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The secret Jewish history of Rita Moreno – The Forward

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At age 89, Rita Moreno is still going strong, with a role in the upcoming remake of “West Side Story” by Steven Spielberg (she starred as Anita in the original film) and a leading role in the rebooted TV sitcom “One Day at a Time,” which was an ongoing venture until filming was shut down due to COVID. Moreno, whose remarkable, barrier-breaking career includes being one of the very first actors to pull off an EGOT — winning an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony award — is being celebrated in a new PBS American Masters documentary, “Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It,” which goes into theatrical release this Friday, June 18, and chronicles Moreno’s early life and her storied career.

Perhaps the film will also settle a longstanding rumor about Moreno once and for all. One of the first entertainers from Puerto Rico to break into the American mainstream, Moreno reportedly believes that she is descended from crypto-Jews from 15th century Spain. According to a story published in the Detroit Jewish News in December 1964, Moreno told attendees at the annual Hanukkah luncheon of the American Jewish Congress National Women’s Division about how “she developed an uncanny feeling of identification with Jewish folkways, folklore and history.” Upon learning that some Jews publicly converted to Christianity while privately clinging to Jewish worship and customs under pressure of the Spanish Inquisition, Moreno entertained the notion that she may indeed be the progeny of Marranos.

Regardless of her ancestry, Rita Moreno has lived a rich life in the entertainment world and one that has often found her living and working in a Jewish context. After having well-known affairs with Marlon Brando and Elvis Presley, Moreno settled down in 1965 and married Dr. Leonard Gordon, a cardiologist and internist at Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan. The two remained married for 40 years, until 2005, when Gordon died.

In “Rita Moreno: A Memoir,” Moreno paid loving tribute to Gordon and his Jewish family. “When I inherited a family, these dear Jewish people who were so sweet and welcoming, it was marvelous. They were wonderful to me, always,” she wrote. On their first Christmas together, the Gordons came to visit. “As a ‘gift’ to Lenny,” writes Moreno, “I cooked a traditional Jewish meal. And Lenny’s aunt, Tanta Shirley, looked at the spread on the table and asked, ‘Vat, no toikey?’” Gordon had flown Moreno’s family in from Puerto Rico. “For the first time since my childhood in Puerto Rico, I felt I had a family,” she wrote. “The room was filled with the sound of klezmer music from the hi-fi…. No few bottles of Manischewitz later, we all danced a tipsy salsa!”

Moreno and Gordon first met on a blind date arranged by a mutual friend. Moreno told Gordon to meet her outside the theater after a Broadway show, leaving him to wonder if he was date No. 2 of her evening. When he looked up at the marquee, it read, “Rita Moreno in ‘The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window’,” and he finally realized that his date was the Rita Moreno. Incidentally, Moreno played the role of Iris, Sidney Brustein’s wife, in the play, foreshadowing the mixed marriage she would soon embark upon with Gordon in real life.

When it came time for Fran Drescher to cast the role of her very Jewish mother in the sitcom “Happily Divorced,” which she created and starred in, Moreno was trained and ready. The comedy, which ran from 2011 to 2013, was based on Drescher’s own life, and Moreno did not skip a beat stepping into the role. Drescher was reportedly astonished at Moreno’s perfect New York Jewish accent.

“When I auditioned for the role, I auditioned with Fran playing herself and I think they were delighted that I had that accent,” said Moreno. “I love using it. I like accents anyway, and I do have a very good ear — so good, in fact, that one day when we were rehearsing our kitchen scene with Fran, she stopped the rehearsal and said, ‘Have you ever played a Jewish woman before?’ I said, ‘No, I have always wanted to because it is so rich.’ She just said, ‘Amazing.’” Moreno said at the time, “I am playing a New York Jewish woman. I am as happy as an uneaten clam.”

Moreno first left Puerto Rico when she was just five years old. After a short stint in the Bronx, her family moved to Valley Stream, Long Island, where, as a child dancer, she says she performed “at all kinds of bar mitzvahs and Jewish weddings and Catholic weddings as well. I was an equal opportunity little Carmen Miranda.”

