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!
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • A grumpy Jewish grandfather is wary of his granddaughter's celebrating Easter with the in-laws. But the Seesaw says it might just make her appreciate Judaism more. What do you think?
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • What can we learn from tragedies like the rampage in suburban Kansas City? For one thing, we must keep our eyes on the real threats that we as Jews face.
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • "Sometime in my childhood, I realized that the Exodus wasn’t as remote or as faceless as I thought it was, because I knew a former slave. His name was Hersh Nemes, and he was my grandfather." Share this moving Passover essay!
  • Getting ready for Seder? Chag Sameach! http://jd.fo/q3LO2
  • "We are not so far removed from the tragedies of the past, and as Jews sit down to the Seder meal, this event is a teachable moment of how the hatred of Jews-as-Other is still alive and well. It is not realistic to be complacent."
  • Aperitif Cocktail, Tequila Shot, Tom Collins or Vodka Soda — Which son do you relate to?
  • Elvis craved bacon on tour. Michael Jackson craved matzo ball soup. We've got the recipe.
  • This is the face of hatred.
  • What could be wrong with a bunch of guys kicking back with a steak and a couple of beers and talking about the Seder? Try everything. #ManSeder
  • BREAKING: Smirking killer singled out Jews for death in suburban Kansas City rampage. 3 die in bloody rampage at JCC and retirement home.
  • Real exodus? For Mimi Minsky, it's screaming kids and demanding hubby on way down to Miami, not matzo in the desert.
  • 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.