Elizabeth Taylor's Conversion to Judaism, Her Devotion to Israel, and other Famous Converts
ELIZABETH TAYLOR’S CONVERSION TO JUDAISM
Elizabeth Taylor must have found something that rang true for her when she took
the Conversion Oath at Hollywood’s Temple Israel on that spring day in
March, 1959. Twenty seven year old Elizabeth Taylor, who was raised a Christian
Scientist, took the Hebrew name of Elisheba Rachel and with that intention,
converted to Judaism.
Taylor’s conversion came one year after the death of her third husband,
Mike Todd (born Avrom Hirsch Goldbogen) following a tragic airplane crash, and
just a few months before the star’s upcoming marriage to Eddie Fisher.
The decision was not without criticism, since many people questioned her impetus
to convert. Taylor always stood firm and cited that the choice was a serious
undertaking of her own and not a reflection of either marriage to Todd or Fisher.
In 1959, Time
Magazine reported that Elizabeth Taylor studied for about
six months with the late Rabbi Max Nussbaum, a Holocaust survivor connected
with the Judaism’s Reform movement, and with Hollywood’s Temple
Israel. According to Benjamin Ivry of The
Forward, Nussbaum’s assigned reading to Taylor included Abram
Leon Sachar’s History
of Jews, Morris N. Kertzer’s What
is a Jew and Milton Steinberg’s Basic
Judaism, along with the Bible. In that time, Taylor studied Jewish
tradition and engaged in conversation about the struggles of Israel.
At her conversion ceremony Elisheba Rachel Taylor repeated the pledge:
"I, of my own free will, seek the fellowship
of Israel . . . I believe that God is One, Almighty, All-Wise and Most Holy
. . . I promise that I shall endeavor to live, as far as it is in my power,
in accordance with the ideals of Jewish life . . . Most fervently, therefore,
do I herewith pronounce the Jewish confession of faith: Shma yisroel adonoy
elohenu adonoy echod [Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is One].
Boruch shem kvod malchuso I'olom voed [Praised be his name whose glorious
kingdom is for ever and ever]."
Elizabeth Taylor died on March 23, 2011 at age 79. Her Jewish identity was
governed not only her choices as an actress but also her humanitarian efforts
around the world throughout her lifetime.
ELIZABETH TAYLOR AND HER DEVOTION TO ISRAEL AND THE
Following the news of Elizabeth Taylor’s passing, The JTA (Jewish Telegraphic
Agency), a global Jewish news service, released a collection of archived stories
about the icon. In the collections, numerous articles abound of her devotion
and support of Israel.
- 1959 - A $100,000 purchase in Israel bonds prompted an Arab ban of her
- 1957 -Elizabeth Taylor joined Jewish and non-Jewish actors in London to
help raise $840,000 for Israel.
- 1961 - Elizabeth Taylor and Eddie Fisher sang a Hebrew duet in Moscow,
surprising US servicemen.
- 1962 - Elizabeth Taylor and her film crew were barred from entering Egypt
to complete the film, “Cleopatra” because she was Jewish and supportive
of Israeli causes. According to the JTA archive, “Gen. Essam Elmasri,
head of the Cairo regional bureau of the Israel Boycott Office, said in the
Egyptian capital that Miss Taylor will not be allowed to come to Egypt because
she has adopted the Jewish faith and supports Israeli causes.”
- 1967 - Elizabeth Taylor cancelled a trip to Moscow over the USSR's condemnation
of Israel's role in the Six Day War.
- 1975 - Elizabeth Taylor was one of 60 signatories of a telegram addressed
to ex-Nazi UN Secretary General Kurt Waldheim against the United Nations Anti-Zionist
- 1976 - It was revealed in 1977 by Israel’s
ambassador to the United States, Simcha Dinitz, that Elizabeth Taylor offered
to swap herself for the 103 Jewish and Israeli hostages taken from an Air
France plane by Palestinian and German terrorists at Entebbe Airport in Uganda.
In this frightening hostage crisis, the terrorists separated the Jewish passengers
from the non-Jews aboard the plane and released most of the non-Jewish passengers.
Israeli commandos stormed the airport and rescued the hostages. Jonathan Netanyahu,
the late brother of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, led the mission
and was shot dead - the only death during the rescue operation. In an ABC
movie made that year, “Victory at Entebbe,” Elizabeth
Taylor played one of the hostages.
- 1976 - Elizabeth Taylor visited Israel often and met
with Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
- 1981 - Elizabeth Taylor was one of the narrators of “Genocide,”
a documentary about the Holocaust that went on to win a 1981 Academy Award.
Her husband, Senator John Warner, gave her the script to read on behalf of
Rabbi Hier, Director of the Wisenthal
Center. According to John Warner, Taylor read the script from Friday to
Sunday night and couldn't stop crying. She narrated the film without compensation.
- 1983 - Elizabeth Taylor met with Israel’s first Likud Prime Minister,
- 1987 - Elizabeth Taylor signed an appeal launched by a Jewish feminist
magazine, Lillith, to free Soviet
refusenik Ida Nudel.
