October 10, 2002
Religion Blossoms for Bialik
Mayim Bialik's nickname on campus is "Super Jew." The down-to-earth 26-year-old who starred for five years in the hit sitcom "Blossom" has ceased acting, focusing her attention instead on Judaism.
She is currently studying neuroscience for her graduate degree at a prestigious Southern California university, which she declined to name. As an undergraduate, the actress majored in neuroscience and minored in Hebrew and Jewish studies.
Bialik, who relishes Hebrew grammar, said, "I love to learn about the history of a language, and how it became the voice of a new generation in Israel."
Her devotion to Israel extends outside the classroom. "Every aspect of my life centers around Judaism and Israel," she said. "Israel is my home. I kiss the ground when I am there."
Unfortunately, Bialik said, aggressive anti-Israel groups fill the campus. She often finds herself defending Zionism and Israel to peers. "It is important to open communication with them," Bialik said.
The former actress is active in Hillel, where she began a Rosh Chodesh group. Bialik also regularly writes for the Hillel newspaper on campus, in which she discusses Judaism and feminism. Recently, with a friend, Bialik redesigned the siddur used for Hillel services. She is also a Hebrew teacher at a Hebrew school in Beverly Hills.
In addition, Bialik is the musical director for the Hillel a capella group. However, she is modest about her talents. Whenever anyone compliments Bialik on her "perfect-pitched" voice, she blushes and says, "You should tell my grandfather. My grandfather is the one with the voice. He has the voice of an angel."
Bialik is very close to her grandparents.
"My background has always humbled me. My grandparents were European immigrants who escaped the Holocaust. My mother's mom arrived in America on the last boat from the Czech-Hungary border. Her family didn't make it. My mother's father and my father's mother also escaped from Poland."
Bialik didn't go the way of many childhood stars, some overdosing on drugs, some in rehab, others never quite recapturing their glamorous youth. After impressing audiences in the 1988 film, "Beaches," starring Bette Midler and Barbara Hershey, Bialik was offered the title role in "Blossom." The sitcom, which ran from 1991 to 1995, centered on the title character's everyday challenges of growing up.
Looking back on the five years of the show, Bialik said, "Blossom was a wonderful experience for me. People often come up to me and really feel that they know me, because I was in their living room for a long time. I certainly would not be the same person I am today without the show."
At the show's completion, Bialik chose to take a different path in life: education.
"My parents were both teachers, and education was always significant in my family," Bialik said. "When I decided to go to college, I wanted to be completely immersed in it. I wanted to experience what life was like without the distractions of show business."
Bialik said her parents strongly believed in Jewish education and sent her to Hebrew school at Temple Israel of Hollywood as soon as she turned 4. She also attended camps Hilltop and Hess Kramer, where her love for Judaism deepened.
Although Bialik's mother raised her family Reform, Bialik now considers herself Conservative.
Many members of Bialik's family made aliyah to Israel, and Bialik visits Israel every two years. When she visited Israel this past June for a cousin's wedding, things were different.
"We didn't do anything. It is not the Israel that I want my kids to experience," she said. "But it felt really good just being there, going to the supermarket, buying stamps."
"I feel obligated to support my homeland both emotionally and financially," she said. "So, I run tzedakah programs, donate trees to Israel, raise money for Israel.
Despite her busy schedule, Bialik tries to find "at least one moment in a day where I can stop and look in awe at the creations of God. Every day, I try to appreciate the universe, science, nature and the human capacity for compassion."
Bialik, who has been dating her boyfriend for six years, hints that she will marry her "significant other" within the next couple of years.
The former actress is proud of all of her work for Israel and her love for Judaism, but she admits to a fault.
"You know," she said with a chuckle, "I hate gefilte fish. I don't have the Jewish fish gene. People always laugh that that is the most un-Jewish thing about me."
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