The Half-Jewish Story

By Guest Contributor

Yana Geffen

Once upon a time, the half-Jew was regarded as a strange and lonely figure – an outsider both to society at large and to the Jewish people.  But as the intermarriage trend has continued, being half-Jewish suddenly seems unremarkably common.  Indeed, according to Daniel Klein and Freke Vuijst, authors of The Half-Jewish Book, “halfies” now outnumber full-blooded Jewish children under the age of 11, and they’re gaining on the rest.

More important, Klein and Vuijst contend, half-Jewish is not a partial or fragmented identity to be lamented, but rather a “rich and elaborate” double identity to be celebrated.

Relatively few of the halfies live religiously serious Jewish lives.  Indeed, many observe no religion, multiple religions, or are practicing Christians, who, despite their feelings of attachment, are simply not part of the Jewish community.  Few will reconnect with Judaism.

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FAMOUS JEWISH CATHOLICS

OR CATHOLIC JEWS

Many Jewish Catholics had one Catholic parent and one Jewish parent. (It does not matter whether it was the mother or father that was Catholic or Jewish.) Others have had two Jewish parents but they converted to Catholicism during their life.

There are exceptions, of course, but for the most part, Jewish Catholics do not practice the religion of Judaism in any meaningful way. Their “Jewishness” is merely an ethnicity, a fact of birth.  These individuals may or may not have any meaningful self-identity as Jews.  Generally speaking, if Jewish Catholics practice any religion, that religion is Catholicism.

The list of Jewish Catholics may also include people who were fully Catholic, but who converted religiously to Judaism.

PAUL NEWMAN

Actor, director, philanthropist: Catholic mother; Jewish father.

SEAN PENN

Actor, movie star: devout Catholic mother; non-observant Jewish father.

ROMAN POLANSKI

Film director: both parents agnostic Jews; Roman converted to Catholicism

 at age 10, active until age 15.

OLIVER STONE

Film director: lapsed Catholic mother; non-observant Jewish father;

 raised Episcopalian; converted to Buddhism as adult.

DOUGLAS FAIRBANKS

Actor, silent screen legend: Jewish father, Catholic mother – both lapsed;

Fairbanks was never active in either faith.

ROBERT NOVAK

Columnist and TV commentator: Jewish convert to Catholicism.

HARRISON FORD

Actor, “Han Solo” in Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Witness,

Air Force One, etc.: Jewish mother.

BILL MAHER

Comedian, commentator, previously hosted TV talk show Politically Incorrect: Jewish mother, Catholic father; he is a Vegan.

BILLY JOEL

Singer, songwriter: both parents are Jewish; raised Catholic and

identified himself as Catholic; now atheist.

J.D. SALINGER

Popular, acclaimed novelist for his novel The Catcher in the Rye:

Jewish/Catholic family background; adopted Hinduism as an adult;

also Scientology and Christian Science.

JOHN KERRY

Senator from Massachusets, 2004 Democratic nominee for U.S. President:

Catholic; paternal Jewish grandparents converted to Catholicism.

WESLEY KANE CLARK

Was the NATO Allied Commander in Europe, unsuccessfully ran to be Democratic nominee for U.S. President: Jewish father; raised Baptist; converted to Catholicism.

JEAN-MARIE LUSTIGER

Cardinal and Archbishop of Paris: ethnic Jew, born to a Polish Jewish family living in France; raised Catholic.

EDITH STEIN

Catholic nun, Holocaust victim.

ISRAEL ZOLLI

Chief Rabbi of Rome: converted to Catholicism.

JORGE SAMPAIO

 President of Portugal: Catholic, but son of a Sefaradi Jewish mother.

PIERRE SALINGER

White House press secretary, 1969-64: Jewish father.

FAMOUS JEWISH-CATHOLIC COUPLES

GEORGE BURNS and GRACIE ALLEN

George Burns, a non-observant Jew and Gracie, a devout Catholic:  regarded as having one of the great marriages of Hollywood history.

ALAN ALDA and ARLENE WEISS

Alda, actor best known as “Hawkeye Pierce” on TV’s M*A*S*H:  a devout Catholic when he married Weiss, who was an observant Jew.

FRED ZINNEMANN and RENEE BARTLETT

Film director Zinnemann was essentially a non-observant Jew.  Partially because of

the influence of being married to a Catholic, he made some profoundly Catholic films, including The Nun’s Story (1959) and A Man for All Seasons (1966).   His films The Seventh Cross (1944) and Julia (1977) are considered great Jewish films.

FRANCOIS TRUFFAUT and MADELEINE MORGENSTERN

Film critic/director Truffaut:  a non-practicing Catholic.

His wife was a Hungarian Jew.

MARTIN SCORSESE and LARAINE MARIE BRENNAN

Before studying film at New York University, film director Scorsese

had dropped out of Seminary where he had intended to become

a Catholic priest.  His first wife (Brennan) was Irish-Jewish.





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