Mayim Bialik on Being Jewish in Hollywood
Photo Courtesy of American Jewish University
By Allison Teegardin
Since American Jewish University (AJU) launched Maven in March 2020, they have hosted over 350 guests, including former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Jewish actor Julia Garner, Israel’s former ambassador to the United States Michael B. Oren, as well as many more. On Tuesday, December 6, 2022, AJU hosted one of its largest online events to date with actor, author, director, and neuroscience Ph.D. Mayim Bialik, attracting nearly 1500 people.
Hosted by AJU’s Chief Innovation Officer, Rabbi Sherre Hirsch, Bialik shared about her Jewish journey, antisemitism in the media, as well as her upcoming projects. Rabbi Hirsch began the event by asking Bialik about her Jewish identity and how she got her start in acting.
Bialik said she doesn’t believe her Jewish journey is any more special or unique than anyone else’s, stating, “My Jewish journey is special to me because it is mine.” However, she does recognize she is fortunate to be in a position and place where she gets to discuss it publicly. Bialik shared about her ancestors’ lives and journeys and how they came to live in America. Raised in a household with mixed Yiddish dialect, Bialik herself raised her children to speak both English and Yiddish.
Bialik shifted the conversation to talk about her start in Hollywood at the age of 11.5 years old. On the day of the premier of her first on-screen appearance, Bialik was also celebrating becoming bat mitzvah. “My bat mitzvah was a very important day for me, and it was a very interesting time in my life in terms of my career. My life was kind of never the same.” A few years later, Bialik landed the starring role in the hit TV series, Blossom, which aired until she was 19 years old. Following the conclusion of Blossom, Bialik attended the University of California, Los Angeles where she earned a bachelor of science degree in neuroscience, minors in Hebrew and Jewish Studies, and later, a Ph.D in neuroscience. She returned to the big screen for various roles, notably The Big Bang Theory and currently, Call me Kat as well as co-host of Jeopardy.
Expanding on being Jewish in Hollywood, Bialik discussed her decision to retain her name in an industry known to do the opposite, as well as outwardly expressing being Jewish. She said she doesn’t have an acting self and a private self; she is herself everywhere. With this has come dealing with antisemitism. “I feel grateful for my teachers who taught me not just how to respond to my critics but also being able to say, ‘I don’t get to tell you how to live your life but I do get to tell you why I observe Shabbat,’” Bialik said.
Even before she became a public figure, Bialik had experiences with antisemitism, even recalling cleaning swastikas off Bruins Walk in the 1990s. “I hate to say I am not terribly surprised, but this has been our reality for thousands of years. It didn’t take the recent events for antisemitism to exist,” Bialik said. “There are people who simply do not like Jews and do not want Jews to exist. It feels horrible. It is scary. We wanted to believe it has gone away but it hasn’t.” Doing what she can by not only speaking up against antisemitism in public but at home as well, Bialik says that she ensures the content her children see on social media doesn’t speak louder than what they discuss at the Shabbat table.
Rabbi Hirsch concluded the conversation by speaking to Bialik about her legacy and mission in life. “I want to leave this world a little more repaired than when I entered it,” Bialik shared. “That is straight from what our people have been told to do, and I believe that spiritually, historically, genetically, and culturally, I am connected to a legacy.”
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