Culture

Celebrity Bar Mitzvahs

In their new book "Mazel Tov," sisters Jill Rappaport and Linda Solomon deliver a funny, poignant look at 21 celebrity bar (and bat) mitzvah celebrations—embarrassing childhood photos included. A portion of the sales will support Jewish charities. Rappaport spoke with NEWSWEEK's Tony Dokoupil. Excerpts: 

What launched this project?
Jill Rappaport: I was watching "The View," and being that I'm Jewish I thought, "Wouldn't it be great to do a talk show called 'The Jew'." I'd get all Jewish hosts and, the way other shows cover A-list parties, we'd cover the "Bar Mitzvah of the Week." But the television executives I talked to were like, "Nice idea. Next!"

Maybe you would have had better luck with "Platinum Bar Mitzvah's"?
That would be hilarious. Especially if they gave it a 13-week run as a gesture to its 13-year-old stars. Anyway, out of that idea came this book. I had seen a lot of books on celebrities and bar mitzvahs but never a book combining the two.

But why combine them?
To see how that day pointed people down a particular path. These were budding stars, even at 13. They were already giving vivid hints about who they would become. That's what makes this book so special. Larry King said, "When I got up there and realized the power I had in front of an audience, it was just addicting." Michael Kors was so involved in every detail of that bar mitzvah, from the overall color scheme down to what his parents wore. This was a day when many of them realized that they wanted to address the public.

With so many famous Jews, how did you choose these 21?
With tenacity and chutzpah! I really wanted to run the gamut so that readers could understand that this day has profoundly affected these very famous people who are all very different. From business mogul Ron Perelman to [U.S. Sen.] Joseph Lieberman to ["Entourage" star] Jeremy Piven to designer Michael Kors to [NBC executive] Jeff Zucker. But it was difficult to book this book, no pun intended. Even though I'm asking people about a day they look back on fondly, it's a religious day and some people are not that open to talking about their religion.

Did anyone's answers surprise you?
I think every interview was profound in its own way. Some were serious; most are hilarious. We've got the "bark mitzvah." The woman who has no children but spent thousands of dollars to have her dogs, Arthur and Murray, go through the ceremony. And then we have a touching story like Marlee Matlin's, who is deaf and learned her Hebrew phonetically and cried tears of joy on the Torah, or Kirk Douglas's, who had a second bar mitzvah at 83 to honor his mother.

Is the bar mitzvah still an important rite of passage? I mean, you know the joke: 'When does a Jewish child become an adult? When he graduates from medical school.'
I think it's still at the forefront of a child's life. But you might have a point. Howie Mandel said to us, "I didn't understand. I looked in the mirror: I was four-foot-10. I lived at home with my parents. I didn't make any money. How did this make me a man?"