Comedian and actress Tiffany Haddish had her Bat Mitzvah when she turned 40 years old. Since then, she has shared her experience learning new Jewish traditions and connecting with her roots.
A Bar or Bat Mitzvah is usually a ceremony that occurs when a Jewish child turns 13. It’s a coming-of-age ritual in the Jewish community. But for Haddish, it was a way of celebrating her unique identity. She was a fast learner and Rabbi Susan Silverman — Sarah Silverman’s sister — noted that Haddish took the entire thing “so seriously.”
She said: “I’ve never seen someone so happy to be Jewish — and I’m from Israel.”
Tiffany Haddish: From Bad Trip to Bat Mitzvah
Haddish didn’t know she was Jewish until later in life. She may have not gone to Sunday School as a child or celebrated Hanukkah while growing up, but Haddish embraced her roots in recent years after finding out she was Jewish at 27 years old. That’s when she met her father, an Eritrean Jew, for the first time and learned of his struggles.
He was unfortunately not alive to see her Bat Mitzvah in 2019.
Haddish had no prior Jewish education and had to start from the basics when she decided to pursue getting a Bat Mitzvah. That included learning the Hebrew alphabet. She was tutored by Silverman between takes on the set of the rom com Here Today. Despite her late start and busy lifestyle, Haddish was learning very quickly.
Haddish not only read her Torah portion in Hebrew, but gave a very personal dvar Torah about the versus. She talked about being Jewish all along despite not knowing it and even brought up some sensitive memories about her family and growing up in foster care.
The party that followed was an extravagant one full of fellow comedians. She was carried in on a chair to the song “Hava Nagila” and also performed her own rap later in the night. Haddish told guests in a speech that she had “Finally come into my full-grown womanhood.”
Tiffany HadDish Continues To Practice Judaism
For Tiffany Haddish, being Jewish wasn’t just about getting a Bat Mitzvah. She has been embracing her culture ever since.
Ever since her Bat Mitzvah in 2019, Haddish has spent about 30 minutes “every single day” reading and learning about Jewish traditions. She also has Shabbat dinners every Friday. Haddish also hangs out with her rabbi and is always asking questions.
“I’m getting emotional, but I think the things I’ve been through in life, I wouldn’t have been able to get through without my loyalty to G-d,” Haddish said in an interview with Time.
Haddish expressed that having Judaism when she was a teenager — a tumultuous time in her life — would have really helped her. She said that she wished she had a rabbi to talk to back then. She even said that she would have loved going to Hebrew School. Being in foster care as a teen, school was often the only place where she felt safe and normal.
What Is an Eritrean Jew?
Eritrea is a Northern African country that once had a quite large Jewish community. Many Jews were migrating to Eritrea to escape prosecution, including European Jews in the 1930s.
Many Jews ended up emigrating to Israel when the country was founded as a Jewish state in 1948. By 1950, there were about 500 Jews living in Eritrea. When the Eritrea War of Independence started in 1961, more Jews fled the country to escape the increased violence. By 1975, only 150 Jews were in Eritrea.
Eritrea gained independence in 1993, but only a handful of Jews remained at this point. In present day, there was on native Jew left, Sami Cohen. Judaism is not one of the four religions recognized by the Eritrean government but Jews are free to worship in the country.
What Other Black Celebrities Are Jewish?
When Haddish first had her Bat Mizvah, many black Jewish people expressed excitement at having representation. It can be difficult to navigate being Jewish and a person of color, but Haddish stated in a stand-up routine: “I have no problem saying: This is where I’m supposed to be. I’m supposed to be here!”
Tiffany Haddish isn’t the only black Jewish celebrity. In fact, another famous comedian, Eric Andre, is black and Jewish. Andre was born in Boca Raton, Florida to a Jaitian father and an Ashkenazi Jewish mother. He’s discussed his identity in standup and on the Eric Andre Show.
When Joan Rivers asked if he identified as Jewish, Andre said: “Yeah, I’m so neurotic. I’m like Larry David on the inside of this. You should see me on a [first] date… I’m swallowing involuntary… I’ll go to the bathroom every five minutes, I have napkins piled up because I’m drying my hands off, I’m reading the Torah, lighting a menorah…”
Singer and model Zoë Kravitz, daughter of Lenny Kravitz, is another famous black Jew who has proudly discussed her identity. Both Lenny Kravitz and his wife Lisa Bonet are half black and half Jewish and Kravitz calls herself “mixed.”
Kravitz identifies as a secular Jew and has recently spent a lot of time exploring her black roots. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, an area heavily populated by Orthodox Jews. She also played Catwoman in The Batman, a character inspired by Ruth Steel, the cousin of Batman’s Jewish co-creator Bob Kane.
Fellow singer Doja Cat (Amala Ratna Zandile Dlamini) is also black and Jewish. Her mother is an Ashkenazi Jew and her father is from South Africa. When she first popped onto the music scene with her viral meme songs, Doja Cat said that she identifies as Jewish.
Rapper Aubrey Drake Graham — known as Drake — is black and Jewish as well. Born in Toronto, Drake’s father is black and his mother is Ashkenazi Jewish. Drake has embraced his Jewish roots, even getting his own Bar Mitzvah later in life like Haddish.
“I live in an all Jewish area, Forest Hill… I went to a predominantly Jewish school going up. I had a Bar Mitzvah in an Italian restaurant, mind you… A very nice Italian restaurant. I was in there… I was in synagogue, I had my yarmulke on…” Drake said in an early interview.
Drake also admitted that he “cheated” during his first Bar Mitzvah. He was able to collect his money from relatives without studying his Torah portion. This explains why Drake had a second Bar Mitzvah in recent years.