewish heritage to both Russia and Latvia, and though she experimented with Hinduism in her teens, she practices Judaism now as an adult
Australian actress Isla Fisher is a Jewish convert since before her marriage to comedian Sacha Baron Cohen. She admitted in an interview that she would have converted to any religion her husband practiced in order to be “united in marriage” fully with him. She completed conversion after three years of studying in 2007 and observes the Jewish Sabbath.
Sammy Davis Jr.
American entertainer Sammy Davis Jr. was raised Catholic, but converted to Judaism as an adult. He got into a serious car accident in 1954 that cost him his left eye. While recovering in the hospital, he started studying Judaism and completed his conversion several years later, in 1961.
Daniel Day-Lewis is one of the most selective and highly-regarded actors in Hollywood. His career, acting method and personal life are almost complete mysteries, as the actor rarely gives interviews or makes public appearances. Still, his mother, English actress Jill Balcon is Jewish, meaning that by heritage, so is he.
Glee star Dianna Agron’s father comes from a Jewish family, and her mother converted to the religion. Agron herself was raised Jewish, attending Hebrew school and having a bat mitzvah. Though she is very politically active and supports various causes, she hasn’t spoken much about her religious views, so it’s unclear whether or not she is still practicing.
Breakout star of The O.C., Rachel Bilson comes from a half Jewish/half Catholic upbringing. Born in Los Angeles, her father is Jewish while her mother is Catholic. Not technically a Jew by Orthodox standards, she doesn’t talk much about her religious views or personal life, so who’s to say whether she considers herself more Jewish or more Catholic.
British singer and songwriter Alex Clare has described his upbringing as “very, very secular” but he took the steps to become an Orthodox Jew in the mid-2000s. His adherence to the orthodoxy is such that he refuses to work, perform or travel on the Jewish Sabbath, and admits that such strict observance has cost him professionally.
Celebrity chef Jamie Geller was raised in an Orthodox Jewish home, and has embraced the religion both in her personal and professional life as an adult. Known as the “Queen of Kosher,” her cooking exclusively deals with kosher foods, but it’s no gimmick. She has been a committed, practicing Orthodox Jew all her life.
You might have known that Mila Kunis comes from a Jewish family, but you probably don’t know her family’s amazing story. Her Russian-Jewish parents were financially successful in the Ukraine, but left all of it behind with only $250 in their pockets when Mila was seven. The reason? They were fleeing antisemitism. Following the move, Mila’s parents were free to raise the actress and her siblings in the Jewish tradition.
Comedy producer and director Judd Apatow says his family is Jewish, but that he personally is “nonreligious.” That doesn’t mean that Apatow doesn’t know a thing or two about the faith. In his stand-up special on Netflix, Apatow has a whole bit dedicated to the faith he grew up with. “We’re pretty cool as a religion. We don’t mind if you draw our god… we shouldn’t want you to draw us because any accurate drawing of a Jewish person is inherently anti-Semitic,” Apatow quips.
Actress Lizzy Caplan is known for her roles in Mean Girls and in the Showtime series Masters of Sex, for which she was nominated for an Emmy. In an almost self-deprecating manner, Caplan jokes that her culture might have held her back from winning the Emmy. “I’m Jewish, so I’m predisposed to assume there’s no chance in hell that’s going to happen,” she once told The New York Times.
Actress Kat Dennings is on 2 Broke Girls, but before that, she was in a movie called Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist, in which her character was Jewish. Dennings grew up in a Jewish family herself but certainly learned a lot more about the religion while filming the movie, since she considers herself more culturally affiliated. She told Jewish Journal, “I liked that Norah was a strong and unique female lead… I liked that she was Jewish – it’s different from what I’ve seen in the past.”
Like Kat Dennings, Girls actress Lena Dunham considers herself culturally Jewish, “although that’s the biggest cliché for a Jewish woman to say,” she once said. Dunham grew up with a Protestant father and a Jewish mother. Although Lena considers herself Jewish, she once came under fire for anti-Semitic remarks when she wrote a humor piece in The New Yorker called “Dog or Jewish Boyfriend? A Quiz.”
