You probably know Mara Wilson as the star of Matilda (1996), the Danny DeVito-directed adaptation of Roald Dahl’s classic children’s novel, or as Robin Williams’ younger daughter in Mrs. Doubtfire (1993). You can know them too from Twitter– where Wilson, now 33, shares her ironic observations on politics and entertainment with more than half a million followers – or from her new memoir, Where am i now True stories about girls and accidental fame. But I wanted to speak to Wilson for a different reason: She’s a left wing millennial Jewish woman, and I thought she would offer a unique, but relatable perspective Jewish currents Reader.
The following conversation was handled easily. It originally appeared in yesterday’s email newsletter to which you can Subscribe here.
David Klion: Can you describe your Jewish upbringing in Southern California? How did your relationship with Judaism and Jewish identity change when you grew up?
Mara Wilson: I didn’t have the stereotypical White Ashkenazi LA experience. We weren’t rich and I didn’t go to huge bar mitzvahs or Jewish summer camps. My family was middle class and my father raised a Catholic. We lived in Burbank, which has maybe two synagogues, and I grew up with classmates who asked me, “Are you a Hebrew?”
I would describe us as Conservadox Jewish. We mostly kept kosher, mostly shabbos, my older brothers were bar mitzvahs, and we went two towns down to an Orthodox school. I remember when I learned the word “reform” I thought this was my immediate family because we weren’t as attentive as many other people in our school. Probably the funniest example of this is we always drive halfway to school, then get off and walk the rest of the way so it looks like we didn’t break shabbos by driving. But when I met real Reform Jews, I realized that we were definitely at least conservative.
Judaism was very important to my mother and I learned so much about it from her. But in the years after her death, I felt like I had slipped away. I think it’s partly the community I grew up in that was very rigid and could be bigoted and cruel, very different from what I experienced with my mother. There were some horrific moments: I remember a girl who told me I had to apologize to her immediately after a fight because otherwise Hashem would punish me and there was “already a great tragedy” in my family. I think that was one of the reasons I never had a bat mitzvah.
I became an atheist in my late teens, which was a big deal to me, but no big deal at all to my Jewish friends. Most of the Jews I knew in New York were atheists! But I think I realized that even most of the writers on science, philosophy, and atheism that I read and loved were Jews – Sagan, Spinoza, Emma Goldman, and so on. At least I’m still an agnostic, but it has become very important to me to learn more about Judaism and Jewish history and to watch the holidays. I wish I had a bat mitzvah, but luckily adults can have it too! Maybe I’ll have one if it’s safer to gather in groups again.
DK: You lived in both New York and Los Angeles. Most of the Jewish currents The staff, including me, are based in Brooklyn, and like many of our colleagues here, we are seeing a growing interest in and identification with the old Jewish left. Have you seen anything similar on the west coast? In your experience, how does the secular Jewish identity of our generation differ between these two cities?
MW: I think there is definitely a longer history of Jewish left activism in New York. I remember walking past the Workmen’s Circle one day in my early twenties and immediately knowing that I wanted to learn more. I looked it up online and was amazed that at the turn of the 20th century there was a Jewish society in New York that believed so much of what I was doing! I started to get more involved with the Bund and the Jewish Left, although I was still a little nervous about engaging in major activism. I wasn’t so sure of my beliefs yet. Instead, I mostly tried to make friends who believed what I was doing.
The thing about Los Angeles is that it’s not one city, it’s a lot of small towns. I think it is difficult for a united left Jewish community. I know there is a caucus of America’s Jewish Democratic Socialists – I’ve hung out with them before. I also know that there are many very advanced synagogues, some of which I have visited. But in my experience it’s not as united as the church in New York. I would LOVE if I proved wrong!
DK: You have been very progressive and supported Bernie Sanders. Her cousin, Jewish SoCal star Ben Shapiro, has polar opposite politicsand you made it clear in previous public comments that he and you have no relationship as adults. How did you pull yourself to the left?
