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Jewish Actress Elizabeth Banks Discusses Her Conversion With Marc Maron

Actress Elizabeth Banks, most recently seen in The Hunger Games and Pitch Perfect (which she produced with her husband), sat down with Marc Maron this week for his WTF Podcast, and their conversation was pretty interesting. Banks is sharp and funny and calls the Olsen twins elves. She also opens up about her working-class Catholic upbringing in Pittsfield, MA, and eventual conversion to Judaism.

“So you met a Jew at Penn,” Maron offers a little after the 30 minute (!) mark.

“Yeah, it’s real hard,” she quips. “It’s like, throw a dart.”

There were a few Jewish kids at her high school, she explains, but most of them lived on the other side of town and went to a different middle school, so she didn’t meet them until they got to high school—which meant no bar mitzvahs for her, sadly.

“So how’d you make the ship from Jesus to Jew?” Maron asks at minute 35.

The story is sweet. Banks met Max Handelman, her future husband, her first day at college. They kept running into each other, and one night she ended up at one of his AEPi frat parties. (She says the ZBT guys were douches from Long Island who all work on Wall Street now. Also I love her.) They went on a date to a jazz club in Philly—it was one of her first rides in a taxi—where they drank bourbon and didn’t get carded. She made the first move, “and then it just went from there.”

“Now was there pressure on you to be a Jew?” Maron asks, before calling Banks a “shiksa goddess Jew.” (“People love that when the shiksas come over,” she fires back.)

“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.

“I’ve been essentially a Jew for like 15 years,” she says. “I haven’t had a Christmas tree in 15 years.”

“But are you like, officially a Jew?” Maron prods.

“I’m not officially stamped, but by all accounts yes,” she explains. “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.”

It’s a very Jewish way of thinking, actually. Consider yourself at home, Banks.

Here are some other gems from the interview, which is really, really long, but totally worth it:

• She took Latin for six years: “I was a real nerdball,” she explains.

• She’s a TriDelt.

• She graduated Penn magna cum laude.

• She played Pontius Pilate in a high school performance of Jesus Christ Superstar.

• Her dream rom-com co-star? Channing Tatum: “I would work that.”

Listen to the full podcast here.

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