Jews in the News: Sue Bird, Lisa Kudrow and Yan Feldman

Really, They Are Jewish?!

 Jewish Sports Review magazine recently added basketball great SUE BIRD, 39, and rising tennis star SOFIA “Sonya” KENIN, 21, to its list of Jewish athletes. It would take several columns to cover Bird’s basketball accomplishments. Here’s a very short summary (check on-line for much more). This Long Island native was a high school basketball star. She set college record after record (scoring, etc.) during her Univ. of Conn. career (1998-2002). She has been a star WNBA player since joining Seattle in 2002 and is still an active Seattle player. She won four Olympic gold medals as a member of the U.S. team.

Bird is the daughter of a Russian-Jewish father who was born in Italy and an American Protestant mother. Years ago, her mother told the Review that Sue was raised Christian. However, Sue Bird recently did an interview with the Washington Jewish Museum in which she indicated she was not raised Christian, never practiced Christianity, and that she identified as an ‘ethnic Jew.’ The Review contacted Bird’s agent, who confirmed the information in the Museum interview and reiterated that she identified as an "ethnic Jew."

As with Sue Bird, I can’t cover Kenin’s full career here (look her up on-line). Like most people, I became aware of her when she won the 2020 Australian Open. She is the first Jewish woman to win a “Grand Slam” singles title since SUZY KORMOCZY, a Hungarian Jew, won the French Open in 1958. Kenin’s parents left the Soviet Union for America in 1987, but briefly returned to Moscow in 1998 (after the fall of the Soviet Union) so family members could help them after Sonya’s birth. They returned to America a few months after Sonya’s birth and eventually settled in south Florida (Pembroke Pines, Broward County).

Sonia’s father, ALEX, has been her coach since she was 12. She turned pro in 2017 and, by 2019, she was ranked #14 (singles) in the world.  Last February, she earned $2.85M for winning the Australian Open and has moved up to #7 in the world.

Last February, a friend asked me if Kenin was Jewish. I found what I could and then got assistance from a Russian Jewish émigré friend. What public records we could find (a partial family tree and Russian-language, Kenin family Facebook pages that often mention Israel) convinced us that her father was very likely Jewish and her mother was probably Jewish, too. I told the Review what we found and they attempted to contact Kenin, her parents, or her agent. It took some time, but contact was made with her mother. She told the Review that Alex is Jewish and that she is “half Jewish.” As I learn more, I’ll let you know. Kenin will be a big time contender for years to come.

 New on Netflix

 “Feel Good,” a six-part original Netflix series, begins streaming on Thursday, March 19. It stars Canadian stand-up comedian Mae Martin, 32.  Martin co-wrote this semi-autobiographical series. The main character, also called Mae, navigates a passionate new relationship with her formerly straight girlfriend while dealing with the challenges of sobriety. LISA KUDROW, 56 (“Friends”) co-stars as Linda, Mae’s mother.

“Curtiz”, which begins streaming on Netflix on March 25, is a modest budget 2018 dramatic film that played a limited number of theaters last year. It also played several Jewish film festivals. The title refers to director MICHAEL CURTIZ (1912-61), who was born in Hungary, and arrived in America in 1926. He was known as a difficult man and there was a famous line that his accent was so thick that he was “incomprehensible in five languages.” However, he was a very good director who turned out good films in every genre (including “Casablanca”, “White Christmas”, and “Mildred Pierce”). The film covers the production of “Casablanca”, which was made just before and just after America entered the war in Dec. 1941. Curtiz had to fend off script interference from studio executives while coping with a dysfunctional relationship with his daughter.

YAN FELDMAN, 46, an Ireland-born and raised “landsman”, co-stars as JULIUS EPSTEIN. Julius and his identical twin brother, PHILIP, won the Oscar for writing “Casablanca”. The Epsteins shared their Oscar with (third) writer HOWARD KOCH. Yan Feldman, who lives in America, is distantly related to MARTY FELDMAN, the late, great British comic actor. Philip Epstein is the grandfather of THEO EPSTEIN, 46, the head of baseball operations for the Chicago Cubs. It was under his leadership that the Boston Red Sox won (2007) their first World Series in 86 years and the Cubs won (2016) their first Series in 108 years.


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