We are living in a period of heightened religious awareness. Our political leaders cite biblical verses and claim to act in the name of God. Popular magazines run cover stories on spirituality. From Chechnya to Iraq, from Rwanda to Bosnia, we've seen how ethnic loyalties can bring out the worst in people. What I've attempted to probe in this book is how those Jews who are major players on the stages of American politics, sports, business, and culture feel about their Jewish identity and how it plays out in their daily lives. Just as these public Jews have entered our collective consciousness through their outsized accomplishments and celebrity, we can find parts of ourselves in their honest, intimate personal stories.
Sarah Jessica Parker, whose father was Jewish, is eight months pregnant when I meet her, dressed in denim overalls and a black leotard, sitting in a Greenwich Village café near her new brownstone. She says that she and her husband, actor Matthew Broderick -- whose mother was Jewish -- are still not quite sure how they're going to raise their impending baby. "We happen to live next to a temple and I think it's really nice, and I wonder, 'What should we do?' " says Parker. " 'Should this child of ours have more religious education than we had?' Sometimes I think there's something attractive about Unitarianism. It's a little bit more progressive and philosophical. If I could apply that kind of approach -- what I understand it to be -- to being a Jew, that might feel right. I would like our child to have choices and know more than I've ever known about his or her religion. But Matthew doesn't know what he wants for this child and it's important to me that he feels comfortable."
It also gives Parker pause to realize how little she knows about Judaism. "I said to Matthew, 'If we went to this temple next door, where would we begin? We're so behind.' In temple, it seems like you have to know what you're doing. And it intimidates people; it certainly intimidates me. And I keep saying, `I'm not a religious person,' but I know that's not true; I know that I believe that there's somebody who watches over us and he or she takes care or not, or teaches us. I really do -- strangely enough–kind of cling to that. And I think that Matthew is as deeply as religious as I am, but he's cynical about it because he's seen that it can be so harmful and hurtful and destructive."
She says Broderick's ambivalence was evident when they were preparing the baby's room. "A dear friend of mine named Bettianne, who is Jewish, gave me a beautiful mezuzah; she got it at West Side Judaica. It has three little children on it and they're playing, sledding. I said, 'When we move into the new house, we'll put it up.' And I thought I'd told Matthew–I'm almost sure that I told him at one point–but when he heard me saying on the phone to Bettianne, 'When Matthew's home next week, we'll put the mezuzah up,' he said, 'What? We're not practicing Jews–we can't have a mezuzah in our home.' It seemed wrong to him. I said, 'It's not wrong. It's a really nice thought. It's just a gift to say, 'Safekeeping to you.'