Jews in the News: Daveed Diggs, Ron Chernow and Rob Reiner

Hamilton Mania

Normally, I write about Tony award nominations the week before the ceremony (this year the ceremony is on June 12). However, I thought I’d highlight one nominee early. He’s an actor previously not mentioned in this column. “Hamilton” actor DAVEED DIGGS, 34, is nominated for best featured actor in a musical. He plays the Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson. Diggs went to Brown University on a track scholarship, but turned his attention to theater and earned a degree in that field. He was invited to hear an early version of “Hamilton” by composer/writer Lin-Manuel Miranda and was cast in a major role.

Diggs is the son of Dountes Diggs, an African American who works for the San Francisco city transit system, and a white Jewish mother, Dr. BARBARA NEEDELL, 67. Now a consultant, Dr. Needell worked from 1996-2015 for U.C. Berkeley and, for some years before retiring, was the head of a University unit that aided child welfare departments statewide. She describes herself on Twitter “as the mother of two fine men” [Daveed and his brother, MALCOLM].

Last July, Daveed Diggs told “I went to Hebrew school, but opted out of a bar mitzvah. My mom is a white Jewish lady and my dad is black. The cultures never seemed separate—I had a lot of mixed friends. When I was young, I identified with being Jewish, but I embraced my dad’s side too.”

“Hamilton”, the musical, has earned a record 16 Tony nominations. It’s based on a 2004 biography by RON CHERNOW, now 67. Back in 2004, I wrote about this about the book: “Chernow, who describes himself as ‘Jewish, but more in the breach than in the observance,’ covers Hamilton's Jewish connections. Hamilton's French Protestant mother was married to a Dane named Lavien, which lead to speculation that Lavien was Jewish — but Chernow notes there is no real proof of this. Hamilton's mother left Lavien and took up with a non-Jewish Scot named James Hamilton — who fathered Alexander. The terms of her divorce forbade her marry again, and Alexander was born out-of-wedlock. Chernow writes that Hamilton [who grew-up on Nevis, a West Indian island] had a high opinion of Jews. Hamilton wrote that a Nevis Jewish woman tutored him as a child, and he once recited the Ten Commandments in Hebrew before her. As an adult, Hamilton defended Jews from the bigoted attitudes of the day — like ‘all Jews’ were untruthful.”

One final note—Manuel and his wife aren’t Jewish. But she loves “Fiddler on the Roof” and at their 2010 wedding, Manuel (aided by many talented friends) sang “L’Chayim to Life”. It is such a well-done and joyful version that you really have to see the Youtube video, entitled “Vanessa’s Wedding Surprise”. Click here----just me, you'll be amazed and delighted.  Vanessa's Wedding Surprise---to life!


Reiner Revival?

ROB REINER’s directorial career slump may end this May. There’s pretty good advance buzz for “Being Charlie,” which opens on May 6, but won’t be in most theaters until Friday, May 13. It was co-written by his son, NICK REINER, 22, and it is a semi-autobiographical account about Nick’s battle with drugs and the burdens of having a famous last name. Rob, 69, told ABC News: "Over the course of making the film, our relationship definitely changed. It wasn't terrible or anything, but it got better, because I then understood a lot more of what he had gone through and he understood a bit more what I had gone through.” 


Jews in Odd Places, Part I

Recently, two persons of Jewish background have been in the news in Iceland and the Congo, two countries that couldn’t be more different or less associated with Jews. Iceland has an elected president, Olafur Grimmson, who is chief of state, and wields some power. But the main power is held by the Prime Minster. Well, Iceland’s Prime Minister resigned on April 6th following the “Panama Papers” revelation that he had had big overseas secret bank accounts. Grimmison, now serving his fifth term, planned to retire this year. But he decided to run for a sixth term to provide stability in the midst of the overseas bank scandal. His wife since 2003 is DORRIT MOUSSAIEFF, 66. She’s an Israeli from a prominent family in the jewelry business. Iceland has been historically pretty hostile to Jews (including barring those who wanted to flee Nazi Germany). So, the First Lady of Iceland is reportedly guarded about any open ties to Iceland’s tiny Jewish community.

Next week: the Congo.



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