Mayim Bialik named Jeopardy’s new interim host

Bialik earned a Bachelor of Science degree in neuroscience, with minors in Hebrew and Jewish studies from UCLA in 2000.
Mayim Bialik, an Orthodox Jewish actress and neuroscientist known for her roles in the sitcoms "The Big Bang Theory" and “Blossom," is Jeopardy's! new co-host. (Courtesy: Jeopardy!)

Mayim Bialik is taking over hosting duty on Jeopardy! following fallout over misogynistic and antisemitic comments made by Mike Richards, the newly appointed host of the game show.

(Quick side note: A lot people are searching to see if Alex Trebek was Jewish. He was was raised Catholic and in 2018 he said that he was Christian but the show had many Jewish moments.)

Richards, the show’s executive producer, stepped down from the show’s top role earlier this week following comments he made on a podcast resurfacing on social media. (On top of everything he made a Jewish nose “joke.”)

Richards was named the permanent host, succeeding the late Alex Trebek and Jewish actress Mayim Bialik would host Jeopardy!’s primetime and spinoff series. Now that Richards stepped down, she’ll take on the role of main host. She’ll now tape 3 weeks worth of shows, or 15 episodes.

All the Jewish things you want to know about Mayim Bialik

Jeopardy! fans have been eagerly awaiting the announcement about who will be the show’s new host. Wednesday, fans finally got the answer and we are kvelling! 

#MayimOnJeopardy is a hashtag we can definitely get behind.

Here are some things to know about Bialik’s Jewish identity:

Mayim Chaya Bialik was born on December 12, 1975  in San Diego, California.

She was born to Barry and Beverly Bialik. Is anyone else surprised they didn’t give their daughter a name that starts with a B?

Her family were Jewish immigrants 

Three of her four grandparents came to the United States from Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary. They lived in The Bronx, New York City. 

She was raised Reform, but now considers herself Modern Orthodox

Actress Mayim Bialik attends the opening night of “Cavalia” on April 27, 2004 in Glendale, California. (Photo: Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images).

In college, Bialik uncovered a newfound faith and observance and started becoming more observant. So, she considers herself to be “technically a baal teshuvah –a person who took on Jewish observance later in life,” she wrote in an op-ed.

She also wrote that she struggled a lot to share this new part of herself with her parents, especially her mother, who was raised Orthodox but chose to be Reform as an adult. Partly, that’s why she’s passionate about debunking myths about Orthodox Judaism. 

One of her most asked questions is: “Why would a scientist believe in religion?”

Here’s Bialik’s answer:

Bialik’s Bat Mitzvah theme was pretty elaborate:

Bialik’s Bat Mitzvah theme was “water” since that’s what her name means in Hebrew.

“We had submarine sandwiches, fishbowls on the tables, and everything was the color of the ocean. It was awesome,” she said in an interview.

Speaking of her name, these are the origins:

The name Mayim is not very common in Israel. Her parents decided on it in honor of her great-grandmother, and the story behind it is adorable.

“My great-grandmother’s name was Miriam, and the grandkids had a hard time pronouncing the ‘r’ in the middle, so they just called her Mayam,” Bialik said in an interview. “She was known as Bobbe Mayam. And then my parents thought it was cool in 1975 to name me Mayim.”

Bialik’s middle name is Chaya which, contrary to her first name, is a very popular Jewish girl name. It means “life.”

The last name Bialik is also kind of a big deal. Here’s why:

Mayim Bialik speaks onstage during the 24th annual Critics’ Choice Awards at Barker Hangar on January 13, 2019 in Santa Monica, California. (Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images for The Critics’ Choice Awards)

Haim Nahman Bialik was a great Hebrew poet. He was one of the pioneers of modern Hebrew poetry and, although he died before Israel became a state, he came to be recognized as Israel’s national poet. Like I said, kind of a big deal. There are a bunch of landmarks, streets, and Jewish schools named after him.

Back to his connection with Mayim Bialik: he’s her great-grandfather’s first cousin.  

“It’s one of the earliest things I remember – that I was related to Bialik. There’s a couple of signed items [from him] in our family. I get in free to the Bialik Museum,” she laughingly told Haaretz in an interview. “During my bat mitzvah, one of his poems was included in the program. My whole life we had framed photos of Bialik Street signs [from Tel Aviv] in our house. So, it was definitely a very big deal. Obviously in Israel our name is very recognizable.”

Her oldest son recently had his Bar Mitzvah

Bialik’s oldest son had his Bar Mitvah in 2018. Here’s Bialik walking us through the whole Bar Mitvah process and sharing some of the details:

I wonder if they had the same Haim Nahman Bialik poem from her Bat Mitzvah included in her son’s ceremony… 

She’s a neuroscientist with a minor in Jewish studies… an iconic combo

Bialik earned a Bachelor of Science degree in neuroscience, with minors in Hebrew and Jewish studies from UCLA in 2000. She returned to UCLA and earned her PhD in neuroscience in 2007.

She speaks Hebrew and Yiddish  (and Spanish apparently!)

She spoke and sang to her children in Yiddish when they were babies, she told Haaretz. “All of their body parts they learned first in Yiddish, just like I did when I was a kid.”

She hosted Jeopardy! for two weeks last spring and called it a “Dream come true”

She’ll take #DreamComeTrue for $500, she joked in a Tweet.

Her Jewish upbringing inspired her love of learning

Bialik was interviewed by in advance of her two-week hosting stint and she shared her really sweet connection to the show and some details about how her Jewish upbringing influenced her trajectory.

“When I think about the way that I was raised, by two public school teachers who were documentary filmmakers and artists, I was taught to learn as much as I could about everything so honestly it’s really that, that I feel drives me,” she said. “Being able to kind-of think on your feet, think fast and move quickly, that’s really just from being raised by my awesome parents.”