Famous Jews and Jewish Contributions to Science, Business and Culture

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Jews have accomplished many great things throughout their history. Although they make up around 0.2 percent of the world’s population and never made up more than two percent they have made contributions to science, scholarship, literature, art, philosophy and other fields that far exceeds their numbers. They have made contributions to the "high arts" (classical music, dance, theater, and literature) and folk arts (especially folk music and dance) and popular culture (movies, television and pop music) [Source: Encyclopedia of World Cultures]

Jews have won 22 percent of the world's Nobel Prizes, including many in physics, chemistry medicine, economics, and literature. This is quite an accomplishment considering the number of Jews. Because they such a small percentage of the world's population, their share of winners is 110 times their proportion of the world's population. In addition, nine Jews have won the Nobel Peace Prize. [Source: Encyclopedia.com]

Of the 965 individual recipients of the Nobel Prize between 1901 and 2023, at least 214 have been Jews or people with at least one Jewish parent. Jews that have been awarded in Nobel Prizes in all six categories:
Physics: 56 (25 percent of total)
Physiology or Medicine: 59 (26 percent of total)
Chemistry: 36 (19 percent of total)
Economics: 38 (41 percent of total)
Literature: 16 (13 percent of total)
Peace: 9 (8 percent of total)

Jews have not only created great works of culture. Their stories and prominent figures have inspired popular works in television and in movies. Among these are “Moses” (1975) starring Burt Lancaster: “The Ten Commandments” (1956), with Charlton Heston and Yul Brynner; and “Samson and Delilah” (1956), produced by Cecile B. DeMille.

The longevity of Jewish history and the wide distribution of the Jewish diaspora around the globe have played roles in contributions from Jews. Sikhs, for instance, follow Jewish kosher laws for food. Their religion was founded in the Punjab region of India in the 15th century. Even Muslim eat kosher food if they can’t get their own Halal food and Islam has many influences from Judaism.

Websites and Resources: Virtual Jewish Library jewishvirtuallibrary.org/index ; Judaism101 jewfaq.org ; torah.org bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/judaism ; Yivo Institute of Jewish Research yivoinstitute.org ; Internet Jewish History Sourcebook sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Aish.com aish.com ; Jewish Museum London jewishmuseum.org.uk

Jewish Culture

Paul Mendes-Flohr wrote in the “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices”: Since its biblical beginnings Judaism has developed a rich history of religious expression through music, dance, and song. Miriam, Moses' sister, led the women of Israel in song and dance to celebrate the crossing of the Red Sea (Exod. 15:20). The Temple service was accompanied by singing and instrumental music (Ps. 150:3–5). The rabbis of the Talmud, however, deemed instrumental music to be a form of work and thus banned it on the Sabbath and during festivities. But prayers at home and in the synagogue were often chanted and sung. Indeed, song has remained a prominent feature of Jewish worship. [Source:Paul Mendes-Flohr Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices, 2000s, Encyclopedia.com]

Throughout the ages poets have written religious hymns (piyyutim), for which melodies were often composed. Songs and wordless melodies play a particularly significant role in Hasidism. In addition, Hasidim often punctuate their prayers with dance, which they regard as a form of worship. Dance and instrumental music are common features of weddings and other celebrations in all Jewish traditions.

Visual art is yet another important form of religious expression in Judaism. The Tabernacle (temporary sanctuary used by the Israelites in the wilderness) and later the Jerusalem Temples were richly adorned with ornamental art, apparently even pictorial paintings. The biblical prohibition against the fashioning of graven images pertains only to the creation of idols for the purpose of worship (Exod. 20:4; Deut. 4:15–19). Hence, there is a tendency in Jewish tradition to frown upon sculpture, especially if placed in the synagogue, although sculpture is not in itself prohibited. The synagogue is often richly adorned with paintings, although they tend to avoid the depiction of human images. The Torah scroll is usually bedecked in a finely embroidered mantle or decorated encasing and is adorned with specially crafted silver ornaments of bells and a breastplate, or shield, and topped with a crown. Other ceremonial objects, such as goblets and the cases for mezuzah (door-post) parchments, are also especially crafted by artisans, and there is a long tradition of illuminated Aggadah manuscripts. [Source:Paul Mendes-Flohr Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices, 2000s, Encyclopedia.com]

