Jews in the News: David Julian Hirsh, Drake & Amanda Peet

"Twist of Faith" co-stars famous African American singer Toni Braxton, 44, as a beautiful single mom ("Nina"), who is a schoolteacher and the lead singer of her church gospel choir.  Braxton, an acting newcomer, turns in a credible performance. She's aided by playing opposite DAVID JULIAN HIRSH. Hirsh, 39, gives an extraordinary performance that raises the whole level of the film. He is more than just believable as an Orthodox cantor and when called on to sing, he sings quite well. 


I recently spoke to Hirsh and told him that he had become the "go-to" guy for Jewish religious parts in Hollywood, noting that he had just concluded a season-long run as a rabbi on the Showtime series, "Weeds." 


He laughed and said: "I'd rather be the go-to rabbi slash cantor than the 'go-to killer'. ..Truthfully, when I was young, I considered becoming a rabbi. Listen, if I've cornered the market on these Jewish roles, why not? I am always reading about-- and fascinated by Judaism and I love it. I love that it is being explored on camera.  [Although] I am not Orthodox, I am a practicing Jew. I absolutely have a very deep personal relationship with God.. I love exploring [Judaism] in work, too."


Hirsh was born and raised in Montreal. He studied law at college until a summer acting workshop convinced him to pursue an acting career. "My first job," Hirsh says, "was with the Jewish Repertory Theater of New York. I had to sing a few prayers [on stage] and that was the probably the last time I sung in public [before this film]. I was really happy the way my singing turned out in the film. I was singing with one of the greatest R&B singers of all time" (Braxton). 


About his family: "My[maternal] grandparents were Holocaust survivors and hearing their stories was a huge part of my upbringing. They lost all of their family in the war. [My parents] wanted me to go to a Jewish school when I was young, which was great. We went to Orthodox synagogues. It was a nice, solid Jewish upbringing, which I love.In preparing for the film, I drew on everything, including what my grandfather went through, losing his parents and his family. And then with his new family, bringing them to a safe place."


Horrible loss is a big part of "Twist of Faith."  Hirsh plays Jacob, a Brooklyn cantor who ekes out a living working for a small Orthodox shul and by doing carpentry work. His jewels are his wife and three children. All four are senselessly slain before his eyes in a shooting that brings to mind the terrible recent shooting in Newtown, CT. 


Feeling totally bereft and almost catatonic, Jacob leaves New York. He chances to end-up in small Alabama town where he falls asleep on the lawn of a black church. The church is next door to the home of Nina. Nina's uncle and young son, citing the need to be "good Christians," allow him to stay the night in the church. Even though Jacob doesn't talk for a long time, the uncle senses that Jacob is a good man and with Nina's eventual approval, he's allowed to stay-on at the church as long as he wants. He makes himself useful as the church's carpenter.


The film retains credibility because Jacob and Nina have something "real" to bond about beyond being nice, good-looking, lonely people .  That bond is music. Nina's choir is trying to win a statewide contest for the best black gospel choir and they know they need a dynamite song. It is believable that Jacob would try to comfort himself by composing a tune on the church piano and that Nina would overhear him and encourage him to write a tune for her choir.  (I won't disclose the ending, here).


Grammy Time


The Grammy Awards, for musical excellence, will be shown on CBS on Sunday, Feb. 10 at 8PM. There are 81 Grammys awarded, but only about 20 awards, in the biggest-selling musical genres, are actually presented on TV.  Here are three Jews who are up for "TV worthy" Grammys: DRAKE, 26, the famous rapper who released a bar mitzvah music video last year, is nominated for best rap performance and best rap album ("Take Care"); the three-man, indie rock group, "Fun.," is nominated for six Grammys, including best new group, song of the year ("We are Young"), and record of the year. Fun., which spells its name with a period at the end, includes Jewish Day School grad JACK ANTONOFF, 28, a guitarist and songwriter who had been dating LENA DUNHAM, 26, of "Girls" fame for the last six months; and DAN AUERBACH, 33, a songwriter, guitarist, and lead vocalist with the two-man rock group The Black Keys. The group is nominated for five Grammys, including best rock performance, best rock song ("Lonely Boy"), and record of the year. Fun. and The Black Keys are scheduled to perform at the Grammy Awards.


A Tale of Two Sandys


"Identity Thief," which opens on Friday, Feb. 8, is a black comedy starring Jason Bateman as Sandy Patterson, a nice guy with two nice kids and a nice wife (AMANDA PEET, 41). One day he discovers that his credit card has been maxed-out. Not longer after he is arrested for missing a court date in Florida, a state he has never visited. He learns that a Florida woman (Melissa McCarthy) has stolen his identity. The police won't make the effort to arrest her and tell Sandy he has to physically bring the "evil Sandy" to them if he wants to clear his name. What follows is comic mayhem as the two Sandys end up being pursued by really bad guys. The original screenplay is by CRAIG MAZIN, 42 ("Hangover, Part II").


Nate Bloom writes a weekly column on Jewish celebrities, broadly defined, that appears in the Atlanta Jewish Times, the Cleveland Jewish News, the American Israelite of Cincinnati, the Detroit Jewish News, and the New Jersey Jewish Standard. It also appears bi-weekly in j., the Jewish news weekly of northern California. Most of the items in Bloom’s weekly newspaper column differ from the items in his bi-weekly column on interfaith celebrities for If you wish to contact Nate Bloom, e-mail him at  .  The author welcomes questions and celebrity “tips,” especially about people you personally know.




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