MW: The Jewish community I grew up in was VERY politically conservative. There were many strong personalities and loud voices that seemed to drown everyone else. Until I was a teenager, I pretty much believed that all Jews were so conservative. I remember being shocked when I met Jews who voted for Gore over Bush – and they were Chabad Jews! The idea that you could be orthodox and liberal or even left had never crossed my mind; I thought everyone had the same specific beliefs and interpretations of Judaism that I grew up with. But I think working in film and theater allowed me to meet different types of Jews, as did moving to New York.
I think I was afraid of admitting any leftist tendencies for a long time. It was so at odds with my upbringing, and I was on a philanthropic stage so I was afraid I would be wrong! I wouldn’t even admit to being “liberal” and insist that I am “moderate” until my college friend, a left-wing East Coast Jew, got me to admit otherwise. In the past few years I’ve moved more and more to the left, and the more I’ve read about left-wing history of Judaism, the more I feel that I belong here.
It’s funny because people keep saying I’m “political” now, but I’ve never seen myself that way. I always thought that being “political” meant that you were a cheerleader for certain political candidates and parties and that you believed that what you believed was right. I’ve never been so sure, and I’ve found it dangerous to put anyone on a pedestal, let alone politicians. I just think I have a lot of compassion for people, regardless of their political beliefs or their origins, and I really just want justice and dignity and a future for the world. And I think Nazis should fuck off. I think that makes me a left Jew.
DK: It appears from previous interviews and your Twitter presence that you are very well adjusted and confident that many former child stars are often not viewed as fair or unfair by the general public. What do you attribute that to in your background, your upbringing or your values? Or do you think that’s even a fair perception of you or other former child stars?
MW: I take it as a compliment, but I think it’s a little unfair to other child actors. I know the tremendous pressure they are under, and it might as well have been me if my circumstances had been a little different. People have told me that I was “fine”, but who ever really “turned out”? Yes, I am an adult now, but I am constantly learning and changing. There is no point in your life where you are “revealed” and complete.
However, I think there are essential things that child actors need to be happy with themselves. You need a family who loves them unconditionally, and they need to be able to get out once it is no longer fun. They need parents or guardians who know where they are and who they are with at all times, and they need studio teachers to take care of their education (I was very lucky there). They need friends who are not actors and they need to be reminded that they are only kids. They also need to know that fame doesn’t last forever, that it grows and wanes, and that there must be other things they want to do that they can be passionate about. (I’ll describe this in a little more detail Showbiz kids, the HBO documentary I recently made, directed by Alex Winter. I don’t think I would have done it if it hadn’t been done by a former child actor.)
I think I was very lucky and my parents did a lot to keep me safe and grounded. For one, they never touched my money: the understanding was that everything was for college and my adult life. They also prioritized my education, let me share a room with my sister, and made my brothers’ track meetings and my sister’s art classes as important as my auditions and premieres. They took my career seriously but made sure I enjoyed it and made sure I was fine taking some time off. They encouraged me to be creative in other ways and find interests other than acting, and they always encouraged me to write. My siblings were and are also a great source of support.
DK: I know you worked with Danny DeVito, one of those rare Hollywood stars who seems to be an outspoken leftist and a fan of both Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn. Do you and he ever talk politics? Have you influenced each other?
MW: I think it influenced me, although I don’t know if I noticed it then! Danny and Rhea Perlman have been to me as a fun uncle and aunt, and they have always been very giving, compassionate people. Danny and I didn’t talk politics in 2020, despite the last time we saw him, and we share a lot of beliefs. I was so happy to see he was a Bernie devotee too! I think too when you look at it Matildait has a pretty progressive message. It’s about kids banding together to defeat a tyrant. It is about “chosen family” and about standing up against injustice and authoritarianism. It’s about using knowledge and learning, but also anger and passion, to do the right thing. It’s pretty brave!
David Klion is the newsletter editor for Jewish currents.
Note: We are not the author of this content. For the Authentic and complete version,
Check its Original Source