What do Larry King, Ed Koch and Richard Dreyfuss have in common? All three, we learn in this light book of profiles, had a bar mitzvah at age 13. On the one hand, this is a fairly superficial celebrity multi-biography that almost cynically panders to celebrities, with a couple of politicians thrown in. There are very few women represented, and almost no reflection on the spiritual commitments made in the bar mitzvah. But on the other hand, there's something to be said for the specific and focused nature of this book, with all these people chronicling a single rite of passage that has remained steadfast through centuries of change. (And of course, who can resist then-and-now celebrity photographs?) Two of the most touching stories are of deaf actress Marlee Matlin's bat mitzvah, since she had to learn Hebrew phonetically, and of her friend and mentor Henry Winkler, who struggled through his bar mitzvah because of dyslexia. Actor Kirk Douglas had two bar mitzvahs-one at the traditional age, and the other at 83, to honor his mother. Though frivolous-the chapter on the woman who bar mitzvahed her dogs and had them read the "woof-Torah" adds nothing helpful-some profiles are intriguing. (Nov. 6)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Mazel Tov: Celebrities' Bar and Bat Mitzvah Memoriesby Jill Rappaport
In Mazel Tov, celebrity journalist Jill Rappaport and photographer Linda Solomon offer an intimate glimpse of the bar or bat mitzvahs of some of the most talented people in entertainment, politics and business. This remarkable book brings together stories and never-before-seen family photos of a variety of public figures, as they look back on their thirteen-year-old selves and reminisce about the celebration that marked their transition into adulthood.
The wonderfully candid interviews in Mazel Tov document deeply poignant, and often hilariously awkward, moments in these very public lives. Interviewees include Jeremy Piven, Senator Joseph Lieberman, Marlee Matlin, Richard Dreyfuss, Ronald Perelman, Howie Mandel, Gene Shalit, Harvey Fierstein, Judy Gold, Larry King, Donny Deutsch, Michael Kors, Charles Grodin, Josh and Andy Bernstein, and many others. Their experiences run the gamut: Kirk Douglas decided to be bar mitzvahed twice, while others, like Noah Wyle, always wanted one but never had the chance. There are stories of bar mitzvahs, bat mitzvahs, confirmations, and the only documented "bark" mitzvah, held in honor of two beloved pets. Though the stories vary greatly in their detail, they all express a common appreciation for values and traditions that have been passed down through the generations.
Illustrated with photos pulled from family albums as well as contemporary portraits, Mazel Tov is an appealing tribute to the enduring bonds of faith and family.
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As the son of two acting teachers, Jeremy Piven certainly had great footsteps to follow in and his stellar career speaks for itself. With close to fifty film credits under his belt, plus an Emmy for Best Supporting Actor in a comedy, playing Agent Ari Gold in HBO's Entourage, Piven, known for his scene stealing roles, is truly on a roll himself.
Born on July 26, 1965, to Byrne and Joyce Hiller Piven, acting was in his blood long before his bar mitzvah. Byrne and Joyce studied acting, and in 1967, the entourage, including Byrne and Joyce, Jeremy, and his older sister, Shira, relocated to Chicago from New York. In Chicago the Pivens founded the Piven Theatre Workshop. At eight, Jeremy had his first acting job in his parents' theater, doing Chekhov. He graduated from Evanston Township High School, where he played football, and attended Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, and the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University.
At the age of nine, he befriended John Cusack, who, with his sister, Joan, was a student at the Piven Theatre Workshop. Years later, Piven and Cusack founded New Crime Productions, which can take credit for Grosse Pointe Blank and High Fidelity. Among his dozens of films are Lucas, The Player, Bob Roberts, Singles, Miami Rhapsody, and Old School, and Keeping Up with the Steins, which is about one-upsmanship in the bar mitzvah world. Piven displayed his ability to rap in Hebrew in the 2004 film Chasing Liberty. He was in a variety of television shows, beginning with Carol & Company and continuing in programs such as The Larry Sanders Show, Ellen, Seinfeld, and Entourage.
At thirteen Jeremy Piven celebrated his bar mitzvah, in a wholly unlikely location.
Keeping Up With Jeremy Piven
I was bar mitzvahed in Evanston, Illinois, in a church because we were a very liberal congregation of Reform Jews, called Reconstructionists. My father used to joke that we prayed to To Whom It May Concern.