Famous Jews

Among the most famous and influential Jews of all time are Moses, David, Solomon, Jesus Christ, Maimonides (1135-1204), Spinoza (1632-1677), Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847), Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, Albert Einstein, David Geffen, Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Golda Meir, Henry Kissinger and filmmaker Steven Spielberg and Jerry Siegel (creator of Superman) not mention Leonard Nimoy, William Shatner, and Adam Sandler. Marx was the son of convert parents, Freud rejected religion, and Einstein was not religious.

Jesus Christ — more properly Jesus of Nazareth — was Jewish. The main sources of information regarding his life are the Gospels of the New Testament by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.. Jesus is the central figure of Christianity."Christ" is a Greek title meaning "Anointed One" corresponding to the Hebrew "Messiah". Churches founded on the belief that Jesus is the Messiah promised in the Old Testament include the Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Protestant, Pentecostal, Episcopalian, Anglican, and Mormon churches. There are hundreds of different Christian denominations.

Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677) is a famous philosopher and thinker. He was born in Amsterdam into a community of Portuguese Sephardic Jews. He worked as a lens grinder and produced lenses for the most advanced telescopes and scientific instruments of his time. His writings on rationalism, many of which were published posthumously, reveal substantial mathematical training. Spinoza's most influential work was his Ethics, a work that established him as one of the great rationalists of 17th-century philosophy. He is recognized as a founder of modern biblical criticism, and as having laid the groundwork for the 18th century Enlightenment. Spinoza was critical of the Talmud and took positions contrary to normative Jewish belief. In 1656 he was excommunicated from the Jewish community for his unorthodox conception of God. [Source: scientificpsychic.com]

Famous Jewish Scientists

Jews have made great contributions to science. Jews have won over 30 percent of the world's Nobel Prizes in the science, including around half in physics. As of the early 2000s, they had won 55 in physics, 28 in chemistry and 52 in medicine. [Source: Encyclopedia.com]

Albert Einstein (1879–1955) is the most famous Jews to win a Nobel Prize. He was a physicist and mathematician who studied energy and motion. He won the Nobel Prize in physics in 1921 for his work on the photoelectric effect in 1905 which showed that light behaves like particles These units of electromagnetic radiation are now called photons. Einstein went on to write several papers that gained him fame and still stand the scientifically today, including his theory of relativity. His work laid the foundation for several fields in physics and astronomy and opened up our understanding of things like black holes and the relationship between time and space, which challenged concepts established over two centuries earlier by Isaac Newton. He is most famous work of math is formula of the relationship between mass and energy: E = mc2 [Source: scientificpsychic.com]

Other Famous Jewish scientists:
Jonas Salk — Developed the first polio vaccine.
Robert Oppenheimer — — Physicist, father of the atom bomb
Edward Teller — Physicist, father of the hydrogen bomb
Niels Bohr — Nobel prize-winning Physicist, pioneered the study of atomic structure
Roald Hoffmann — Nobel prize winner in Chemistry, made great contributions to the field of electronic structures
Fritz Haber — winner of the Nobel Prize of Chemistry in 1918, for the synthesis of ammonia from its elements
Leo Szilard — Physicist, proved the possibility of a nuclear chain reaction in 1933.
Carl Sagan — astronomer and popular science author; made book and TV series 'Cosmos'

Famous Jewish Writers

Jewish literature has traditionally been equated with Jewish religious. The best known is the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament of the Christian Bible). The Torah, Talmud (Mishna and Gerama) and the Kabballah (a mystical text) are great works of literature as well as religion and theology as are commentary on them by great Jewish scholars and humanists such as Maimonides, Ibn Ezra and Judah Halevi. Famous Jewish writers include Franz Kafka, Marcel, Anne Frank, Karl Marx, Joseph Heller, Arthur Miller, Philip Roth, Elie Wiesel, Norman Mailer, Irwin Shaw, Herman Wouk Bernard Malamud, S.J. Perelman, Saul Bellow and Tom Stoppard. Joseph Heller once said: “Being Jewish informs everything I do. My books are getting more and more Jewish. But I write for everybody, and there is possibly something exotic about Jewish books for non-Jews, although fortunately Jews in America do buy books.”

Franz Kafka, who is associated with Prague, wrote in “The Metamorphosis”, “The Trial” and “The Castle”. Marcel Proust authored “In Search of Lost Time”, “The Prisoner”, and “The Fugitive”. The American Jew Philip Roth wrote Portnoy’s Complaint, Exit Ghost, American Pastoral and The Human Stain. Saul Bellow is best known for Henderson the Rain King and Herzog. Joseph Heller wrote “Catch-22" and “Something Happened”. Leon Uris is famous for epic novels such as Exodus, Mila 18 and QB VII. Arthur Miller was married to Marilyn Monroe and wrote in The Crucible, The Misfits and Death of a Salesman. Sigmund Freud regarded as a great writer as well as psychoanalyst. He authored The Interpretation of Dreams, The Ego and the Id, and Civilization and Its Discontents

Elie Wiesel is among the world’s most famous Holocaust survivor. He wrote “The Night” and 56 other books and won the Nobel Peace Prize. Ayn Rand authored Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead. Anne Frank is famous for “Anne Frank The Diary of a Young Girl”.

Also worth mentioning are Bernard Malamud, author of the The Natural and The Fixer; Neil Simon, known for Broadway plays and works such as Barefoot in the Park, Biloxi Blues, Lost in Yonkers; and Tom Stoppard, author of Empire of the Sun, Rosencrantz & Guildenstern and Shakespeare in Love. Karl Marx wrote The Communist Manifesto and Das Kapital. Lillian Hellman authored The Children's Hour, Watch on the Rhine and The Chase. Maurice Sendak wrote Where the Wild Things Are. Wladyslaw Szpilman wrote The Pianist: The Extraordinary True Story of One Man's Survival in Warsaw, 1939-1945 and the Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravit. Nora Ephron is well known in Hollywood for When Harry Met Sally and Sleepless in Seattle. She also wrote in Wallflower at the Orgy, Crazy Salad: Some Things About Women, and I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman

The Jewish Nobel laureates in literature are 1) Paul Heyse (1910), from Germany, for “his long productive career as a lyric poet, dramatist, novelist and writer of world-renowned short stories"; 2) Henri Bergson (1927) of France; 3) Boris Pasternak (1958) of the Soviet Union, the author Dr. Zhivago; 4) Shmuel Yosef Agnon (1966) of Israel, Poland and Ukraine"for his profoundly characteristic narrative art with motifs from the life of the Jewish people"; 5) Nelly Sachs (1966) of Sweden and Germany"for her outstanding lyrical and dramatic writing, which interprets Israel's destiny with touching strength"; 6) Saul Bellow (1976) of the United States "for the human understanding and subtle analysis of contemporary culture that are combined in his work"; 7) Isaac Bashevis Singer (1978) from the United States and Poland; 8) Elias Canetti (1981) from the United Kingdom and Bulgaria; 9) Joseph Brodsky (1987), United States and Soviet Union"for an all-embracing authorship, imbued with clarity of thought and poetic intensity"; 10) Nadine Gordimer (1991) from South Africa "who through her magnificent epic writing has – in the words of Alfred Nobel – been of very great benefit to humanity";

11) Imre Kertész (2002) from Hungary; "for writing that upholds the fragile experience of the individual against the barbaric arbitrariness of history"; 12) Elfriede Jelinek (2004) from Austria "for her musical flow of voices and counter-voices in novels and plays that with extraordinary linguistic zeal reveal the absurdity of society's clichés and their subjugating power"; 13) Harold Pinter (2005) from the United Kingdom"who in his plays uncovers the precipice under everyday prattle and forces entry into oppression's closed rooms"; 14) Patrick Modiano (2014) from France "for the art of memory with which he has evoked the most ungraspable human destinies and uncovered the life-world of the occupation"; 15) Bob Dylan (2016) from the United States"for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition" and Louise Glück (2020) from United States"for her unmistakable poetic voice that with austere beauty makes individual existence universal."

Famous Jewish Artists

Marc Chagall (1887-1985) was a Jewish painter born in Vitebsk, Belarus. The oldest of nine children in a Hasidic Jewish family, he started studying painting in 1906 and moved to St. Petersburg one year later. He lived for a few years in Paris in order to be near the Montparnasse art community, but returned to Vitebsk in 1914. After the Russian revolution, he moved to Moscow in 1920 and back to Paris in 1923 where he became a French citizen. The memories of his Jewish upbringing and Biblical themes feature highly in his paintings. He is associated with the modern movements after impressionism. Chagall died at the age of 97 in Saint-Paul de Vence, France. [Source: scientificpsychic.com]

One of his painting is in the United Nations. Many are in the museum named after him, the Musee Chagall, in Nice, France. His style incorporates elements of Cubism and Surrealism and uses vibrant colors. Among his paintings is the well-known I and the Village, which shows a cubist influence in the way parts of the painting appear to fracture like stained glass. He also worked in sculpture, ceramics, and stained glass. Among his stained glass creations is The Twelve Tribes of Israel, which appears in the synagogue of the Hadassah-Hebrew University Medical Center in Jerusalem.

Lucian Freud is another famous Jewish artist. The grandson of Sigmund, he lives in London and is arguably the most famous and influential living Jewish painter. Freud has painted a series of famous portraits, including those of fellow artists and Queen Elizabeth II. In 2008, his portrait, Benefits Supervisor Sleeping, was sold by Christie's for $33.6 million, setting a world record for sale value of a painting by a living artist. [Source: Steve Linde, Jerusalem Post, May 21, 2010]

Famous Jewish Musicians

Among the most famous Jewish classical musicians are Felix Mendelssohn, the German composer and pianist. Dmitri Shostakovich, the Russian and Soviet composer, wasn’t Jewish but was fascinated with Jewish music and explored Jewish themes in his work. Famous Jewish Tin Pan Alley songwriters include Irving Berlin (real name Israel Baline), George Gershwin (Jacob Gershwine), Ira Gershwin, Harold Arlene (Hyman Arluck), Sammy Cahn, and Saul Chaplin. George Gershwin (1898–1937) as born in Brooklyn. Along with his brother Ira, he wrote several musicals that have become classics. He is, however, probably best known for his work Rhapsody in Blue. Gershwin was posthumously awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1998 for his many accomplishments in music.

Bob Dylan (Robert Allen Zimmerman) was born in Minnesota and needs no introduction.The veteran singer was cited by the Pulitzer Prize jury for his profound impact on popular music and American culture, “marked by lyrical compositions of extraordinary poetic power.” Several of his songs have become anthems for the human rights movement, including “Blowin’ in the wind.” Dylan has performed hald a dozen times in Israel and reportedly coverted to Christianity. [Source: Steve Linde, Jerusalem Post, May 21, 2010]

Other well-known Jewish musicians include: 1) Itzhak Perlman — Grammy-winning Violin soloist; 2) Max Weinberg — Drummer for Springstein and musical director for Conan O'Brien Isaac Stern — Violin virtuoso; 3) Jascha Heifetz — Violinist; 4) Yehudi Menuhin — Violinist; 5) Herb Alpert — Leader and trumpeter of Tijuana Brass; and 6) Stan Getz — Jazz Tenor Sax player most famous for The Girl from Ipanema.

Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990) was born in Lawrence, Massachusetts to Russian Jewish parents. He studied music at Harvard University and had a distinguished career as a conductor, composer, music lecturer and pianist. In 1957, Bernstein was named Music Director of the New York Philharmonic and he gained notoriety for conducting concerts with many of the world's leading orchestras. Bernstein received several Emmy awards, including one for his 1971 performance of Beethoven's Birthday: A Celebration in Vienna which was televised on CBS. He wrote three symphonies, two operas, and five musicals, including West Side Story. The original 1957 Broadway production of West Side Story ran for 732 performances and was made into a movie. West Side Story is a 1950s musical adaptation of Romeo and Juliet. [Source: scientificpsychic.com]

