By Philissa Cramer
Michelle Williams is one of the only non-Jewish actors with a starring role in “The Fabelmans,” director Steven Spielberg’s autobiographical film based on his Jewish family.
But it turns out that Williams, who plays the mother of the Spielberg character, has a Jewish family of her own. She told The Wall Street Journal that she and her Jewish husband, director Thomas Kail, are raising their two young children with Judaism and that she is studying the religion herself. (Williams is also the mother of a 17-year-old daughter by the late actor Heath Ledger.)
“I can’t teach it to them unless I learn it first,” Williams, who was raised Christian, told the newspaper. She said that she and Kail had picked out a synagogue for their family and also said that she had positive memories of traditions from her Jewish childhood friends.
“I adored being in their homes; a lot of it is those early memories of the discourse at the tables and the deep sense of belonging that tradition fosters,” said Williams. “It has always been something that I’ve gravitated towards — something that felt immediately exciting and deep and very different from the tinsel and cheer. I say this as somebody who also sings Christmas songs to my kid before he goes to bed. I love both.”
In raising their children with Judaism, Williams and Kail are falling into line with the majority of Jews in the United States, according to a large-scale study of American Jews released last year. Nearly three quarters of non-Orthodox Jews who have gotten married since 2010 have married someone non-Jewish, according to the survey. A majority of those families are raising their children Jewishly, with another 12% raising their children partly Jewish, as it sounds like Williams and her husband are intending. All together, two-thirds of intermarried couples are raising their kids with some Jewish identity, a rate that seems to have risen over time.
Williams has won acclaim, along with two Golden Globes and an Emmy Award, for her performances in indie drama movies and shows such as “Brokeback Mountain,” “Blue Valentine” and “Fosse/Verdon.” She is winning accolades now for her portrayal of a character loosely based on Spielberg’s mother, Leah Adler, a popular Los Angeles kosher restaurateur who died at age 97 in 2017.
Kail is best known for directing Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hit Broadway musical “Hamilton.” In 2020, he was tapped to direct a film remake of “Fiddler on the Roof” that is still in development.