Claiming Paul Newman
09/29/2008 - 00:00
Gary Rosenblatt

Monday, September 29th, 2008

Now that Paul Newman is gone, Jews obsessed with knowing whether celebrities are Jewish or not (which seems to account for everyone I’ve ever met), are notingwith pride that the legendary actor and gentleman considered himself one of the tribe.

To women (and many men) of a certain generation - actually several generations - Newman was the coolest guy around. He was a leading actor with talent, good looks (yes, those Blue Eyes) and a self-deprecating sense of humor that indicated he never took himself too seriously. And that was before he became a director, leading racecar driver, businessman and major philanthropist - all done with low-key grace, well aware that he was blessed but striving to be a regular Joe.

According to halacha, Newman would not be considered one of us. His father, Arthur, was Jewish; his mother was a Roman Catholic who converted to Christian Science. Newman explained that he considered himself Jewish “because being Jewish is more demanding.”

It always strikes me as curious how Jewishly flexible many of us are in embracing those we like, like Newman, as one of us, no matter how big a stretch it takes, while denying the Jewishness of someone born of two Jewish parents but who led a life we don’t approve of, as in, “You mean Louis “Lepke” Buchalter [a mobster who ran Murder Incorporated] was Jewish? What a surprise!”

Endearing or annoying, depending on your point of view. But one thing is clear: we’d go a long way to be associated with the style, success and exemplary good works of Paul Newman, may he rest in peace.

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