Tag Archives: Academy Awards

Jew of the Week: Natalie Portman

Natalie Portman plays Orthodox girl Rifka in ‘New York, I Love You’

Netalee Hershlag (b. 1981) was born in Jerusalem to a Jewish-American mother and Israeli father with a mix of Russian, Austrian, Romanian, and Polish heritage. The family moved to the US when she was three years old, and young Natalie went to a Jewish day school. She spent most of her teenage years in New York, where she studied dance and ballet. When she was 11, an agent spotted her at a pizza parlour. Shortly after, she was cast alongside Britney Spears in a small role on a Broadway play. The following year, she was cast as twelve-year old orphan Mathilda Lando in the popular film Leon: the Professional. It was then that Natalie decided to use her grandmother’s maiden name, “Portman”. Her incredible performance launched her into stardom. Nonetheless, she made sure to reject all the highly sexualized roles she was being offered, later saying that “there’s a surprising preponderance of that kind of role for young girls. Sort of being fantasy objects for men, and especially this idealized purity combined with the fertility of youth… so I definitely shied away from it.” Indeed, she initially rejected a role in 1999’s Anywhere but Here because of a sex scene, and only accepted it when the script was rewritten without it. For this role, she would win a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress. Meanwhile, Portman wanted to get a proper education, even if it meant “ruining my career”. She skipped the premiere of Star Wars: Episode I (where she played beloved Queen Amidala, young mother of Luke and Leia Skywalker) to study for her high school exams, then enrolled in psychology studies at Harvard. Throughout her time there, she was a noted pro-Israel activist, and also served as Alan Dershowitz’s research assistant. Portman continued graduate studies at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University, and has co-authored two scientific papers. (Even in high school she was a scientist, coming up with, and writing a paper titled, “A Simple Method to Demonstrate the Enzymatic Production of Hydrogen from Sugar”.) Portman was later a guest lecturer at Columbia University, and once said, “I’d rather be smart than a movie star.” Thankfully, she is both, with many of her films receiving rave reviews. 2006’s V for Vendetta inspired a whole movement, while 2010’s eye-opening Black Swan won her an Oscar for Best Actress. For the former film she had to shave her head, while the latter required 5 to 8 hours of dance training every day for 6 months. All in all, Portman has acted in, directed, or produced 42 films thus far. Meanwhile, the vegan Portman is an animal rights activist, and has produced an acclaimed film on cruel factory farming. She produced another to depict the plight of gorillas. She has also worked to combat poverty, and served as an Ambassador of Hope for a microlending fund, and an ambassador for Free the Children. She is a member of OneVoice, which strives to build bridges between Israelis and Palestinians. For her tireless work, last month Portman was awarded the $1 million Genesis Prize (“the Jewish Nobel Prize”), which she said would be donated primarily to support women’s causes. Portman has two children, and though she now lives in LA, has said that “my heart’s in Jerusalem. That’s where I feel at home.”

Words of the Week

Fighting evil is a very noble activity when it must be done. But it is not our mission in life. Our job is to bring in more light.
– Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe

Jew of the Week: June Foray

June Lucille Forer (1917-2017) was born in Massachusetts to a Ukrainian-Jewish father and a mother with Lithuanian-Jewish and French-Canadian ancestry. From a young age, she dreamed of being an actress. At 12, she was cast to voice a character in a radio drama. By 15, she had become a regular radio voice actress, and two years later moved to Los Angeles. She soon had her very own radio show, and was known across America as “June Foray”. A decade later, she started working in film, and went on to voice countless beloved characters, including Lucifer the Cat in Cinderella, Witch Hazel in Looney Tunes, as well as Granny (owner of Tweety and Sylvester), Grandmother Fa in Mulan, Aunt May in Spider-Man, and Cindy Lou Who in How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Perhaps most famously, she was Rocky the Flying Squirrel (of Rocky and Bullwinkle), and voiced characters in Peter Pan, Woody Woodpecker, Tom and Jerry, Scooby-Doo, The Jetsons, The Flintstones, George of the Jungle, The Smurfs, and The Twilight Zone. Foray also appeared as a guest on The Simpsons, Family Guy, and many other shows. All in all, Foray worked on 19 radio programs, nearly 100 TV shows, and over 100 films. She also appeared in 9 video games, voiced many talking toys, recorded several children’s music albums, and wrote two books. Foray won an Emmy Award for her work, and played a key role in establishing the Annie Awards (for achievement in animation) and creating the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature in the Oscars. In fact, she was an Academy board member for 26 years, as well as governor of the Academy for a time. She founded the International Animated Film Society (which later named an award in her honour), and taught voice acting at the University of Southern California. She has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and was featured in a 2013 documentary about her life called The One and Only June Foray. Foray worked well into her 90s, once saying, “My body is old, but I think the same as I did when I was 20 years old.” Sadly, Foray passed away last week, just shy of her 100th birthday. She has been called the “actress of a thousand voices” and “the First Lady of Voice Acting”. Click here to see a compilation of her voices.

Words of the Week

You cannot add more minutes to the day, but you can utilize each one to the fullest.
– Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe