Jewish Journal

Mayim Bialik Discusses Being Orthodox in Hollywood

by Susan Esther Barnes

March 20, 2013 | 8:00 am

This weekend I attended an event called, “Free Ranging Communities: Jewish Life in Marin and Hollywood” at the Osher Marin JCC in San Rafael. The keynote speaker was Mayim Bialik, of “Blossom” and “Big Bang Theory” fame.

What struck me the most as Bialik spoke was how refreshingly grounded and genuine she seems. She comes across as a person who is comfortable in her own skin, while acknowledging that who she is doesn’t always fit in with others in the industry in which she is working.

She spoke about the following seven values she carries with her:

First, she spoke about complex families. She called the Torah a “handbook for life” and pointed out there are many stories of dysfunctional family relationships in the first two books in the Torah. As a result, it sounds like she doesn’t expect herself or others to be perfect all the time.

The second value she holds is routine. In particular, she spoke about the routine of Shabbat, and how it reminds her that, from Friday night through Saturday, nobody else “owns” her. She doesn’t work, she turns off her electronics, and she engages with her family in a way that is difficult to do during the work week.

The third value is joy. In particular, she spoke about the joy of the holidays throughout the year.

Fourth is character. She voiced her desire to be honest and compassionate in her interactions with others. In particular, she spoke about the amount of deception and gossip contained in conversations in Hollywood, and how hard it is not to engage in lashon hara. She quite touchingly described how she will leave a conversation that turns to gossip, even though she thinks doing so makes her come off to others as unsocial or unfriendly.

She also spoke of modesty as part of this value. She does not wear pants outside of her home, she covers her elbows, her skirts are at least knee-length, and she doesn’t wear anything with a plunging neckline. She lamented that when she was nominated for an Emmy, her standards of dress made it difficult to find and appropriate dress for the ceremony. Many designers, she said, would not supply a dress that fit her needs.

Next, she spoke about otherness. Despite the fact that there are plenty of Jews in Hollywood, very few are Orthodox. Thus, she says, especially in the fall, people think she’s making up holidays. She talked about the tension created when others want her to work on days on which work is forbidden.

The sixth value she spoke about is God. She regularly studies Torah and engages in others with conversation about God.

Last but not least, she mentioned Israel as a value. She has family there, and goes there every other year.

The most quotable moment of the day came when she exclaimed, “I was not put on this planet to win an Emmy.” Rather, she says, she was put here to pass on to her children the traditions that people have died for over thousands of years. That certainly sounds like a fine purpose to me.

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Susan Esther Barnes is a religious Reform Jew who can regularly be seen greeting people at her synagogue before services. She is a founding member of her synagogue’s chevra...

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