Everything we know about Jonah Hill’s Jewish identity

Hill remembers his bar mitzvah as "magical" and proudly identifies as a "Surf Jew."
Actor Jonah Hill holds up a "Surf Jews" sticker in a "10 Essentials" video for GQ Magazine in 2021. He said he created the stickers in response to Surf Nazi culture, which proliferated in Malibu after World War II. (Screenshot: GQ on YouTube)

Jonah Hill was thrust into the headlines on Saturday when Kanye West declared on Instagram that watching the actor in “21 Jump Street” made him “like Jewish people again.”

So, is Jonah Hill Jewish? Yes. Here’s everything we know about the “Superbad” star’s Jewish identity.

The basics

Jonah Hill attends the ‘Mid 90’s’ Photocall at the 69th Berlinale International Film Festival Berlin on February 10, 2019, in Berlin, Germany. (Photo by Manuel Romano/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Jonah Hill Feldstein (“Hill” is actually his middle name) was born on December 20, 1983, in Los Angeles to Jewish parents, Sharyn Lyn, a costume designer, and longtime Hollywood business manager Richard Feldstein who has advised the likes of Kate Hudson, Paul Rudd, and Adam Levine.

The 39-year-old actor has a younger sister, 29-year-old Beanie Feldstein who starred in the movie “Lady Bird” and “Funny Girl” on Broadway. 

Tragically, their older brother Jordan died unexpectedly in 2017, at the age of 40. Jordan was the manager of Maroon 5, showing that the Feldsteins are quite the Hollywood and entertainment family.

Hill’s parents were originally from Long Island, New York, and the family enjoyed vacations in the Catskills, which was a popular getaway spot for New York City Jews.

In 2022, the actor filed a petition to remove “Feldstein” from his name. The petition was granted this past January, making his stage name for all of these years official.

In the paperwork, he shared the reason for the change: “‘Jonah Hill’ is Petitioner’s professional name. Petitioner wants to make his professional name his legal name.”

Despite saying goodbye to his family name, Hill has embraced his Jewish roots in other ways, once describing himself to the New York Times as “a nice Jewish boy.”

Hill attended religious school and had a bar mitzvah

Director Judd Apatow, actor Seth Rogen and actor Jonah Hill attend the 25th Annual William S. Paley TV Festival at the Arclight on March 17, 2008 In Hollywood, California. (Photo by Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic)

Growing up, Hill attended religious school at Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills, a Reform congregation, where he became a bar mitzvah. He attended non-Jewish schools (Brentwood School, and Crossroads School in Santa Monica) for elementary through high school.

In a 2007 interview with the New York Times, he described his bar mitzvah as “amazing” and “magical,” revealing that the theme was “Jonah Goes Platinum.” The temple’s cantor at the time, Yonah Kliger, also remembered it that way, telling the Jewish Journal in 2012:

“He was electric, completely captivating, and seemed very comfortable in his own skin, which is a rare thing for a 13-year-old. It’s not just hindsight to say I felt this person was destined for something great, though I didn’t know what at the time.”

“But skateboarding was his real religion back then,” the Jewish Chronicle reported. Hill “sought out friendship and camaraderie and regularly hung out at Los Angeles skate-shop Hot Rod, dubbing himself ‘Jonah the Jew.’” Hill still has a skateboard from those days, decorated with his photo and nickname.

Hill surfs with a “Surf Jews California” sticker on his surfboard

In 2021, Hill revealed in a “10 Essentials” video for GQ Magazine that he can’t live without his custom “Surf Jews” stickers, which adorn his surfboard and water bottle.

The actor created the stickers as a response to Surf Nazi culture, which proliferated in Malibu after World War II.

The Times of Israel explained this history: “Particularly in the 1960s, seeing surfboards with swastikas or surfers giving ‘Sieg heil’ salutes was commonplace. Serious surfers called themselves ‘surf Nazis’ as a way to signal their intense dedication to the sport.”

