July 15, 2008
Tales from the crib: Jolie’s Jewish ob-gyn speaks
NICE, France (JTA)—Angelina Jolie brought her twins into the world on Shabbat.
That fact may have been overlooked last Saturday by the thousands of media outlets covering the birth, which took place at Lenval Hospital’s Santa Maria Clinic.
But the timing did not escape Dr. Michel Sussmann, Jolie’s Jewish obstetrician.
Sussmann, a former vice president of Nice’s Jewish community whose daughter lives in Israel, basked in the media spotlight after he delivered the world’s two most widely anticipated newborns, Knox Leon and Vivienne Marcheline, the children of actors Jolie and Brad Pitt.
“The delivery was very emotional and exceptional as Ms. Jolie is a superstar, but I think that it happened on Shabbat made it that much more moving,” Sussmann said during an exclusive interview with JTA at his office in one of this city’s most elegant Art Nouveau districts.
“It was not an easy operation—a second cesarean with twins is difficult—but it went perfectly and they are so cute.”
Sussman said the twins, each approximately 5 pounds at birth, are in ideal health.
The paparazzi and untold millions of people around the world still await a glimpse of the cuteness that Sussmann and only a handful of others have seen.
With the first exclusive photographs of the twins reportedly worth as much as $16 million - People and OK! magazine are rumored to be the top bidders—the babies are being as closely guarded as the identity of the Mossad’s top secret agent. Jolie and Pitt have said they will donate the photos’ proceeds to charity.
Sussmann, 56, became the obstetrician for Jolie several months ago, a secret he kept until Jolie entered the Nice clinic June 30.
Though the movie star’s twin births were exciting, Sussmann said it wasn’t the most momentous moment of his life.
That came a few years ago when Sussmann took a call from Israeli-American violinist virtuoso Itzhak Perlman about Sussmann’s son Arnaud, 23, a violinist who recently graduated from the Juilliard School in New York.
Perlman told Sussmann, “I want your son to come study with me.”
Sussmann’s daughter Laura, 27, also lives far from the doctor and his wife, Juliette, a Moroccan Jew who also is a physician.
Laura made aliyah after enduring daily anti-Semitic diatribes during the height of the second intifada, when she was attending school in Paris, Sussmann said. She now lives in Tel Aviv and works in high-tech. His daughter Clara is a student at Columbia University.
Sussmann, who lives in Nice, says he has encountered no anti-Semitism in the Nice area, which is home to some 30,000 Jews.
“Far from it—most patients ask for Jewish doctors,” he said half-jokingly.
Sussmann told JTA that Jolie chose him because she had a friend who had been his patient. The Jolie-Pitt clan, including four other children aged 4 to 6, is living in a 35-room chateau in Provence.
This was Jolie’s second cesarean and she was carrying twins, so Sussmann—a very careful man, according to colleagues—requested that she come to the hospital and go on bed rest.
The energetic “Tomb Raider” actress and humanitarian had admitted openly that she found it difficult to resist horsing around with her brood even in the late stages of pregnancy.
Once his identity was known, Sussmann became the target of a Hollywood press inquisition: Why was Jolie in the hospital more than a month before her assumed due date? What does she eat? Do she and Brad really have fun together? And most importantly, when will she give birth?
Sussmann never broke patient-doctor confidentiality, taking the pressure in stride.
The Jolie-Pitt security team, which cost the power couple millions of dollars per month, also didn’t faze him. Sussman recalled Russian patients with a bodyguard retinue of as many as 19; a mere two guards kept intruders from bothering Jolie.
“Jolie and Pitt were always laughing and having a good time together, even during the birth operation,” he said.
Before the delivery Alain Treisser, the head of the maternity unit at the prestigious Prince Grace Hospital, told Touch Weekly magazine, “I think Sussmann will be great for the job because he is tough and has strong nerves.”
Like several doctors in the south of France, all of whom seem to know each other, Treisser is Jewish. So are several colleagues at the Santa Maria Clinic.
Though they are not regular synagogue goers, Sussmann said he and and his wife study Jewish thought once a month with an Orthodox rabbi. They’re also committed to supporting Israel.
Some other interesting Jolie Jewish connections: Michael Latz, the mayor of Correns, the town of 800 where Jolie and Pitt reside, is Jewish—possibly the only Jewish mayor in all of Provence. Latz is also expected be Pitt’s business partner, since his estate and the Pitt-Jolie vineyard, Miraval, cooperate in the production of organic wine.
Jolie’s father, the actor Jon Voight, is a major supporter of Chabad. On a visit to Israel two months ago, Voight met with terrorism victims in Sderot and expressed his opposition to negotiations with the Palestinians.
Sussmann said he never discussed his religion—or any other personal matters - with Jolie.
“I am her doctor; I don’t want to be her friend,” he said. “We had an excellent rapport. She is so, so nice and never complained about anything. There are negative things sometimes written about her on the Internet, but don’t believe them.”
Some of Sussmann’s colleagues, rather than expressing enthusiasm for Jolie’s choice of doctor, privately questioned the pick. In off-the-record interviews with JTA, several expressed disappointment that they had not been chosen.
Sussmann says he isn’t surprised.
“There is the French problem of envy,” he said, “and it may be one reason why my three children live abroad.”
Envy notwithstanding, Sussmann says he is delighted to have played a role in what many are calling the celebrity birth of the decade.