In the 1950s, Moreno garnered supporting roles in films including “Singin’ in the Rain” with Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds and Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “The King and I,” alongside Yul Brynner and Deborah Kerr. She then hit paydirt with her role as Anita in Jerome Robbins’s film adaptation of Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim’s groundbreaking Broadway musical “West Side Story.” In the upcoming remake of the film, directed by Steven Spielberg, Moreno returns to the cast as Valentina, the widow of Doc, who now runs his candy store.

In the 1970s, Moreno had a recurring role on the PBS children’s series “The Electric Company,” and appeared in dozens of films and TV episodes in the ensuing decades, including her well-known stint as the voice of Carmen Sandiego on the animated series “Where on Earth Is Carmen Sandiego?”

In 2016, Moreno told The Week magazine that “The Yiddish Policemen’s Union” by Michael Chabon was one of her six favorite books. “Hearing my late husband, Lenny, laugh out loud while reading this book made me so curious that I couldn’t wait for him to finish,” wrote Moreno. “‘Stop kvetching and buy your own copy,’ Lenny said. So I did.” She loved it.

The upcoming PBS documentary promises a candid look at Moreno’s struggles, including her experiences with racism and sexual assault in Hollywood. Among those paying tribute to Moreno in the doc are Gloria Estefan, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Eva Longoria, Mitzi Gaynor, Morgan Freeman, Whoopi Goldberg and Norman Lear.

Seth Rogovoy is a contributing editor at the Forward. He frequently mines popular culture for its lesser-known Jewish stories.

The secret Jewish history of Rita Moreno (who just might be a descendant of very secret Jews)

The secret Jewish history of Rita Moreno (who just might be a descendant of very secret Jews)

The secret Jewish history of Rita Moreno (who just might be a descendant of very secret Jews)

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Woman passenger from UK tests Covid positive at Hyderabad airport

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Hyderabad: A 35-year-old international passenger who reached the Rajiv Gandhi International Airport here on Wednesday has tested positive for Covid-19 after undergoing an RT-PCR test at the airport itself. The woman passenger had traveled from the United Kingdom, which has been categorised as an ‘At Risk Country’. 

The passenger has been admitted to the Telangana Institute of Medical Sciences (TIMS) and samples were collected and sent for genetic sequencing. Officials said she did not have any symptoms and that her health condition was being monitored closely. 

According to officials, the woman hails from Rangareddy district and was on a visit to UK from Hyderabad. Though her close relatives tested negative, their health condition is also being monitored. 


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Revealed: how Sidney Powell could be disbarred for lying in court for Trump | US elections 2020

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Sidney Powell, the former lawyer for Donald Trump who filed lawsuits across America for the former president, hoping to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, has on several occasions represented to federal courts that people were co-counsel or plaintiffs in her cases without seeking their permission to do so, the Guardian has learned.

Some of these individuals say that they only found out that Powell had named them once the cases were already filed.

During this same period of time, Powell also named several other lawyers – with their permission in those instances – as co-counsel in her election-related cases, despite the fact that they played virtually no role whatsoever in bringing or litigating those cases.

Both Powell’s naming of other people as plaintiffs or co-counsel without their consent and representing that other attorneys were central to her cases when, in fact, their roles were nominal or nonexistent, constitute serious potential violations of the American Bar Association model rules for professional conduct, top legal ethicists told the Guardian.

Powell’s misrepresentations to the courts in those particular instances often aided fundraising for her nonprofit, Defending the Republic. Powell had told prospective donors that the attorneys were integral members of an “elite strike force” who had played outsized roles in her cases – when in fact they were barely involved if at all.

A couple poses for a photo in front of a Trump campaign bus at a rally in Alpharetta, Georgia, on 2 December 2020.
A couple poses for a photo in front of a Trump campaign bus at a rally in Alpharetta, Georgia, on 2 December 2020. Photograph: Nathan Posner/REX/Shutterstock

Powell did not respond to multiple requests for comment via phone, email, and over social media.

