Owning a PR agency, I work to build brands and create personas. We have worked with many celebrities and are well aware of the impact that “famous” people have in today’s world. As a proud traditional Jew and Zionist, I decided to create a list of the top 10 Jewish celebrity role models. Qualification for this list required more than just being Jewish – my choices are famous and also care about Judaism, Israel and upholding our faith, or some part of our faith. For this list, I have excluded nebbishes (no Woody Allens here,) and figures that are actively anti-Israel (Billy Crystal boycotted an event celebrating Israel’s 50th anniversary.) Being Jewish by name only wasn’t enough to qualify one for this list, it required a lot more than that!
Read it with a sense of humor – it is compiled by a public relations pro, not a rabbi, so it’s open for debate – and keep things in perspective, this was a much harder task than anticipated. In no particular order here is the 1st ever top 10 list of famous Jewish role models:
Steven Spielberg: As director of Schindler’s List, creator of Holocaust memorial programs, and noted philanthropist, Spielberg deserves placement on the list. In his own words “I went to school without Jewish friends and did not have Jewish community centers to go to. So I was kind of like an odd duck, so to speak. There was a lot of antisemitism – I learned something from all of this and it wasn’t to turn the other cheek.” While Holocaust education remains a key focus for him, he has also established the Steven Spielberg Jewish Film Archive at Hebrew University and is active in other areas of Jewish communal life.
Adam Sandler: Perhaps his greatest contribution to the Jewish world, Sandler wrote The Chanukah Song so that Jews wouldn’t feel alienated during Christmas. It is possibly the most important Jewish lyrical release in the last 25 years. Sandler also positively presents the “Jewish experience” in many of his movies. Especially in 2008 release “You Don’t Mess with the Zohan,” which paints an uncannily accurate picture of Israeli culture, mannerisms and behaviors.
Sacha Baron Cohen: If you have watched Ali G, you know he’s fluent in Hebrew, and if you have a sense of humor you realize he pokes fun at everything, even often exploring antisemitic thresholds. He lived in Israel for a year, keeps kosher, attends synagogue, and has said “I am a proud friend of Israel.” His wife, Isla Fisher converted to Judaism after three years of study and said “I will definitely have a Jewish wedding just to be with Sacha.” She took on the Hebrew name Ayala and has described herself as Shabbat observant.
Liev Schreiber: Defiance is one of the greatest Jewish movies ever, and Schreiber’s character in the movie, Zus Bielski is a true Jewish hero (Bielski is one of three Jewish warrior brothers who fought the Nazis.) As Schreiber says “this was a remarkable story — a triumphant story. It sets out to redefine the Jewish image — that of fighter. We all know tough Jews like that. My own grandfather was incredibly tough and athletic and was the main male role model in my life.” Not one prone to stereotypes, Schreiber is “also inspired by the feats of a different kind of Jew.” He jokes that “all American Jews point to baseball player Sandy Koufax and swimmer Mark Spitz as evidence that the stereotype of the effete, cerebral Jew is not true. They even take a little pride in the fact that there was a Jewish equivalent of the mafia. While nothing like the mafia, once the conflict started, the Bielski brothers had no qualms about using brutal violence against the Nazis.” He says, “I write and I act a lot about being Jewish.” He is proud of his Jewish heritage, and both of his children were circumcised according to Jewish law, with a Hebrew naming ceremony so boot, on the occasion he commented “I’m not an observant person but I love the idea of a bris in the same way I love the seder. I really appreciate the sense of continuity and relatedness in Jewish culture.”
Emmanuelle Chriqui: A good Jewish Moroccan girl who was raised religious and is active in Jewish charities and causes. She cares about Israel, is gorgeous, and is a positive reflection of our people.
William Shatner & Leonard Nimoy: These “trekkies” are both active in the Jewish community and proud. The v-shaped hand signal that Nimoy made famous as Mr. Spock was a remembrance from his synagogue days – the shape of the letter shin in the Hebrew alphabet, the first letter of “shalom,” or peace. The symbol was inspired by the priestly blessing ritual of the kohanim, whom are genealogical descendents of Jewish priests from the historic Jewish temple in Jerusalem. William Shatner is involved with the Jewish National Fund (JNF) and serves as an ambassador for causes in Israel.
Paula Abdul: With a unique ethnic background – Her father is a Syrian Jew and mother is a Canadian Jew – Abdul is proudly Jewish. She visited Israel after an invitation from the Israeli government saying, “my dream is to visit Israel, go to the Dead Sea, to tour the Western Wall and other holy sites.”
Fran Drescher: A Jewish style icon, Drescher was one of the first to show that Jewish girls could be sexy, glamorous and successful while openly very Jewish.
Benjamin Stein: Frequently refers to himself as a proud Jew.
Ivanka Trump: Since converting to marry media and real estate entrepreneur Jared Kushner, she has been Shabbat observant, kosher and was featured in media outlets worldwide this year carrying a lulav and etrog on the second day of Sukkot, headed to synagogue with her husband. This Jewish power couple have given their time and hearts to Jewish causes. It is beautiful and inspiring to see such a nice, young, smart, and attractive, Jewishly committed couple.
Honorable mention goes to criminal defense attorney Benjamin (Ben) Brafman who, after successfully defending Sean “Diddy” Combs, – achieving an acquittal on all counts late on a Friday afternoon – said : “This is an amazing victory, and I am, of course, very happy for Puffy and his family. I know that following the Super Bowl, the winning quarterback generally announces that he is now ‘going to Disneyland.’ Well, ladies and gentlemen, this winning quarterback is going to synagogue — Shabbat is coming!” This statement received worldwide attention and served as a beautiful inspiration for proud Jews worldwide. As Brafman said “leaving a press conference because ‘Shabbat is coming’ turned a personal professional victory into a genuine Kiddush Hashem (sanctification of God’s name).”
Owning a PR firm and working in an industry that involves high profile encounters, I have often found it difficult to find proud Jewish role models. Let’s hope that all good Jews – celebrity or not – work to portray a positive image of our people and faith.
Ronn Torossian is the CEO of 5WPR, a Top 25 PR Agency and author of Amazon best-selling PR book “For Immediate Release: Shape Minds, Build Brands, and Deliver Results with Game-Changing Public Relations,” available for purchase here.