Julio Iglesias (born 1943) was born in Madrid, Spain. His father was a prominent gynecologist, and his mother, María del Rosario de la Cueva y Perignat, was of Jewish origin. As a young man, Julio Iglesias was very athletic and earned a position as goalkeeper in the Real Madrid soccer team while he studied law. At the age of 20, Julio was involved in a traffic accident that left him partially paralyzed for about two years. Julio started writing poetry during his rehabilitation and he accompanied his poems by playing a guitar that he received as a gift.After his recovery, Julio brought one of his compositions to a music publisher who convinced him to sing the song himself. Julio won the international competition in Benidorm and his success led to a contract with Columbia Records. As Julio's notoriety increased, he started singing in other languages. He was honored by the Guinness Book of World Records for selling the most records in different languages than any other music artist in history. Those languages include Spanish, German, French, Portuguese, Italian and Japanese. [Source: scientificpsychic.com]

Famous Jews in Hollywood and Show Business

Comedians: 1) Jerry Lewis — who teamed up with Dean Martin; 2) Marcel Marceau — the most famous mime in history; 3) Jerry Seinfeld — Stand up comedian, TV show Seinfeld, American Express commercials; 3) Sarah Silverman — American comedienne whose satirical comedy addresses social taboos and controversial topics; 4) The Marx Brothers — An American family comedy act with Chico, Harpo, and Groucho; 5) Milton Berle — Comedian who pioneered comedy/variety on television; and 6) Jack Benny — Reknowned radio and TV comic; )

Directors and producers: 1) Steven Spielberg — Director of films such as Saving Private Ryan & Schindler's List, Jurassic Park, E.T.; 2) Stanley Kubrick — Director of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Clockwork Orange, The Shining, Full Metal Jacket, Spartacus; 3) Mel Brooks — Film director, producer, actor: Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein; 4) Woody Allen — Film Maker/Actor: Annie Hall, Bullets Over Broadway, Mighty Aphrodite, Antz; 5) Roman Polanski — Director, screenwriter, actor: Rosemary's Baby, Macbeth, Chinatown, Tess; 6) Ben Stiller — Director/Actor: Seinfeld, SNL, Reality Bites, Something About Mary, The Cable Guy; 7) Aaron Spelling — Produced Beverly Hills 90210, Melrose Place; 8) Oliver Stone — Popular Director: The Doors, J.F.K., Heaven And Earth, Natural Born Killers; and 9) The Weinstein brother, Bob (Robert) and disgraced Harvey, producers and chairmen of Miramax Films and The Weinstein Company (TWC); and 10) David Geffen, who cofounded Asylum Records in the 1970s founded Geffen Records in the 1990s and Dreamworks with Steven Speilberg in the 1990s. He had an estimated worth of $8.1 billion in 2024.

Jewish Actors: 1) Mandy Patinkin — Emmy & Tony award-winning actor, 'Dr Jeffrey Geiger' on TV's Chicago Hope; 2) Harrison Ford — Actor: 'Raiders of the Lost Ark', 'Star Wars', ' American Graffiti', 'Witness', 'The Fugitive'; 3) William Shatner — Captain James T. Kirk on the original 'Star Trek'; 4) Al Jolson — famous entertainer. Starred in the first talking movie; 5) Noah Wyle — Actor, 'Dr John Carter' on TV's ER; 6) Michael Landon — Little Joe Cartwright on Bonanza; ) Mark Frankel — Actor in 'Sisters' and 'Fortune Hunter'; 7) Robert Downey, Jr. — actor in 'Less Than Zero,' 'Chaplin,' 'Short Cuts.'; 8) Paul Newman — Academy Award winning actor and philanthropist; 9) Cary Grant — (maybe Jewish, maybe not) Classical good looks and humor

Jewish Actresses: 1) Alicia Silverstone — Actress — Clueless, The Crush, The Babysitter, Batman; 2) Barbara Streisand — Singer and actress winner of two Oscars, four Emmys, nine Golden Globes, and other awards; 3) Gwyneth Paltrow — Oscar winner; 4) Natalie Portman — Actress, Queen Amidala in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace; 5) Winona Ryder — Star of films like Heathers, Girl Interrupted, Little Women, Beetlejuice; 6) Sarah Jessica Parker — Acress in 'Sex and the City', 'LA Story'.

