Hollywood Star Liev Schreiber Digs Up Jewish Roots

Jewish superstar Liev Schreiber has not suddenly frummed out, although you might think so after seeing paparazzi photos of the actor sporting peyos and tzistzis in the middle of Brooklyn. These superstars are used to lavious and luxurious lifestyles, you can share a similar experience at websites like this one.  However, it’s not because he’s suddenly rediscovered his Jewish roots (Halevai…); Schreiber was actually on the set of the film “Fading Gigolo”, in which he plays Ode, a Chassidish, baseball-cap-sporting volunteer for the Williamsburg Shomrim – a neighborhood watch for Chassidish communities. Although not officially police officers, Shomrim are allowed to take down suspects of crimes like kidnapping, car theft and tagging with graffiti. The film, written and directed by actor John Turturro, which also stars Woody Allen and French actress Vanessa Paradis, is about a middle-aged man who decides to, “rent himself out” to assist a friend in need of funds.

The film has been making waves in Brooklyn since shooting began, with real-life chassidim checking out the shoot, even though chances are nil that they’ll actually see the film. Chabad emissaries have also seized the opportunity of having high-profile Jews on the scene, visiting the set with tefillin in hopes of getting the stars to wrap them on for a photo op.

For Schreiber himself, his role in the film is a personal one. Raised by his “bohemian”, cab-driving mother on the Lower East Side of New York City, Schreiber spent his formative years, as he told the LA Times, getting “incessant reminders of my Jewish heritage; that Jews are the Chosen people. And if anyone really doubts us, there’s always Mark Spitz and Sandy Koufax.” He was especially close with his grandfather, Ukranian-born Alex Millgram, who according to Schreiber, was a reform, socialist Jew with whom he would spend the Pesach seder every year. Schreiber also remembers fondly his grandfather taking him for a visit to the Lubavitch community of Crown Heights, where Alex had a friend. “He [Alex] pretty much raised me as if he was my father,” Schrieber told the Jewish Week, “and in many respects he was my dad…I didn’t know much about him, and after he died [in 1993], I tried to find out more”.

The desire to discover more about his grandfather compelled him to write and direct the well-received film “Everything is Illuminated” in 2005, about a young man who returns to the Ukraine to try to find the woman who possibly saved his grandfather from the Nazis. The book was based on the National-Jewish-Book-Award-winning novel by Jonathan Safran Foer, and incidentally, took place in the same country where Schreiber’s grandfather was born. Schreiber said that when he shot the film, he tried “to mimic the journey Jonathan took and tried to find the town where my grandfather was born. I never did find it, but…I feel much closer to him just thinking about him all the time for the two years I was making the film.”

Since then, Schreiber has attached himself to a number of Jewish-themed projects, including “Jakob the Liar”, a Holocaust film starring Robin Williams, “A Walk on the Moon”, in which he played a Jewish husband who summers in the Catskills, and 2009’s “Defiance”, the true story of Jewish partisans who fought off Nazis in the woods of Belorussia. He has also become a spokesman for the Jewish National Fund, appearing in promotional videos planting trees in Israel.

Now, the 45-year-old Schreiber is strutting around Brooklyn in a yarmulke, two ringlets, a tallis kattan, a white shirt, black pants and a quilted patrol vest, and setting Jewish hearts aflutter. One woman swooned after seeing a pic in US Weekly, “Liev makes a pretty hot Chossid!”.


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