In 1981, biographer Kitty Kelly wrote the book, Elizabeth
Taylor: The Last Star. She quoted Elizabeth Taylor as saying, “I
felt terribly sorry for the suffering of the Jews during the war. I was attracted
to their heritage. I guess I identified with them as underdogs.”
The Zionist Organization of America, who previously awarded Elizabeth Taylor
with ZOA’s Distinguished Louis D. Brandeis Award, issued a press
release upon her death and paid tribute to her as an ardent Zionist.
MARILYN MONROE, SAMMY DAVIS, JR., AND IVANKA TRUMP
CONVERTED TO JUDAISM
Marilyn Monroe – In June 1956, Monroe converted to
Judaism and married famed playwright Arthur Miller on June 29th in a quiet ceremony.
Sammy Davis, Jr. – Davis was born to a Catholic mother
and Protestant father. In November 19, 1954, he nearly died in a car accident
where he lost his left eye. During his time in the hospital, Davis had plenty
time for conversation and reflection. There were discussions with his friend
Eddie Cantor about the similarities between the Jewish and black culture that
resonated with him. Davis also spent time talking at length with the rabbi at
the hospital. Looking back, the accident that almost took his life would come
to represent a turning point for the song and dance man. His choice to convert
to Judaism would followed several years later. The star would sum up his feelings
about how he became a Jew in a February issue of Ebony Magazine as reported
by Time magazine:
"I wanted to become part of a 5,000-year
history and hold onto something not just material, which would give me that
inner strength to turn the other cheek. Jews have become strong over their
thousands of years of oppression, and I wanted to become part of that strength.
As a Negro, I felt emotionally tied to Judaism. Certainly the background of
my people and their history cannot be compared to that of Judaism, but the
same oppression and obstacles thrown in our way were overcome by a greater
force than mere tenacity ... I wanted to become a Jew because Judaism held
an honesty and spiritual peace that was lacking in my personal makeup . .
. "I became a Jew because I was ready and willing to understand the plight
of a people who fought for thousands of years for a homeland, giving their
lives and bodies, and finally gaining that homeland."
After his conversion, Sammy Davis, Jr. refused to work on the most solemn day
of the Jewish year, Yom Kippur. Below is an anecdote when Davis refused to work
on Yom Kippur during the filming of the movie "Porgy and Bess."
The director of the movie got angry and called
the legendary producer Samuel Goldwyn. Goldwyn immediately called Sammy and
wanted to know if it was true about his refusing to work. Sammy said that,
as a Jew he could not work on the Day of Atonement. There was silence for
a moment, with Goldwyn no doubt noting that stopping production would cost
$30,000, a large sum then. Finally, Goldwyn (who was also Jewish) said, "Bless
you." Production on the film was stopped for Yom Kippur.
Ivanka Trump – The former model and current vice president
of real estate development and acquisitions at the Trump Organization converted
to Judaism in July 2009 , taking the name Yael. Her decision to convert, after
studying with Rabbi Elie Weinstock from the Modern Orthodox Ramaz School, was
in honor of her relationship with boyfriend Jared Kushner, a Jewish businessman
whom she subsequently married in an Orthodox marriage ceremony officiated by
Rabbi Haskel Lookstein of Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun. In January 2011, the
couple announced they were expecting their first child together.
ELVIS PRESLEY AND HIS JEWISH ROOTS
Elvis Presley learned that he was Jewish by way of way of maternal descent
– his mother was half Jewish and half Indian. While Presley did not embrace
his Jewish birthright until years later, details of his mother’s heritage
was recounted in the book, “Elvis
and Gladys,” by historian and biographer Elaine Dundy. Below
are a few interesting excerpts from the book:
..After his mother died, Elvis personally sought
to design his beloved mother’s grave site which included a Star of David
on Gladys Love Presley's tombstone. The decision was made by him in honor
of his Jewish heritage. Something his mother was proud of and acknowledged
to Elvis at a very early age.
Later in life, when Elvis discovered the teachings
of Judaism, Zen Buddhism and the occult teachings through his hairdresser
Larry Geller he became familiar with the Hebrew alphabet and its symbols.
From then on part of his on-stage wardrobe throughout most of 1977 Elvis wore
a "Chai" necklace. When Charlie Hodge asked Elvis why this particular
piece of jewelry was so important, Elvis replied, "I don’t want
to miss out on goin' to heaven on a technicality." Note that two letters
form Chai, the Hebrew word for 'life.'
OTHER FAMOUS PEOPLE WHO CONVERTED TO JUDAISM
- Tom Arnold - Actor
- Elizabeth Banks - Actress
- Campbell Brown – American television news reporter
- Kate Capshaw - Actress
- Connie Chung – American television journalist
- Jim Croce – Singer songwriter
- Isla Fisher – Model and actress
- Mary Hart - American television personality, long-time host of Entertainment
- Mathilde Krim - Founder of AmFar
- Dr. Laura – American radio personality
- Elliot Maddox - former Major League Baseball Player
- Anne Meara - Actress