Natalie Portman is an Israeli citizen. Sacha Baron Cohen is British actor who played Ali G, Borat and Brüno. Famous Jewish vaudevillians like Menashe Skulnik and famous Jewish comics George Burns, Jack Benny, Myronn Cohen, Fanny Brice, Sophie Tucker, Alan King, Jerry Lewis and Jackie Mason. Sammy Davis Jr. Was a Jewish convert. Steven Spielberg is perhaps America’s most famous film maker. Born and raised in Arizona, he won three Academy awards, including ones for the epic Schindler’s List about how German businessman Oskar Schindler saved over 1,000 Jews during the Second World War. He has also established a historically important Holocaust film and video archive. [Source: Steve Linde, Jerusalem Post, May 21, 2010]

Woody Allen (1935 — ) was born Allen Stewart Konigsberg. He got his nickname "Woody" because he played the clarinet which is a woodwind instrument. He has won many awards as a film director, writer, actor, musician, and comedian. Allen has directed and has acted in the majority of his movies. His first film was "What's New, Pussycat?", starring Peter Sellers, was made in 1965. Allen has earned 14 Academy Award nominations for best screenplay and six nominations for best director. He won the Academy Award in 1977 for "Annie Hall", and in 1986 for "Hannah and Her Sisters". [Source: scientificpsychic.com]

Barbra Streisand, who known for playing Jewish characters on in well-known movies, is Jewish in real life and has a very Jewish upbringing. Streisand was born to Jewish parents and spent her first three years of school attending the ultra-Orthodox girls' Yeshiva of Brooklyn. Here most famous characters — Fanny Brice in "Funny Girl" and "Funny Lady," Dolly Levi in "Hello Dolly!" and Yentl, the teenage Jewish girl disguised as a boy in the film of the same name — were all based on real life Jews.

The Chanukah Song

“The Chanukah Song” is a single by actor and comedian Adam Sandler that was performed on Saturday Night Live Single by Adam Sandler and released his album What the Hell Happened to Me? In it he names a a bunch of famous Jews, including "Me" (Sandler himself), David Lee Roth James Caan, Kirk Douglas, Dinah Shore (replaced in some performances with Pauly Shore), Jon Bauman (Bowzer from Sha Na Na), Arthur Fonzarelli (Henry Winkler), Paul Newman (half-Jewish), Goldie Hawn (half-Jewish), Captain Kirk (William Shatner) and Spock (Leonard Nimoy), [Source: Wikipedia]

He declared O. J. Simpson was "not a Jew!" to great applause from the audience. Sandler erroneously claimed baseball player Rod Carew "converted;" Carew's wife and children are Jewish but he is not. Carew later contacted Sandler and said he found the song rather funny. Sandler also names Ann Landers (Eppie Lederer), "Dear Abby" (Pauline Phillips at the time) and Harrison Ford (Sandler understated Ford's Jewish ancestry by saying he is only a quarter-Jewish; Ford's mother was Jewish).[

Ebenezer Scrooge is described as not Jewish as are all of The Three Stooges (brothers Moe, Shemp and Curly Howard; Larry Fine; and Joe Besser). Tom Cruise, a Scientologist, is mentioned in the song as not Jewish (Sandler jokes during the song that he “heard his agent is” Jewish). Sandler also makes reference to the Carnegie Deli, a famed Jewish restaurant in New York City that closed in 2016. During the final verse, performed originally on Saturday Night Live and on a radio cut, Sandler sings the line "Drink your gin and tonic-ah, but don't smoke marijuan-icah".

