Hollywood’s Peerless Advocate for Israel: Max Nussbaum, ‘Rabbi to the Stars’

Giora Goodman, Tony Shaw

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


A neglected figure in the histories of Zionism, American Jewry and US-Israel relations, Max Nussbaum carved out a highly unusual place for himself in Hollywood after the Second World War. Known affectionately as the ‘Rabbi to the Stars’, as spiritual leader of Temple Israel of Hollywood Nussbaum stood at the centre of the entertainment community’s Jewish community for thirty years, where he played a key role in advocating for Israel during the state’s formative decades. The rabbi raised millions of ‘publicity dollars’ for Israel with the help of Hollywood moguls such as Samuel Goldwyn and show business friends like comedian George Jessel, converted the actor Elizabeth Taylor into a Zionist champion, and conversed with America’s political leaders about Middle Eastern affairs. Using American and Israeli archives, this article explores the extensive range of Nussbaum’s pro-Zionist endeavours, demonstrating the importance of Temple Israel of Hollywood’s on and off screen support for Israel. It factors in the role of American Jewish organisations and the particular importance of Zionist advocacy and celebrity culture to the changing attitudes of American Jews and the US government towards Israel from the 1940s to the 1970s. At the same time, it reveals the limits of Nussbaum's pro-Israel political lobbying activities in Washington as head of the Zionist Organization of America and assesses why, despite his devotion to Israel, Nussbaum clashed with its leaders over the goals of the Zionist movement. The article highlights the need to integrate religious figures like Max Nussbaum and cultural players like Hollywood more fully into the history of the US-Israel alliance.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbercead083
JournalEnglish Historical Review
Early online date25 Aug 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 25 Aug 2023


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