Actress Elizabeth Banks on Converting to Judaism

This past weekend, I finally watched Pitch Perfect, a hilarious take on the world of college a cappella. In addition to bringing back a ton of memories from my days in the Golden Blues at the University of Delaware (Go Blue Hens!), it also reminded me how much I enjoy Elizabeth Banks, who is also one of the movie’s producers.

As luck would have it, the Hunger Games actress and UPenn grad was recently interviewed by Marc Maron for his WTF Podcast, which I learned about thanks to an article by writer Stephanie Butnick which highlights the fact that Banks is a Jew-by-choice. Banks, raised a Catholic in Massachusetts, married a Jewish man, and eventually converted. But, Maron asks, “are you, like, officially a Jew?” Banks replies, “I’m not officially stamped, but by all accounts yes…My kids go to Jewish pre-school, we only celebrate Jewish holidays, I love seder…Frankly, because I’m already doing everything, I feel like I’m as Jewish as I’m ever going to be.” She goes on to say:

“No religion meant as much to me as Judaism meant to my husband,” Banks explains. There were also the in-laws. “We got married after 10 and a half years, and for the first five years I’m positive that his father did not learn my last name,” she says. “I’m positive that his dad was like, ‘This is Portnoy’s Complaint…my son will marry a Jewish girl.” (Of course, what they really cared about was the grandkids. “My kids are Jewish, so they’re happy,” she explains.)

She went through the conversion process, studying with different rabbis. “I did not have my mikveh, so technically I’m not converted,” she admits, but it’s only because she was never in L.A. long enough at one time to have done what she calls the 11-week “You’re a Jew now class.” And she’s been practicing Judaism for so long at this point, she explains, that finalizing the institutional process seems more like a needless formality than anything else.

Banks’ interview raises several important topics we often see discussed on our Grandparents Circle and Mothers Circle listserves, and hear about from facilitators of the courses. From pleasing the Jewish in-laws to being considered a “real Jew,” Banks comes across as confident with her Jewish self, which is an important piece when converting and/or raising a Jewish family. It’s also important to talk about one’s experience, so we’re happy to see Banks discussing her background and family life with Maron so openly.

As a Jewish community, we need to create safe spaces for these conversations to take place, just as The Mothers Circle and Grandparents Circle do. And it is important that celebrities like Banks share their stories, so that everyone feels more comfortable doing so. With an open dialogue comes an open tent, which is exactly what the Jewish community needs.

Originally posted on


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