Jews in the News: Melissa Rauch, Geraldo Rivera and Dustin Hoffman

Big Bang Star on the Big Screen

MELISSA RAUCH, 35, is best known as Bernadette on “Big Bang Theory”.  On the show she is a Catholic married to a Jew and speaks in a very high, childlike voice. In real life, she’s Jewish and her natural voice is actually a mite lower than most women. You’ll hear her natural voice in “The Bronze”, a comedy she stars-in and co-wrote. Rauch plays Hope, a small town Ohio woman who years before clinched a bronze Olympics gymnastics medal for the U.S. team. Her inspired performance briefly made her a national hero. Sadly, Hope cannot move past her moment of glory and spends her days in the mall, in her team uniform, milking her fading celebrity for food and favors. Things change when she’s told she’ll inherit a lot of money if she coaches the local teen gymnastics prodigy. Will Hope help or sabotage this rising star? (Opens Friday, Mar. 18)

The story of Hope’s Olympic heroics is inspired, at least in part, by real-life gymnast KERRI STRUG, now 38, who clinched a team gold medal for the US Olympics team in 1996. As you may recall, there was great drama as Strug “stuck” her vault despite a bad injury, and won the gold for her team. Unlike Hope, Strug had done well since the Olympics: she’s worked as a school teacher, as a sports commentator, and, most recently, as an attorney at the Justice Department’s Office of Juvenile Justice. She had her first child in 2012.

Geraldo Trips the Light Fantastic, Trivia Laughs, and Something Serious

The cast for the new season of ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars” includes Fox News journalist GERALDO RIVERA, 72 (began on Monday, March 22 at 8PM). Rivera, the son of a Jewish mother and a Puerto Rican father, was raised Jewish and had a bar mitzvah. In recent years, he has identified more strongly as Jewish and his wife since 2003, ERICA MICHELLE LEVY, 40, is Jewish.  They have a ten-year-old daughter. Also dancing is Marla Maples, “the Donald’s” ex-wife. Her presence in the cast, in light of recent events, should skyrocket ratings for awhile.

The TBS weekly series, “Separation Anxiety” started on March 8 and new episodes air Tuesdays at 10PM. It’s a game show in which host ILIZA SHLESINGER, 33, tests couples on how well their partner knows trivia in different subjects. Shlesinger began doing improv comedy in college. In 2008, she became the first woman, and the youngest contestant, to win NBC’s “Last Comic Standing” stand-up competition. Over on Youtube, you can see her tell three Jewish jokes, submitted by visitors to a popular website---its entitled “Laugh Out Loud Jewish Jokes”.

The ancestry of DUSTIN HOFFMAN, 78, was the subject of the Mar. 8 episode of the PBS show, “Finding Your Roots”. No written description can convey Hoffman’s strong emotions as he learns about the tragically dramatic history of his father’s family and as he discusses his embrace of his Jewish identity. So, I say—watch the show—but here’s a sidelight that’s not in the episode that may enhance your viewing. Hoffman has talked about his secular upbringing before. In 2003, he told author ABIGAIL POGREBIN that the pivotal event in his Jewish identity was when he met and married his wife, LISA HOFFMAN, now 61, in 1980. They have four now-adult children. Lisa had a strong Jewish background and that made a huge difference in Dustin’s life. He told Pogrebin: “My wife changed everything. Two sons bar mitzvahed, two daughters bat mitzvahed.” He also told Pogrebin about his many candid conversations about his faith with the family’s “cool” rabbi. (Whole “Roots” interview can be viewed on-line at this link:

Nancy Reagan (Jewish) Footnote

Actress ALLA NAZIMOVA (1879-1945) was born Adelaida Leventon in the Crimea. She was a Russian theater star before moving to the States in 1905 and becoming an American star, too. She toured the country until about 1930 and she made some silent films. She was very kind to an aspiring actress, Edith Luckett, when they were in a stage play together and, in 1921, when Nancy was born, Edith asked Nazimova to be her godmother. Until her death, Nazimova remained close to Edith, to Edith’s second husband, Dr. Loyal Davis (a far-right Republican who adopted Nancy), and to Nancy. The backstory: “everyone” in Hollywood knew that Nazimova was a lesbian. They also knew about her many intimate relationships with famous women.  Even in the 1930s, personal kindness and friendship was often more important than a gay person’s “shocking lifestyle.”


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