Tag Archives: Social Activism

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: Michael Bolton

Michael Bolotin (b. 1953) was born in Connecticut. His grandparents were all Orthodox Jewish immigrants from Russia, and kept a strictly kosher home. Bolotin, however, was more like his liberal parents who, fed up with anti-Semitic discrimination, sought to assimilate into American society and kept a Christmas tree alongside their menorah. This may explain why Bolotin was a trouble maker at his Hebrew school, and got kicked out when he was 13. That same year, he tragically lost his father. Music was one way to cope with the loss. At 16, he was signed to a record deal and dropped out of high school. His first songs didn’t go anywhere, so he joined a heavy metal band which opened for Ozzy Osbourne. Still, he struggled to make a living for a decade. It wasn’t until 1983 that Bolotin (now going by Bolton) had his first hit with a song he co-wrote, then released his breakthrough (fifth) album in 1987. By the late 80s’, Bolton was a household name, and in 1989 he won his first Grammy for “How I Am Supposed to Live Without You”, then a second in 1991 for “When a Man Loves a Woman”. All in all, Bolton produced 20 albums (so far) and sold over 75 million records, with 9 singles hitting number one on the Billboard 100. Bolton also wrote hit songs for other artists like Barbra Streisand, Cher, and Kiss; appeared in eight films and television shows; and published an autobiography. In 1993, he established The Michael Bolton Charities, focusing on helping women and children suffering from poverty and sexual abuse, and providing opportunities for underprivileged youth. Over the years, the foundation has donated over $10 million to organizations across America. Bolton is the chairman of Prevent Child Abuse America, and a vocal member of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Last year, he opened the Family Justice Center in his hometown, a support clinic for victims of domestic violence. For his charitable work and success in music, Bolton was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and among many other distinctions, has received the Martin Luther King Award for promoting racial equality. His timeless ballads and one-of-a-kind voice have made Bolton a living legend.

Words of the Week

The footsteps of man are directed by God.
– Psalms 37:23

Bolton once shaved off his famous long, golden hair for charity; it was auctioned off for $6000. He has raised even more money by playing charity baseball games with his “Bolton Bombers” team.