Celebrities Maybe You Didn’t Know Were Jewish

Jewish celebs include Jack Black, Harrison Ford, Zoe Kravitz, Larry David and Seth Rogen. Some, like Gwyneth Paltrow, converted to Judaism, while others, like Jack Black, were born to Jewish roots but no longer practice. Some, like Larry David, Seth Rogen, and Sacha Baron Cohen have incorporated their Jewish identities into their work, but others, like Jack Black, Winona Ryder, Zac Efron, and Maya Rudolph are discreet about their background. Daniel Radcliffe, of Harry Potter fame, is agnostic but extremely proud of his Jewish heritage thanks to his mother’s lineage. [Source: Max Kalnitz, Business insider, December 11, 2020]

Paula Abdul was born to a father of Syrian-Jewish descent and a Canadian-Jewish mother. According to Business Insider, she grew up in a practicing Jewish family, but perhaps due to her aspirations of professional dancing and singing — and her time as a Lakers Girl — she didn't have time to complete Hebrew school or have a bat mitzvah. Despite this, Abdul is an observant Jew and dreamt for years of visiting Israel. In 2013, at 51 years old, she finally made a religious pilgrimage to Israel and even completed her bat mitzvah. “Beyond being Jewish, I've always found myself to be very much in tune with spirituality," Abdul told The Associated Press. "I feel very grateful coming to Israel now, where as a woman I know who I am a lot more than even 10 years ago." Abdul described the visit as "the most magnificent trip I've ever taken."

Gwyneth Paltrow was born to a Jewish father, Bruce Paltrow, and Catholic mother, actress Blythe Danner, and grew up observing both religions. In 2014, Paltrow announced she was converting to Judaism — which may have confused some fans who already thought she was Jewish — to properly claim the Jewish status, which is descended maternally. In 2018, Paltrow married Brad Falchuk, director of "Glee" and executive producer of "American Horror Story," who is also Jewish. She is reportedly a follower of the Kabbalah, a form of Jewish mysticism.

The family of Joaquin Phoenix,who won best actor Oscar for "Joker", roamed South America with a religious cult during his childhood, but he has said he's actually Jewish. According to a 2011 article on The Guardian, Joaquin's maternal grandparents, who were Jewish, emigrated from Russia to the Bronx where his mother, Arlyn, was born. Although the Phoenix family famously belonged to the religious cult "The Children of God" during Joaquin's childhood, he has said in recent years that he is a secular Jew. “He told Buzz in 2018, "My parents believed in God. I'm Jewish, my mom's Jewish, but she believes in Jesus, she felt a connection to that. But they were never religious. I don't remember going to church, maybe a couple of times."

Jack Black's mother was Jewish and his father converted to Judaism while they were married (his parents later divorced and his father stopped practicing Judaism). During an appearance on the H3 Podcast in 2018, Black said he was raised Jewish and had a bar mitzvah, but stopped practicing soon after. Black is now an atheist but said he is ensuring his kids are raised Jewish. During a 2012 interview with Conan O'Brien, he discussed his efforts to get his kids into a good Hebrew school.

Billy Joel is Jewish but for a long time he tried to disguise the fact. According to a 2014 New Yorker profile, Joel grew up in a predominately Catholic part of Hicksville, Long Island. He attended mass, tried confession, and was baptized at a local church. Despite him trying to shake his Jewish identity as a kid, the article continues, other children teased him over his heritage, which led him to take up boxing to defend himself. He is now an atheist.

Winona Ryder's Jewish lineage has a rich history but she has also experienced her share of anti-Semitism in Hollywood, including being called an “oven dodger” by Mel Gibson. Ryder told the Times of London she's "not religious, but I do identify" as Jewish. “Ryder's paternal family name was originally Tomchin but, like so many Jews who emigrated to the United States, it was changed after they left Russia. Ryder also said she had a cousin and other family members who died in concentration camps during the Holocaust. “In the interview, she also spoke about experiencing anti-Semitism in Hollywood. “There are times when people have said: 'Wait, you're Jewish? But you're so pretty!'" Ryder told the Times.

Harrison Ford is Jewish via his mother's family. A 2008 Independent article quotes Ford saying, "I feel Jewish as an actor, but Irish as a person. That means that in work I can be very intense and concentrated, but in life I take things in my stride."

