And, now, today, a very special episode of the blossoming Mayim Bialik.
The onetime child actress (the young Bette Midler character in Beaches; TV’s flower-power, pint-sized trouper Blossom), current TV star (The Big Bang Theory), author (Beyond the Sling) and neuroscientist brings her one-woman band of talents and sense of tzedakah to the National Museum of American Jewish History, where she will help mark the 90th anniversary of the Bat Mitzvah ritual.
A series of events, “Coming of Age in America,” begins March 18 (www.nmajh.org ); Bialik’s portion of the week will take place on March 25 with a keynote address, drawing on her own Bat Mitzvah memory and what it meant to a young San Diegan girl-cum-woman rooted in the traditions of her own Hungarian and Czech emigre grandparents.
Her Bat Mitzvah was about much more than the check and gifts, she says, noting proudly that in her home, “I have my Israel Bond right there on the wall, framed, never cashed.”
The investment in Israel has paid dividends in many ways for the 36-year-old actress committed to both Israel and Diaspora Jewish life. Her given name is Hebrew for water, and she drinks in her Jewish history with near insatiability.
She earned her bachelor’s degree in the unusual scientific/spiritual troika of Hebrew, neuroscience and Jewish studies at UCLA in 2002; she completed her doctorate in neuroscience in 2008. While not actively a working neuroscientist, she plays one on TV: She admits to getting a big bang out of portraying Amy Farrah Fowler on The Big Bang Theory, where she plays a neurobiologist whose fears would wear out the mattress of an analyst’s couch.
After all, what hope is there for Fowler, whose early encouragement came from her mother — the only one to sign her high school yearbook — with the cautionary caveat of: “Dear Amy, self respect and a hymen are better than friends and fun.”
Fowler’s been able to maintain both on the CBS hit, especially after signing a 31-page messing-around manifesto with friend Sheldon, detailing do’s and don’ts that would have eminent late sex therapist William Masters abandoning his domain.
In real life, the only thing Bialik has signed is a ketubah, with husband Michael Stone, who converted to Judaism after their 2003 marriage. (His mother also converted after her son wed Bialik.)
Indeed, mommyhood — and sitcom stardom — make for a busy Bialik, as detailed in her book, Beyond the Sling, about the form of child-raising known as attachment parenting. Beyond the workday is her important home life in Los Angeles, with Bialik and her husband raising Miles Roosevelt Bialik Stone, 6, and Frederick Heschel Bialik Stone, 3.
Home life also finds its way onto her blog life: kveller.com, “a Jewish twist on parenting.”
And the devotee of attachment parenting is attached to her own handle, asserting that “names are destiny; I believe in the power of names.”
Which makes her life filled with rhyme and reason — her great-great-grandfather’s uncle, Hayim Nahman Bialik, was a pioneer of modern Hebrew poetry who became Israel’s national poet.
She also carries the water for her first name: “Water has been a powerful theme in Judaism from the water of Eden to the personal journey we as a people have taken over water. Our history is so much about fluidity, transparency,” she says.
If she comes across hip to what it meant to be hipsters during the ’60s, Bialik can turn to her own family movies: Her parents Barry Bialik and Beverly Winkelman were acclaimed indie filmmakers, thinking outside the box camera: Their work on the Vietnam War was shown on PBS.
“It was also shown in the Lincoln Center Film Festival,” she says, proudly speaking of whom she calls “my bohemian parents,” and the way they were and would be, later “becoming teachers.”
They taught her how to blow her own horn without bravura. That, she admits, came in handy when she took up trumpet. “But, actually, piano is my first love”; she gave up trumpet long ago. “Now, I blow the shofar,” she chuckles.
The holidays, especially Passover, are home-grown affairs: Bialik describes her family’s homemade Haggadah, a perky edition that “serves as a supplement to the Maxwell House Haggadah.”
She decidedly sees the cup half full, and “full” is the key word. “This was not the plan,” Bialik says of programming a life that these days includes making public service announcements for a kosher vegan institute; co-founding the young professionals division of the Jewish Free Loan Association; partnering with Partners in Torah; and attaching her time to Attachment Parenting International.
It’s a jampacked schedule that would cause Amy Farrah Fowler to foul out and force her to confess her love for model trains and Star Trek. “The real secret,” confides Bialik, “I have no active social life.”
It is an unorthodox undertaking for a Hollywood star, but then Bialik gets her biggest bangs in life from Judaism and home life, not sitcom situations. Raised as a Reform Jew, she nows says that “modern Orthodox is my sensibility.” She says that Hollywood is sensitive to her lifestyle, working around her work schedule to avoid conflicts.
It all makes sense for the clear-thinking neuroscientist, in contrast to her Big Bang buddy, nicknamed Fuzzy-Fingers Fowler for using hand cream infused with Rogaine.
Indeed, Bialik has her finger on the pulse of what she wants to achieve, as well as a sense of self.
And if Mayim rhymes with “I am,” well, that sense of self does come with a proud personal history of poetry, now doesn’t it?