In Stars of David, author Abigail Pogrebin interviews about 60 prominent members of American society about thier affiliation to being Jewish. Interviewees include Sarah Jessica Parker, Natalie Portman, Eliot Spitzer, Mark Spitz, Shawn Green, Jason Alexander, Diane von Furstenberg, among many other writers, politicians, actors and actresses, fashion designers, playwrights, businessmen and women, doctors, lawyers, and comedians. Each person interview had a different take on how Judaism affected his/her life and the lives of the members of his/her family.
Many of the people interviewed say they don't follow Judaism religiously or go to temple because they don't know what they are saying when they go, and also because thier parents didn't make it a big part of life growing up. Many are forcing thier children to learn about Judaism and religion before they have a chance to reject it. More than one person said that they feel that in order to reject religion, there needs to be knowledge of what is being rejected. I think the most surprising thing about many of the interviewees was that most don't practice Judaism in the sense of going to temple every Saturday or following holidays religiously. Most of the people interviews were more secular, some keeping only the holiday of Passover and possibly observing Yom Kippur which is the most holy of the year.
Interviewees speak of intermarriage: Kenneth Cole, who grew up in my town (Great Neck) speaks of his non-Jewish wife and the fact that they are raising thier kids based on her religion. To him, it doesn't seem to matter. On the other hand, I learned that before marrying Steven Speilberg in 1991, Kate Capshaw converted, by choice, to Judaism and all of thier children (biological and adopted) and being raised in a Jewish home.
The story I most related to was that of Natalie Portman. Natalie was born in Israel (I wasn't but that's not the part I related most to) as Natalie Hershlag. When she began working in entertainment, she took her grandmother's maiden name. Growing up just 20 minutes from my town and only being a few years older than I, Natalie rejected Long Island Judaism because of the extreme emphasis that is put on money. "I grew up in the classic American Jewish suburbia, which has a whole different sense of what is means to be Jewish than anywhere else in the world. The people I grew up with on Long Island are wonderful people. But I have friends who grew up in five-million dollar home, they all drive a BMW, and the only places they've been to outside the United States are the islands of the Caribbean. Which is fine, it's a choice, and I don't want to be critical of that. But I am. I think it can definitely be a problem, especially since Americna Jews are the ones who are in a position - politically and financially - to help other Jews around the world who are facing problems that we can't conceive of." She decided to forgo a Bat Miztvah because she felt as though on Long Island, too much emphasis was placed on the party and not enough on the actual ceremony. She says that when she is in the U.S. she doesn't enjoy going to synogogue for this reason but when she visits Israel, a once a year trip, she feels more connected to the religion because the people are not at all pretentious. I somewhat rejected Judaism in my town for the same reason. I no longer am a member of my shul because everyone was just way too pretentious for me. I didn't feel it right to pay $3000 a year to observe my religion of choice and on top of that pay to have seats on the high holy days. I'd prefer to observe in my own way, by spending the time with family and friends. Many of the interviewees in the book felt this way as well.
Some of the people interviewed even found the religion later in life, like Revlon CEO Ronald O. Perelman. Others wish they had more of a Jewish education as a child so they could better understand it now, and could have passed it on to thier kids.
On a down note, I felt that Sarah Jessica Parker was trying way to hard to be "Jewish." Half Jewish, she almost seemed like a fake Jew. Kyra Sedgewick, on the other hand, who is also half Jewish, has more of a deeper connection to the religion.
Each Jew also reflects a lot on anti-semitism and the Holocaust and how both have affected thier lives, as children and adults, in life and industry.
Each spoke about how Judaism has shaped thier family live, personalalities and careers. Dustin Hoffman, Richard Dreyfuss, Fran Drescher, and Jason Alexander (real name Jay Greenspan) all speak being the epitome of Jewish sterotypes and bringing those things into the characters they've played on screen.
Overall I think the book was great. I learned about a lot of prominent people who I didn't even know were Jewish and also realized that it's ok to follow my religion in a way that makes me happy. I think it would be a great book to read for both Jews and non-Jews alike. I think it will give non-Jews a better understanding of Jewish religion, culture and why us Jews may do certain things, and for Jews, I think there will be at least one person in the book you can relate to, if not more.