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.
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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.
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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.


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