(JTA) – Cynthia Nixon, the former “Sex and the City” star who just announced her campaign to be New York’s next governor, is hoping to win the votes of the state’s 20 million citizens.
But the actor and political activist has already won the hearts of progressive Jewish leaders.
Nixon isn’t Jewish herself, but she’s almost an honorary member of the tribe. Her two eldest children from her first marriage are Jewish and have both been bar- and bat-mitzvahed. At least one of them attended Hebrew school at B’nai Jeshurun, a liberal synagogue on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.
She’s also an active member of Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, Manhattan’s most prominent LGBTQ synagogue, and has spoken there multiple times. In June 2011, she delivered a Friday night sermon at Congregation Beit Simchat Torah on the same day that same-sex marriage became legal in New York state. Most of the speech was about the political victory, but it wouldn’t have sounded out of place coming from the pulpit of a liberal activist rabbi.
Nixon used Hebrew phrases, made a Passover Haggadah reference and quoted at length from that week’s Torah portion, Korach, which tells a story of a failed populist rebellion against Moses and Aaron in the desert.
“Of course, any time there’s progress, it always comes with a backlash, and the bigger the step forward, the bigger the backlash, which brings us to this week’s parsha,” Nixon said to laughs, using the Hebrew word for Torah portion.
“It’s hard to imagine a time when they’ve been closer to the fulfillment of everything God has promised them when boom, backlash!” she said, going on to read a lengthy passage of the Torah. “I read this to my fiancee, Christine, and she said Korach and his cohort sound just like the Tea Party. I had to agree. It is good to remember backlashes are nothing new. Even Moses and Aaron had to go through them.”
Nixon then said something she might disagree with today – she lavishly praised Governor Andrew Cuomo for his leadership in passing the same-sex marriage bill. She will likely oppose Cuomo in the race for governor this year.
“We are lucky to have a leader like Governor Cuomo who took on marriage as a do-or-die proposition,” she said to applause. “It is fair to say that we could not have done it without him.”
She ended the sermon by saying “Onward and upward, happy Pride, mazal tov, hallelujah, and God bless Governor Cuomo!”
Beyond Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, Nixon has been a repeat guest of progressive Jewish organizations. She hosted the 10-year anniversary gala of T’ruah, the rabbinic human rights organization, in 2013. The next year, she participated in a campaign of the American Jewish World Service to advance legislation protecting international women’s rights.
She has also waded into Jewish controversy. In 2010, she signed a letter supporting Israeli artists who pledged not to perform in the Israeli West Bank settlement of Ariel. Because of that, law professor and Israel advocate Alan Dershowitz tweeted to voters to “not support her bigotry.”
But Nixon has drawn praise from Jewish activists who share her politics. Introducing Nixon’s speech in 2011, Congregation Beit Simchat Torah Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum said, “We’re proud of you as an artist, we’re proud of you as an activist, we’re proud of you as a partner and as a parent.” And Rabbi Jill Jacobs, the executive director of T’ruah, said Nixon in 2013 sounded genuine in her support of the organization’s work.
“It was really clear that she is a deeply religious person who is deeply committed to progressive values,” Jacobs told JTA Monday.