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March 27: Elizabeth Taylor Converts to Judaism

March 27, 2013

elizabeth_taylor_by_dtran29-d5ecm5zElizabeth Taylor, a Hollywood star since adolescence for her roles in National Velvet (1944), Father of the Bride (1950), A Place in the Sun (1951), Giant (1956), and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958), among other movies, took the Hebrew name Elisheba Rachel and converted to Judaism at Hollywood's Temple Israel on this date in 1959. Marilyn Monroe had converted three years earlier, which now meant that the film industry's most famous "sex goddesses" were Jews-by-choice. Taylor later said that she "felt a desperate need for a formalized religion" to address many questions she had "about life and death" following the demise of her Jewish husband, Michael Todd (Avrom Goldbogen), in an airplane crash the year before. Two months after her conversion, she married Eddie Fisher, the fourth of her seven husbands. In addition to her prodigious public activism and philanthropy during the AIDS crisis, Taylor also worked for many Jewish causes. In 1959, her large-scale purchase of Israeli Bonds produced Arab boycotts of her films, and in 1962, she was barred as a Jew from entering Egypt to complete Cleopatra. Taylor advocated for emigration rights for Soviet Jews, and offered herself as a replacement hostage for Jews taken captive during the 1976 Entebbe skyjacking.

"I don't think President Bush is doing anything at all about AIDS. In fact, I'm not sure he even knows how to spell AIDS." —Elizabeth Taylor