Harvey Fierstein Gets 'Kinky' and Discusses His Jewish Roots

Broadway Star Says Theater Is His True Religion

Trial by Fierstein: The Tony Award-winning actor and author grew up attending a Conservative synagogue in Brooklyn.
Getty Images
Trial by Fierstein: The Tony Award-winning actor and author grew up attending a Conservative synagogue in Brooklyn.

By Simi Horwitz

Published April 11, 2013, issue of April 19, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 3)

What was your family life like?

My father died when I was in my early 20s. Also, because he was brought up in an orphanage, he wanted a family and had strong family feelings. There was us and there was them, meaning we can fight with each other, but outside we present a unified front.

Did you come from a strong Jewish background?

We belonged to the Conservative temple [in Brooklyn], though not strictly kosher, which got looser and looser as the years went on and modernity came upon us. My brother and I had bar mitzvahs and that was sort of the end of it for me. I’m now an atheist.

What led you to your atheism?

I left my neighborhood when I was in ninth grade and went to the High School of Art & Design. I was exposed to a mix of cultures, lots of different religions and beliefs. I was a spiritual kid and went to Indian powwows and Buddhist temples. But over a period of time with reading and thinking I started to feel it was all so absurd: The whole idea of life after death is ridiculous. It’s the ultimate ego trip of man, as if we’re all so special we need to exist for eternity. How absolutely absurd!

How do you define your Jewishness today?

I don’t. I am. I don’t see it as my religion, but rather my ethnicity.

What was your parents’ response when you came out?

They always knew. When I was a little kid I wanted the doll and the carriage and they bought me the doll and the carriage. And they didn’t make any excuses when somebody on the street would say, “Why is he walking with a doll and carriage?” They would say, “Because he likes to.” That’s what I mean when I say I don’t have any of the issues [of the characters in the play]. But when I became sexually active, my father gently offered that maybe I wanted to visit [a female] prostitute and try it out just to see. But whatever pain they had, I was certainly spared from it.

Do you think your parents’ liberal responses emerged from their being Jewish?

I never had Italian or Catholic parents. I don’t know.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: 10,000 Israel supporters gathered for a solidarity rally near the United Nations in New York yesterday.
  • Step into the Iron Dome with Tuvia Tenenbom.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.