Besides the studying part, I helped prepare for the event by drawing the picture on the invitation, which was so much fun. I drew pictures of the band KISS and I drew things that I loved from inside the Torah. My parents structured the day. The ceremony was modest but I think there were about two hundred people there. Only about forty were my friends. The rest was family. My parents read poetry, and because they're real artists, it was a pretty cool bar mitzvah. We didn't have a band but afterwards there was dancing in my basement. I put on my records. I wanted to honor the occasion in my own way. I didn't really have any reverence for the big party. It wasn't a big community of people battling each other for the biggest bar mitzvah, like in my movie Keeping Up with the Steins.
I had no desire for the big fancy party. And we were a theater family living in Evanston. It was just a way of gathering my friends together, and to take part in the tradition that my father had passed down to me. My friends showed up. I didn't really have a girlfriend at the time, but a girl that I liked showed up. And I think it was a real novelty to them, because it was one of the only bar mitzvahs going. For the most part, my friends had not been to one. So it was a new experience and they loved it.
But being thirteen wasn't only about the bar mitzvah. At the time, I was also playing football. That was a real focal point of my life. My team actually would win quite a bit, and after a game, the team would go to McDonald's to celebrate. Instead of going to McDonald's, my father took me, one of the very few white kids on the team, to Hebrew school. So, unfortunately, my Jewishness was introduced in a negative way, but in time I grew to appreciate it all.
Turning thirteen and being bar mitzvahed is a rite of passage. We all need rites of passage and markings of times and all these things. And it meant a lot to my father. So at the time it may have been even more about him than me, and what a beautiful thing for him to pass on to me. My father was very religious and incredibly active in his community. He was a singer and probably would have been a cantor or a rabbi had he not been an actor. He was very connected to his Judaism.
During your bar mitzvah, did you like addressing a group of people, thinking, "hey, i could get used to this."
You have to understand that from the time I was eight years old, my parents were putting me up on the stage. I was working with them. And I was in classes and doing improv, and so I was always acting with them, and that was our temple, in a way. But I never got ahead of myself and thought, Well, this is what I'm going to be doing for the rest of my life.
You came from a very interesting background. Were you always the center of attention?
I guess I was kind of popular back then. My mother, or my sister, probably would've said I was. I do like to laugh and I like to make other people laugh. Definitely, my parents said I was jumping up and landing on my side to get people to laugh very early on.
Do I dare ask-what did you look like back then?
I had a big chubby bar mitzvah boy face and what was bordering on a mullet. I liked the suit. The suit looked great. It was a pinstriped, three-piece suit with the big, wide white collar. I was very into Saturday Night Fever. I remember seeing a picture with John Travolta behind me, from Saturday Night Fever. I was holding an album of Parliament and the P-Funk All-Stars, with Bootsy Collins and George Clinton and everyone. It was a beautiful, wonderful time. I'll never forget it.
And looking back, I can't help but think how lucky I was to have this really loving, cool, artistic family. We just didn't have a lot of money, but if you don't miss it, who cares? And I mean that.
Your film, Keeping Up with the Steins, sheds quite a light on the bar mitzvah experience, but it was the complete opposite of your own blessed event.
Oh yeah, well completely. That's why I thought it was really interesting, because I learned that this world exists: people getting these rap stars to come to their bar mitzvahs and more. It's just so right for comedy, a world that I didn't experience, but thought it would be so funny to explore. And so I had a blast, but it was quite different than my experience. The movie is about forgiveness and connection and love in this family, but to get there you have to go through a bunch of dysfunctional people.
You are single, no kids yet, but if you had a son, would you want him to be bar mitzvahed?
It would be great. It would be a completely amazing gift. Copyright © Jill Rappaport 2007
Meet the Author
Jill Rappaport is an Emmy-nominated entertainment correspondent who has been seen by millions of viewers in the sixteen years that she has worked for NBC's Today show. Their first book, People We Know, Horses They Love, was a New York Times bestseller.
Linda Solomon is an award-winning photojournalist who divides her time between capturing the most famous personalities of our time and teaching children to express themselves through photography. She has developed educational programs that have reached over two million children throughout the United States. Her work providing cameras has been featured on CBS Evening News, and in People and USA Today.
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