Actress Tiffany Haddish celebrates her Judaism in lavish ‘Black Mitzvah’

The daughter of an Eritrean Jew, Haddish found out relatively late in life that she was Jewish but has embraced these Jewish roots in recent years.

Rabbi Susan Silverman officiates Tiffany Haddish's bat mitzvah December 3, 2019 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Rabbi Susan Silverman officiates Tiffany Haddish's bat mitzvah December 3, 2019
(photo credit: Courtesy)
After releasing her Black Mitzvah stand-up special earlier that in the day on Netflix, actress/comedian Tiffany Haddish celebrated her actual bat mitzvah on Tuesday night in Los Angeles in a small, intimate ceremony embraced by Hollywood’s Jewish royalty, including Billy Crystal and Sarah Silverman.
The bat mitzvah was officiated by Rabbi Susan Silverman – Sarah Silverman’s sister – who is based in Jerusalem. Susan’s daughter, Aliza, an actress living in New York, was Haddish’s tutor for her bat mitzvah.
Aliza Silverman spoke enthusiastically about tutoring Haddish: “She was very eager to learn which was so refreshing. She was so enthusiastic and devoted she learned very quickly. I’ve never seen anyone take anything so seriously and still be able to be so light-hearted... She was just constantly working – I got exhausted watching her learn.”
Aliza has tutored other, much younger bat/bar mitzvah students before and acknowledged that to learn Hebrew at age 39 is “much harder, and it was inspiring and intimidating how quickly she was able to pick up things.”
Seeing Haddish reciting Torah verses at the bat mitzvah, Aliza said, “I was very emotional. It was just beautiful, she did it with her all her soul and it was so moving to watch her. She really nailed it.”
Looking at the difference  between her and many of the children she has tutored in the past, Aliza said, “When you see the contrast of her taking it as a blessing, while to most [bar/bat mitzvah study] is just a burden, it made me want to get more in touch with my own spirituality. I’ve never seen someone so happy to be Jewish – and I’m from Israel.”
The daughter of an Eritrean Jew, Haddish found out relatively late in life that she was Jewish but has embraced these Jewish roots in recent years. She chose to celebrate the bat mitzvah on her 40th birthday.
Before the event, Haddish told the website for young Jews, Alma, that she first met her father when she was 27, and learned from him about the persecution he had faced in his homeland.
“I wish my father was still alive, so I could dance with him,” she told Alma. “I mean, I danced with him at my wedding. But that was… I guess that’s enough. I’m looking forward to getting lifted in the chair; I’m excited about that. That’s my favorite part.”
Asked what part of having a bat mitzvah was the hardest, she said “learning to read Hebrew. I can say it, but to actually read the Torah. Learning the alphabet, learning shin, sin, gimmel, mem.”
Aliza Silverman tutored Haddish – she previously had no Jewish education and had to begin by learning the aleph-bet – in between takes on the set of Here Today, a movie Haddish is starring in with Crystal. The film is described on the Internet Movie Database as a “May-September romantic comedy – but without the romance.” Crystal plays a comedy writer losing his mind, and Haddish is a street singer who forms an unlikely friendship with him.
Haddish was reportedly an extremely quick study, and learned enough to read in Hebrew many verses from her bat mitzvah Torah portion.
She also gave a moving dvar Torah – a speech about her Torah portion – which concerned the story of Jacob’s dream of the ladder with the angels ascending and descending, and God’s promise to give him and his descendants the land where he was sleeping. “Surely the Lord is in the place and I knew it not,” says Jacob.
Haddish related this to her own experience with Judaism, describing how she was always Jewish but didn’t know it. She spent years in foster care after her mother developed schizophrenia and her family became homeless.
Common, Jimmy Kimmel and Wanda Sykes also attended the celebration. Barbra Streisand, who could not make it, posted a “Mazel Tov” message on her Instagram account. Then Haddish partied like it was 2019 to celebrate the bat mitzvah and the special at a lavish Netflix gala.
In Haddish’s Black Mitzvah special, she arrived onstage carried in a chair by four muscled men, singing “Hava Nagila,” which she combined with a rap song about partying, ending with “Black Mitzvah, bitch.” She opened her set saying, “That’s right, I’m Jewish, everybody don’t know that about me. I hope you are all here ready to celebrate tonight because this is a celebration, ’cause I have finally come into my full-grown womanhood.”
Throughout the special, during which she talks about her childhood in foster care, her scientific curiosity, her sex life and some memorable drunken episodes, she always returns to the refrain, “I learned a lot of lessons the hard way and I’m here to share with you. It’s my mitzvah, I’m here to teach.”
Best known for blockbuster comedies such as Girls Trip, Haddish appeared on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon on December 2 and sang “Hava Nagila.”