The State Bar of Texas is already investigating Powell for making other allegedly false and misleading statements to federal courts by propagating increasingly implausible conspiracy theories to federal courts that Joe Biden’s election as president of the United States was illegitimate.

The Texas bar held its first closed-door hearing regarding the allegations about Powell on 4 November. Investigations by state bar associations are ordinarily conducted behind closed doors and thus largely opaque to the public.

A federal grand jury has also been separately investigating Powell, Defending the Republic, as well as a political action committee that goes by the same name, for fundraising fraud, according to records reviewed by the Guardian.

Among those who have alleged that Powell falsely named them as co-counsel is attorney Linn Wood, who brought and litigated with Powell many of her lawsuits attempting to overturn the results of the election with her, including in the hotly contested state of Michigan.

The Michigan case was a futile attempt by Powell to erase Joe Biden’s victory in that state and name Trump as the winner. On 25 August, federal district court Judge Linda Parker, of Michigan, sanctioned Powell and nine other attorneys who worked with her for having engaged in “a historic and profound abuse of the judicial process” in bringing the case in the first place. Powell’s claims of election fraud, Parker asserted, had no basis in law and were solely based on “speculation, conjecture, and unwarranted suspicion”.

Parker further concluded that the conduct of Powell, Wood, and the eight other attorneys who they worked with, warranted a “referral for investigation and possible suspension or disbarment to the appropriate disciplinary authority for each state … in which each attorney is admitted”.

Wood told the court in the Michigan case that Powell had wrongly named him as one of her co-counsel in the Michigan case. During a hearing in the case to determine whether to sanction Wood, his defense largely rested on his claim that he had not been involved in the case at all. Powell, Wood told the court, had put his name on the lawsuit without her even telling him.

A man holds a sign reading "The dead cannot vote" at a rally in Alpharetta, Georgia.
Trump supporters attend a rally in Alpharetta, Georgia, where Sidney Powell spoke on efforts to overturn the 2020 election. Photograph: Nathan Posner/REX/Shutterstock

Wood said: “I do not specifically recall being asked about the Michigan complaint … In this case obviously my name was included. My experience or my skills apparently were never needed, so I didn’t have any involvement with it.”

Wood’s attorney, Paul Stablein, was also categorical in asserting that his client had nothing to do with the case, telling the Guardian in an interview: “He didn’t draft the complaint. He didn’t sign it. He did not authorize anyone to put his name on it.”

Powell has denied she would have ever named Wood as a co-counsel without Wood’s permission.

But other people have since come forward to say that Powell has said that they were named as plaintiffs or lawyers in her election-related cases without their permission.

In a Wisconsin voting case, a former Republican candidate for Congress, Derrick Van Orden, said he only learned after the fact that he had been named as a plaintiff in one of Powell’s cases.

“I learned through social media today that my name was included in a lawsuit without my permission,” Van Orden said in a statement he posted on Twitter, “To be clear, I am not involved in the lawsuit seeking to overturn the election in Wisconsin.”

Jason Shepherd, the Republican chairman of Georgia’s Cobb county, was similarly listed as a plaintiff in a Georgia election case without his approval.

In a 26 November 2020 statement, Shepherd said he had been talking to an associate of Powell’s prior to the case’s filing about the “Cobb GOP being a plaintiff” but said he first “needed more information to at least make sure the executive officers were in agreeing to us being a party in the suit”. The Cobb County Republican party later agreed to remain plaintiffs in the case instead of withdrawing.

Leslie Levin, a professor at the University of Connecticut Law School, said in an interview: “Misrepresentations to the court are very serious because lawyers are officers of the court. Bringing a lawsuit in someone’s name when they haven’t consented to being a party is a very serious misrepresentation and one for which a lawyer should expect to face serious discipline.”

Nora Freeman Engstrom, a law professor at Stanford University, says that Powell’s actions appear to violate Rule 3.3 of the ABA’s model rules of professional misconduct which hold that “a lawyer shall not knowingly … make a false statement of fact of law to a tribunal”.

Since election day last year, federal and state courts have dismissed more than 60 lawsuits alleging electoral fraud and irregularities by Powell, and other Trump allies.

