Hours before Shabbat, on a clear, 85-degree afternoon in Jerusalem, Jeremy Piven became a bar mitzvah in a private ceremony near the Kotel. In fact, it was the actor’s first time to Israel, or what he calls “the motherland.” The experience was, in many ways, a reconnecting with his Jewish roots. Thirty-seven years ago, a teenage Piven partied in the basement of his suburban Chicago home after becoming a bar mitzvah—for the first time.
“I was like any other bar mitzvah boy,” he told The Forward in 2006, two years into his Emmy Award-winning run as agent Ari Gold on HBO’s Entourage. “I had braces, a very chubby face, and a mullet. I thought I was more John Travolta does Saturday Night Fever than Bar Mitzvah Boy. I was Bar Mitzvah Boy, that was for sure.”
On Friday, Piven, now 51, became a bar mitzvah again. “Today I became a man (again),” Piven wrote on Instagram, accompanied by a picture of himself wearing teffilin, a yarmulke, and a tallis, looking out onto the Dome of the Rock. “Special time in Jerusalem.”
Piven was invited by Omri Casspi—the first Israeli to play in the NBA and current forward for the Sacramento Kings—who is quickly becoming one of Israel’s most prominent ambassadors. Casspi, in association with his foundation, invited Piven along with a number of other world-class athletes, including retired NBA star Amar’e Stoudemire, who will play for Jerusalem Hapoel this upcoming season, Casspi’s teammate Rudy Gay, Milwaukee Bucks forward Chris Copeland, former NBA All-Star Shawn Marion, and three-time UFC champion Georges St-Pierre.
This was the second such trip Casspi has led; last year, Casspi led a large cohort to Israel. “The trip,” he said at the time, “is just about having fun.” Both times, Vegas tycoon Sheldon Adelson provided the plane; in fact, Casspi and co. embarked to Israel from the Sin City this week.
The entrourages’ various social media profiles show them traveling to a number of spots around Israel during the trip, including the village of Dimona and Yad Vashem. And, of course, they hit up a club in Tel Aviv where they got down to Future’s “Fuck Up Some Commas.”
Piven’s private bar mitzvah ceremony took place on the Aish HaTorah rooftop, which holds breathtaking views of Jerusalem. Rabbi Eitiel Goldvicht, who serves as director of the Aish location, conducted the ceremony. Videos of the event were provided to Tablet.
Before the proceedings began, Stoudemire, with his deep, commanding voice that borders on the rabbinic, told Piven about a gift he was planning to give the bar mitzvah boy. “It’s really a pretty cool gift, man,” Stoudemire promised.
Then Goldvicht began. “My grandfather was born here in the Old City,” He said to Piven, who listened intently in a tan fedora and sunglasses. “My great-grandfather was born here. It’s special to welcome somebody to the Old City for the first time.”
Goldvicht then presented Piven with a rainbow-striped tallit and kippah, both of which Israel Schachter, co-founder and CEO of Charity Bids, a charity auction consignment and specialty travel company, had had made for Piven. Goldvicht, who told Piven they share the same Hebrew middle name (Shmuel), provided the teffilin.
A kippah-clad Casspi looked on, flashing a proud smile from time to time. Also standing by Piven’s side was Stoudemire, who wore gold-rimmed aviators and a blue, folded bandanna around his corn-rowed keppe. Both of them joshed around with Piven, who remained focused throughout, and offered their sincere takes during an event that appeared to take on a special, earnest feeling as time went on.
Piven and Goldvicht said the prayers together over the tallit and teffilin, in a call and response. Then a member of Piven’s entourage encouraged him, saying, “You’re killin’ it Jer.”
“You come to Israel you get a sense of you’re feeling at home,” Goldvicht said to Piven, in full bar mitzvah regalia, as he listened intently. “We’re family. The thing that unites the Jewish people—we’re not a race, we’re not even a religion. It doesn’t matter if you’re religious or not, you’re part of the Jewish people.”
Moments later, Piven took the Torah out of a thin, white ark. Behind it, the Dome of the Rock shone in gold.
Piven cradled the Torah in his hands and turned around. The entourage roared, “Siman Tov U‘Mazal Tov, U’Mazal Tov, U’Siman Tov; Siman Tov U‘Mazal Tov, U’Mazal Tov, U’Siman Tov,” as Pived beamed a wide, wide, smile, and even bounced his head as he was fêted with a chorus of rejoicing.
He made the rounds. Casspi kissed the Torah, then joined Piven in front of the open scroll, and next to the rabbi. The three of them recited the “Shema.”
Afterward, the group left the rooftop. On the ground, near the Western Wall, Piven was presented with the gift Stoudemire had mentioned as they overlooked the Old City: a United Hatzalah Ambucycle. Casspi, Stoudemire, Schachter, and Dave Osokow, a “lifestyle architect” based in Los Angeles, had procured the life-saving vehicle for Piven.
Dovi Maisel, the director of international operation for United Haztalah, a legendary volunteers corp in Israel, presented Piven with the vehicle he said has the power to save lives. “Just the idea that we can utilize what we do with this life for good is a gift,” said Piven. “And I thank you for this gift. I’ll use it well.”
Jonathan Zalman is a writer and teacher based in Brooklyn.