The (Almost) Hollywood Hasid

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Amazing: A Hasidic man was cast in a Hollywood movie.

More amazing: As Natalie Portman’s husband.

Sublime: He gave it all up.



chasid1.jpgFirst he couldn’t hold Natalie Portman’s hand – and now a Williamsburg Hasidic Jew-turned-actor has to give up his chance to hit it big in a Hollywood movie.

Abe Karpen, 25, a married father of three, was cast as Portman’s husband in “New York I Love You,” a film composed of 12 short stories about love in the five boroughs.

“I am backing out of the movie,” said Karpen, a kitchen cabinet salesman. “It’s not acceptable in my community. It’s a lot of pressure I am getting. They [the rabbis] didn’t like the idea of a Hasidic guy playing in Hollywood.

“I have my kids in religious schools and the rabbi called me over yesterday and said in order for me to keep my kids in the school I have to do what they tell me and back out,” Karpen said.

While news of Karpen’s withdrawal sent waves of disappointment through the movie set, the Hasidic community was up in arms over Karpen’s acting gig – forcing him to flee for the weekend, a friend said.

“We are very sorry that this has created a problem for him personally and for the community,” said the film’s executive producer, Jan Korbelin.

“He’s a great ambassador of his faith and it came out of the left field. … This is the last thing this picture should be doing,” Korbelin said. “This film is about love and understanding between different people and communities.”

Just Wednesday, Karpen was strolling along the Fulton Ferry State Park under the Brooklyn Bridge alongside Portman, 26, who sported a dark head-covering and a coat.

“They wanted me to hold her hand, but I said ‘no way,'” said Karpen, who proudly stood his ground. “It’s against our religion. You can’t even hold your wife’s hand on the street.”

Then came the howls of protest about his unorthodox job.

“This is when I woke up and saw that I made a big mistake. My kids mean everything to me and my community where I live means everything to me,” said Karpen, who comes from a prominent Williamsburg, Brooklyn, family.

His longtime friend Levi Okunov said the Karpens had to flee the city for the weekend. “The community wants to kill him,” he said.

Hasidic community activist Isaac Weinberger said Karpen should have known better.

“We don’t watch television. We don’t go to the movies, so to be in a movie is the worst thing. It’s a shame for any Hasid,” he said.

They also don’t roll on Shabbos (lanuage warning).

While many of you reading this will no doubt think he’s a huge jerk for passing up such an opportunity, I think he’s to be commended. He actually has principles.

Still, despite his troubles, Karpen had nothing but kind words for the film and Portman.

“She’s the only one I was willing to work with,” Karpen said. “I was shocked that she’s a Hollywood big shot. We talked in Hebrew. … She wants to become more religious.”

I said principles, not perceptiveness.

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A lawyer by education, David Lange - founder and managing editor of Israellycool - found his calling in advocating for Israel and the Jewish people. He is available for public speaking engagements.