Elizabeth Taylor (1932 — 2011) was raised as a Christian Scientist but developed a spiritual and emotional connection to Judaism after the 1958 death in a plane crash of her producer husband, Mike Todd (a Jew born Avrom Hirsch Goldbogen). She converted the following year, and was a passionate supporter of Israel and Jewish philanthropies throughout her life. Taylor started her movie career as a child star. She won national attention at the age of 12 for her role in the movie National Velvet where she played a young girl who trains her horse to win the Grand National. Some of her more memorable movies are Giant with Rock Hudson and James Dean, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof with Paul Newman, and Cleopatra with Richard Burton. Elizabeth Taylor received two Best Actress awards for her role in Butterfield 8 with Eddie Fisher, and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? also with Richard Burton. Outside of here film roles, she was married eight times and was good friends with Michael Jackson and was deeply involved in raising funds for HIV and AIDS-related projects and charities.[Source: scientificpsychic.com]

Jewish Billionaires and Business and Finance Leaders

Noteworthy Jews in the world of finance include Lawrence Summers and Robert Rubin, leaders in the U.S. Treasury Department, James Wolfensohn at the World Bank and Stabley Fischer at the International Monetary Fund. Summers was the president of Harvard University for a while.

Well-known Jewish billionaires and business people include 1) Milton Hershey — Hershey's Chocolate founder; 2) Michael Dell — Founder of Dell Computer; Steve Ballmer — CEO of Microsoft and the richest Jew in the world; Sir James Goldsmith — financier and banker who amongst others has taken over Goodyear.; George Soros — philanthropist who has donated millions to aid Eastern Europe; and Bernard Madoff — American financier convicted of operating a Ponzi scheme that resulted in the largest investor fraud ever committed by a single person. The Fashion designers Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren and Levi Strauss are Jewish.

Alan Greenspan(1926- ) was head of the Federal Reserve Chairman under Reagan, Bush, Clinton and Bush. He was born in New York City from Hungarian Jewish parents. He studied clarinet at The Juilliard School and later played the saxophone with Stan Getz. Greenspan then studied economics at New York University and served as the Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve of the United States from 1987 to 2006. Ben Bernanke, who also was Jewish, was chairman of the US Federal Reserve from 2006 to 2014.

In announcing his second term until 2014, President Obama said Bernanke’s background, temperament, courage and creativity helped prevent another Great Depression. Time named him person of the year last year. Bernanke, 56, wrote his doctoral thesis at MIT in 1979 on “Long-term commitments, dynamic optimization, and the business cycle” and his thesis adviser was none other than Stanley Fischer, the current governor of the Bank of Israel. [Source: Steve Linde, Jerusalem Post, May 21, 2010]

Sergey Brin the cofounder of Google is Jewish. Hewas bron in Russia and his maternal grandmother was Jewish Brin and Google cofounder Larry Page met at Stanford, where they suspended their doctoral studies to start up Google in a rented garage. The Economist calls Brin an “Enlightenment Man” who believes that “knowledge is always good, and certainly always better than ignorance” and in the Google mantra, “Don’t be evil!” (Board chairman Eric Schmidt famously quipped that “Evil is whatever Sergey says is evil.”) The duo have visited Israel several times, once for the 80th birthday of Shimon Peres. [Source: Steve Linde, Jerusalem Post, May 21, 2010]

Mark Zuckerberg founded Facebook. with three other Harvard students, one of whom, Dustin Moskovitz was also Jewish. Zuckerberg for a while was the world’s richest Jew. Larry Ellison is the founder and is CEO of Oracle, the world’s second largest software company. In 2010 he was listed by Frbes as the world’s richest Jew, and the sixth richest person in the world. On a visit to Israel in 2007 he praised the country’s intellectual talent and hi-tech achievements, and related how excited he had been to watch Israeli jets fly over Auschwitz — signalling that the Holocaust would never happen again. [Source: Steve Linde, Jerusalem Post, May 21, 2010]

Image Sources: Wikimedia, Commons

Text Sources: Internet Jewish History Sourcebook sourcebooks.fordham.edu, Business Insider, Encyclopedia.com. Wikipedia, BBC, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated February 2024

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