Known for his roles in The Social Network and the Now You See Me movies, Eisenberg was raised in a secular Jewish family whose origins trace back to Poland and Ukraine. Eisenberg spoke about his Jewish identity on The Ezra Klein Show: “I have a feeling, and it’s this: When Jews were hungry in America, they accomplished a lot. As a Jewish person, it feels like I could have assimilated into white hegemonic culture and be totally comfortable and go out to the Hamptons or go golfing or whatever people do. I don’t want to that because I feel like I will, to quote Woody Allen, ‘ripen and then rot.'”
Wonder Woman actress Gal Gadot was born and raised in Israel and grew up in a “very Jewish, Israeli family environment,” she once said. Her maternal grandparents are from Europe and her grandfather was once imprisoned at Auschwitz, but survived the Holocaust. When she hosted Saturday Night Live, she even said part of her opening monologue in Hebrew.
Actor Seth Rogen is known for starring in stoner-comedy hits such as Pineapple Express and Knocked Up. Rogen was raised by Jewish parents, although he doesn’t seem very religious. Still, everytime someone says something offensive or anti-Semitic on social media, Rogen is one celebrity who is there to come to the defense.
If you haven’t seen Jenny Slate’s Marcel the Shell with Shoes On or Obvious Child, then maybe you’ve seen her in other shows such as Girls, Parks and Recreation, or House of Lies. Slate was born in Massachusetts and raised in a Jewish family. Although she has rarely spoken publicly about her Jewish heritage, Slate represents one of many young stars who are unapologetic about it when asked.
Comedian Chelsea Handler grew up in New Jersey and was raised in Reform Judaism by her parents, even having a Bat Mitzvah ceremony. Handler was shocked when she appeared on TLC’s Who Do You Think You Are, where she learned that her grandfather had actually served in the German Army under Hitler. She still said, “My father, I guess, made a deal with my mother when they had children that they were gonna be raised Jewish. So I connect with my Judaism, or the Jewish side of my family, more than anything else.”
Another comedian who grew up Jewish is Jack Black. Although not 100% Jewish by heritage, Black’s father converted to Judaism for his mother and thus, Black was raised in the Jewish faith. As a boy, Black attended Hebrew school and even celebrated a Bat Mitzvah when he became of age.
Tracee Ellis Ross
Actress Tracee Ellis Ross is best known for her roles in Girlfriends and Black-ish and many of her fans are surprised to learn that she’s Jewish. The daughter of Diana Ross, Tracee actually gets her Jewish heritage from her father, Robert Ellis Silberstein. “We didn’t go to temple; my dad didn’t go to temple. He wasn’t particularly religious but he’s definitely Jewish. We would have a Christmas tree in the living room and a menorah in the kitchen,” she told Interfaithfamily.
Actress Debra Messing is best known for her role on the NBC sitcom Will & Grace, but did you know that she is Jewish? Her ancestors hail from Poland and Russia and Messing even had a Bat Mitzvah ceremony. Though no public details about her faith are available, Messing has once called out Ivanka Trump for her feeble attempts at feminism saying, “From one Jewish mother to another… it is not enough to simply say that women’s issues are important to you.”
Jeremy Piven won a Golden Globe and three Emmy’s for his role as Ari Gold in Entourage. Raised in a Reconstructionist Jewish family, Piven recently became a bar mitzvah in 2016 on a trip to Jerusalem. Piven shared a picture on Instagram saying “Today I became a man (again),” suggesting that he had one in his youth. He told The Forward in 2006, “I was like any other bar mitzvah boy.”
Paul Rudd is most recently known for his starring role in Ant-Man, although anyone who has followed his work knows that he’s been in a ton of other hilarious movies. Rudd was actually raised by Jewish parents as well. Rudd appeared on PBS’s “Finding Your Roots,” where he learned that his grandfather had to change his last name to Rudd because no one would hire Jewish people in London after World War II.
Comedian Rob Schneider is also Jewish — well, half at least. Schneider grew up in San Francisco with a Filipino mother and a Jewish father. He told SF Weekly about his experience growing up Jewish: “It’s odd. You only felt really comfortable at your Jewish relative’s house because you could let your guard down. It was kind of weird though, because my dad married a Filipino lady, and not everyone on his side of the family was happy about that. But they both put their faith second to themselves, which was a nice thing.”