In fact, a new documentary from filmmaker and surfer Josh Greene, “Waves Apart,” tells the history of antisemitism in surfing:

In response, Hill and fellow surfers, filmmaker Spike Jonze and Beastie Boy Mike Diamond, started “Surf Jews.”

“I was like, we should start Surf Jews so there’s all this imagery of the opposite of a swastika, essentially,” Hill explained in the GQ video, proudly holding up the sticker. “It’s really fun and funny and silly, and not meant to be serious in the slightest,” he added.

Hill has commented on antisemitic tropes in Hollywood

In 2014, Hill opened up about his experience playing Donnie Azoff in “The Wolf on Wall Street,” a Jewish stockbroker who engages in corrupt practices and fraud with his business partner, Jordan Belfort.

“Being someone who’s Jewish and playing someone who’s Jewish in such an unflattering way, I’ve definitely thought about how the things that are beautiful about Judaism are not the things portrayed by these guys,” Hill told the Jewish Journal at the time.

“They’re actually the things that hurt Judaism because these characters are all about greed and money, and there’s that old stereotype that all Jews care about is money. So they’re not exactly what we want as a culture out there,” he admitted.

“I personally regard Donnie as the most unlikable person I’ve ever played. I’m disgusted by everything he does,” he said, adding that he even felt guilty at the end of some days of shooting.

Hill was criticized for the 2023 Netflix film, “You People”

Despite Hill’s belief that the portrayal of Jewish characters matters, he has recently come under criticism for his role in the movie, “You People,” which he co-wrote with Kenya Barris.

Hill plays Ezra, a 35-year-old Jewish broker and podcaster, who falls in love with Amira Mohammed, a Black fashion designer, and the two attempt to navigate cultural differences. 

Critics like comedian and “Jews Don’t Count” author David Baddiel say the film reinforces antisemitic tropes about Jews being “white, privileged and racist.”

Noam Gil of Haaretz explained: “Throughout the film, all the protagonist’s [Ezra’s] relatives and the community members who surround him play the traditional and familiar role of the irritating, nagging Jew, greedy for sex and money.”

In one scene, Amira’s parents share that they idolize notorious antisemite Louis Farrakhan, who has referred to Jews as termites and Judaism as a “Satanic religion.” They also accuse Jews of inheriting wealth from controlling the slave trade.

The idea that Jews controlled the American slave trade is a false, antisemitic conspiracy theory, popularized by the Black Hebrew Israelite Movement. Read our article debunking this false claim.

Many also directed their criticism at Hill. “The only two possibilities are that he’s ignorant, or he is full of so much self-hatred, that he didn’t push back,” Allison Josephs, executive director of the nonprofit Jew in the City, wrote on social media.

“I think the film is irredeemable,” she added. “And I think it’s horribly damaging, and I think it will increase a division, a wedge between the Black and Jewish community. I think this movie will endanger Jews. I think it’s a really irresponsible movie.”

“When Jewish stars are willing to put their names to something that normalizes stupid and inaccurate stereotypes about Jews, then people are entitled to get upset,” The Jewish Chronicle’s Josh Kaplan agreed.

Kanye said Hill’s acting in “21 Jump Street” made him “like Jewish people again”

In an Instagram post on Saturday, Kanye West said he “likes Jewish people again” after watching Hill in the 2012 film, “21 Jump Street.”

“So you’re telling me that this whole time, all you had to do was watch 21 Jump Street?” one person commented sarcastically on Instagram.

“Jonah Hill defeats antisemitism,” another person quipped. “Classic.”

It was Ye’s first post on social media this year after being suspended from his accounts as a result of his antisemitic tirades. Ye praised Nazis and Adolf Hitler and wrote several antisemitic posts, vowing to go “death con 3” on Jewish people. 

However, Ye still promoted a classic antisemitic trope in his supposed mea culpa when he added that Christians cannot possibly be antisemitic since “Jesus was Jew.”

Although Hill did not weigh in on being roped into the drama, “21 Jump Street” director Christopher Miller responded on Twitter:

Subscribe to This Week Unpacked

Each week we bring you a wrap-up of all the best stories from Unpacked. Stay in the know and feel smarter about all things Jewish.