Actress Rashida Jones on Black-Jewish Heritage: ‘It’s Something I Do Not Take for Granted’
Actress Rashida Jones is thankful for her dual Black and Jewish heritage and feels a responsibility to make her parents proud because of it, she explained on Thursday during her guest appearance on the NPR public radio program “Fresh Air.”
The former “Parks and Recreation” star, 44, is the daughter of renowned black music producer Quincy Jones and Jewish actress Peggy Lipton, who was best known for her roles in “Twin Peaks” and “The Mod Squad.” Lipton died in May 2019 from cancer, less than a year after Rashida gave birth to her son with her partner, Jewish musician Ezra Koenig.
Quincy grew up poor in Chicago’s South Side neighborhood, while Lipton was born into a Jewish observant middle-class family in Lawrence, New York.
Rashida, who currently stars in the Netflix series “#blackAF,” said she is “beyond grateful” when she thinks about where her father came from, the accomplishments he had in life, and her mother’s Ashkenazi Jewish side of the family. She said on “Fresh Air” that her perspective on her mother’s Jewish background changed when she did the American genealogy documentary series “Who Do You Think You Are?” and learned more about her maternal ancestry.
“I did that show and we went to Latvia, to the village where my mom’s great-grandfather was born and the whole village was devastated during the war and everybody was killed,” she said. “And I just think about how ridiculous it is that I exist because the lineage on both sides, the probability that I would exist, a Black Jew in 2021 — and succeed and thrive — is a miracle. And it’s something I do not take for granted. I think about it constantly, every day. I don’t understand why I was chosen, but I feel like I have to make good on my dad’s survival and my family’s survival.”
Rashida was raised by her mother to observe the Jewish high holidays and attended Hebrew school until age 10 but ultimately left “because the girls were kind of snotty,” she said in a 2007 interview with American Jewish Life Magazine. She noted in the same interview “I really liked the cultural and the familial side of Judaism. It was always the most comfortable place for me, making time for family and community.”
She also told the publication she feels “pretty strongly” about her connection to Judaism and that her boyfriends “tend to be Jewish and also be practicing.”
“I don’t see it as a necessity, but there’s something about it that I connect with for whatever reason. I think it probably has a lot to do with my mom, the way I grew up, and the family friends that we had and the paradigm that I saw of family life and what I would want for myself, and that was all kind of interconnected.”