20 Black Celebrities With Jewish Roots

On the Jewish holiday, we look at blacks who have a close relationship with Judaism.

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    Black and Jewish

    The Root takes a look at black celebs with Jewish roots. While some are Orthodox, practicing Jews, and others descendants from a Jewish lineage, they each lend credence to the relationship between black and Jewish communities. Check out 20 black celebrities with connections to Judaism (and here’s a little parody to put it all in perspective).

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    Amar'e Stoudemire

    The New York Knicks power forward greeted press after a 2010 trip to Israel sporting a white yarmulke and some new ink, a Star of David, on his left hand. But after media speculation and some dirt-digging, little has surfaced about Stoudemire’s Jewish roots, which supposedly come from his mother’s bloodline. According to Jewish law, if your mother’s Jewish, so are you. When asked about his 2010 birthright trip to Israel, Stoudemire said, “It’s very important for me to locate my culture … And, mission accomplished.”

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    Ben Harper

    While the neo-folk rocker’s mother Ellen Chase-Verdries is Jewish, Harper believes that his religious ties and cultural identities shouldn’t pigeonhole him. “My mother is Jewish and my father is black and I don’t have claims to anyone anywhere. I’m ready to be proud of my culture but I’m not ready for my culture to become segregation,” Harper told One Way magazine.

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    Boris Kodjoe

    German-Ghanaian actor and model Kodjoe’s Jewish great-grandmother died in the Holocaust, while his grandmother survived by hiding throughout World War II. The verdict’s out on whether or not Kodjoe keeps up with his Jewish roots at home with former Soul Food co-star and wife Nicole Ari Parker Kodjoe and their two children.

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    Shawn Stockman and Wanya Morris of Boyz II Men

    Even some of us at The Root were a little surprised to find out that two members of the quartet-turned-trio Boyz II Men are black Hebrew Israelites, a group of mainly African Americans who claim to have ancient Israelite ancestry. Morris was caught on the street rocking a Star of David necklace, while Stockman’s life as an Israelite made headlines for more scandalous reasons.

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    Craig David

    The 30-year-old English R&B crooner’s maternal grandfather practiced Orthodox Judaism, and David’s grandmother converted to Judaism after meeting him. According to a 2008 article in the London-based Jewish Chronicle, David “could not be more Jewish if he hung a Star of David round his neck and spent Friday nights saying kiddush.”

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    Drake

    Rapper Drake, otherwise known as Aubrey Graham — or for fans of Degrassi: The Next Generation, Jimmy Brooks — grew up with his Jewish mother in Toronto. He covered the December 2010 issue of Vibe wearing a necklace featuring the Hebrew character for life. But, even though Drake attended Jewish day school and had a bar mitzvah, Jewish rapper Matisyahu still isn’t convinced, calling Drake’s Jewishness “just a by-product.”

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    Goapele

    Soul songstress Goapele’s mother Noa is an Israeli Jew who met Goapele’s South African father during anti-apartheid demonstrations in the 1970s. While the singer grew up with some Jewish traditions, Goapele told MVRemix that she wasn’t very religious growing up. “It’s more of a cultural kind of thing and just about my family history that I identify with,” she said.

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    Jackie Wilson

    R&B-soul powerhouse Wilson converted to Judaism as an adult; however, little is known about why the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer decided to convert.

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    Lauren London

    The ATL starlet’s father is Jewish. According to Jewish law, or halakha, the religion is passed down from one’s mother — meaning London isn’t an automatic Jew. But she definitely takes pride in her Jewish roots, telling Complex magazine, “I’m the little half-black, half-Jewish girl who was odd and awkward.”

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    Lenny Kravitz

    Kravitz’s father, filmmaker and NBC news producer Sy Kravitz, comes from a Russian-Jewish background; his Bahamian mother, The Jeffersons actress Roxie Roker, is not Jewish, which means Kravitz isn’t a hereditary Jew by Orthodox standard.

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    Lisa Bonet

    Bonet, aka Denise Huxtable or Lilakoi Moon, claims her Jewish roots from her mother Arlene’s side. Bonet told Essence in 1990 that her relationship with then-hubby Lenny Kravitz had a lot to do with religion. “It was interesting when we were first finding out about each other, that our backgrounds were so similar. When I first told him my mom was Jewish, and he said ‘So’s my dad,’ I thought that was both unusual and enchanting.”

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    Maya Rudolph

    Funny woman Rudolph’s father, composer and musician Richard Rudolph, perhaps the lesser-known of Rudolph’s parents (her mom is Minnie Riperton), is an Ashkenazi Jew. We’re unsure whether or not the Bridesmaids star celebrates Hanukah or Passover with her husband, filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson, and their three kids.

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    Meagan Good

    Actress Good’s grandmother is Jewish and African, according to DallasBlack.com, but she seems to be Christian all the way. She told the website that Jesus tops her hero list and the last book she read was the Bible.

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    Nell Carter

    The late Carter converted to Judaism in the 1980s while married to her first husband, George Krynicki, who was Jewish. Rumor has it that Carter was a devout Jew, visiting the Western Wall in Jerusalem, as well as attending temple services regularly.

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    Rashida Jones

    Jones, the offspring of music mogul Quincy Jones and actress Peggy Lipton, was raised Jewish, even attending Hebrew school. Growing up biracial in Beverly Hills, Calif., had its rough patches, according to Jones, who connected to her Jewish roots while in high school. “We had a group of friends who were Jewish so I naturally gravitated toward that culturally and religiously, which was cool because I didn’t have a bat mitzvah. I left Hebrew school when I was 10 because the girls were kind of snotty and I hadn’t gone back to exploring it,” she told American Jewish Life magazine.

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    Sammy Davis Jr.

    The poster child for African-American Jews, Davis converted to Judaism after a nearly fatal car accident in 1954. “I became a Jew because I was ready and willing to understand the plight of a people who fought for thousands of years for a homeland, giving their lives and bodies, and finally gaining that homeland,” he told Time in 1960.

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    Sean Paul

    While Jamaican reggae superstar Paul’s father is part Sephardic Jew, the dancehall rapper was raised Catholic on the outskirts of Kingston. But he apparently matriculated from Hillel Academy on the Caribbean island. Paul, accompanied by Israeli soldiers, paid homage to his Jewish roots by praying at Jerusalem’s Western Wall in 2007.

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    Shyne

    Belizean-born rapper Shyne reconnected with his Jewish roots after a prison sentence he served for a New York club shooting in 1999. Changing his legal name to Moses Michael Levi, Shyne moved to Jerusalem after his release. He currently lives there, observing Orthodox Judaism. In July, Shyne signed a deal with Cash Money Records. We’re sure he’ll be dropping dope verses in between studying up on the Torah.

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    Tracey Ellis Ross

    Ross, known best as Joan in her seminal role on Girlfriends, was born Tracee Joy Silberstein, the last name coming from her Jewish father, Robert Ellis Silberstein. In her youth, Ross changed her last name to that of her mother, superstar Diana Ross. Ross also made her Hollywood debut as a Jewish-black woman in the 1996 film Far Harbor.

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    Zab Judah

    Boxing champion Judah grew up Jewish, his father a devout black Hebrew Israelite. But Judah ruffled a few feathers when he gave props to his “Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” after winning a 2005 match. “Well, the Jewish part of my life, I was born into it,” he told AOL in 2010. “As I got older, you know, I just started to figure out what was what. I went ahead and I picked Jesus Christ.”