Shortly after the election, Trump named Powell as a senior member of an “elite strike force” who would prove that Joe Biden only won the 2020 presidential race because the election was stolen from him. But Trump refused to pay her for her services. To remedy this, Powell set up a new nonprofit called Defending the Republic; its stated purpose is to “protect the integrity of elections in the United States”.

As a nonprofit, the group is allowed to raise unlimited amounts of “dark money” and donors are legally protected from the ordinary requirements to disclose their identities to the public. Powell warned supporters that for her to succeed, “millions of dollars must be raised”.

Echoing Trump’s rhetoric, Powell told prospective donors that Defending the Republic had a vast team of experienced litigators.

Sidney Powell speaks at a press conference on election results in Alpharetta, Georgia.
Sidney Powell speaks at a press conference on election results in Alpharetta, Georgia. Photograph: Elijah Nouvelage/Reuters

Among the attorneys who Powell said made up this “taskforce” were Emily Newman, who had served Trump as the White House liaison to the Department of Health and Human Services and as a senior official with the Department of Homeland Security. Newman had been a founding board member of Defending the Republic.

But facing sanctions in the Michigan case, some of the attorneys attempted to distance themselves from having played much of a meaningful role in her litigation.

Newman’s attorney told Parker, the judge, that Newman had “not played a role in the drafting of the complaint … My client was a contract lawyer working from home who spent maybe five hours on this matter. She really wasn’t involved … Her role was de minimis.”

To have standing to file her Michigan case, Powell was initially unable to find a local attorney to be co-counsel on her case but eventually attorney Gregory Rohl agreed to help out.

But when Rohl was sanctioned by Parker and referred to the Michigan attorney disciplinary board for further investigation, his defense was that he, too, was barely involved in the case. He claimed that he only received a copy of “the already prepared” 830-page initial complaint at the last minute, reviewed it for “well over an hour”, while then “making no additions, decisions or corrections” to the original.

As with Newman, Parker, found that Rohl violated ethics rules by making little, if any, effort to verify the facts of the claims in Powell’s filings.

In sanctioning Rohl, the judge wrote that “the court finds it exceedingly difficult to believe that Rohl read an 830-page complaint in just ‘well over an hour’ on the day he filed it. So, Rohl’s argument in and of itself reveals sanctionable conduct.”

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Govt to introduce important Bill, Covid situation likely to be discussed

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The government on Thursday will table ‘The National Institute of Pharmaceutical Education and Research (Amendment) Bill 2021’ in the Lok Sabha. A discussion on Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic and its various related aspects is also likely to take place in the lower House.


Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya will move the ‘The National Institute of Pharmaceutical Education and Research (Amendment) Bill’ in the Lok Sabha to amend the National Institute of Pharmaceutical Education and Research Act, 1998.





Under rule 193, a discussion on Covid-19 pandemic and various aspects related to it will likely take place. According to sources, the members may also raise their concern and ask for the government’s preparedness for the new Omicron variant. Under Rule 193, members can seek details about the new Covid variant. “Short duration discussion is likely to be held in the Lok Sabha on the Covid and its various aspects, including new Omicron variant,” sources said.


Union Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat, Prahlad Singh Patel, General V.K. Singh, Krishan Pal, Bhanu Pratap Verma, Rameshwar Teli and Kaushal Kishore will lay papers on the table. Reports and action reports of different standing committees will also be laid in the day.


The Lok Sabha on Wednesday passed the Assisted Reproductive Technology (Amendment) Bill 2021 (ART) by voice vote as the amendments moved by the DMK MP N.K. Prem Chandran, Trinamool Congress MP Saugata Roy and Shiv Sena MP Vinayak Raut were negated. The ART Bill seeks to regulate fertility clinics. All such clinics will have to be registered under the National Registry of Banks and Clinics of India.


The opposition is likely to continue to raise its voices on price rise, unemployment and extended jurisdiction of the Border Security Force (BSF) in some states. The opposition parties are also demanding a law guaranteeing the minimum support price (MSP).

(Only the headline and picture of this report may have been reworked by the Business Standard staff; the rest of the content is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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