Skip To Content

How Should We Feel About Natalie Portman Getting a Christmas Tree?

A commenter to my earlier post about Natalie Portman getting her first Christmas tree writes:

“This is what the Forward loves, Jews that celebrate Christmas. Shame on her, a Solomon Schechter graduate who celebrates that holiday and desires a tree. The Forward hates Ivanka because she conve[r]ted to Modern Orthodoxy Judaism and [is] raising her children as Jews.”

I have a few things to say about this, the first being that this post came from moi, Sisterhood Editor and long-time Portman-news-follower, not from the publication as a whole. So let’s assume this commenter is referring to me, and to my Sisterhood posts. Let’s also set aside the question of whether my Ivanka-criticism is because she’s an observant Jew, or a convert to Judaism. Rest assured that my issue with Ivanka is not that she’s Jewish (consider the source!) but rather her past-and-present role in helping her father with his now-imminent presidency.

No, what I’d like to focus on is this notion that there was “love” expressed for Natalie Portman’s tree remarks. Because, frankly, I found it unsettling.

What I found unsettling, to be clear, wasn’t the fact that her husband isn’t Jewish, or that she celebrates her own as well as her spouse’s traditions. I’m a firm believer both that individuals should make the personal and religious choices they see fit, and that what celebrities say on talk shows is persona-creation — that is, a performance, not sworn testimony about their private lives.

Rather, was the context — Trump as president-elect, and the accompanying rise of the so-called “alt-right”; Jimmy Fallon — altering what might have felt, at any other point in American Jewish history, like an innocuous moment of self-deprecation. Do all Jews, as in literally all Jews, dream of having literal Christmas trees? No. (If nothing else, those of us with small dogs determined to pull things down are likely a bit averse.) But what of it? Portman was making a lighthearted, talk-show-compatible remark about being a member of a minority religious tradition, and how Christmas is, for Jews in America, a bit fraught. Nervous assimilation-humor is a grand Jewish tradition, and it’s kind of refreshing to see it coming from a Natalie Portman and not a Philip Roth or Woody Allen. (From a woman. I mean from a woman.)

And yet, there was something about the moment when Fallon presented Portman with a (promotional) Christmas ornament that seemed, in the broader political context of our moment, not quite right. There she is, being welcomed into the all-American fold, except also, not. We have, on the one hand, Portman playing Jackie Kennedy in a new movie (that I very much expect to go see), and, on the other, a political climate where Jewish women, many of whom “pass” as much as Portman, are now facing a distinctly, uh, intersectional form of abuse online.

We’re at a moment in American Jewish history when assimilation seems like a quaint threat. That being the case, the anxious assimilation joke seems from a different time. It reflects a level of comfort that I remember but don’t currently recognize.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy edits the Sisterhood, and can be reached at [email protected]. Her book, The Perils of “Privilege”, will be published by St. Martin’s Press in March 2017.

A message from our editor-in-chief Jodi Rudoren

We're building on 127 years of independent journalism to help you develop deeper connections to what it means to be Jewish today.

With so much at stake for the Jewish people right now — war, rising antisemitism, a high-stakes U.S. presidential election — American Jews depend on the Forward's perspective, integrity and courage.

—  Jodi Rudoren, Editor-in-Chief 

Join our mission to tell the Jewish story fully and fairly.

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.