A Mitzvah For Ms. Tassler

Apr 24, 2006  •  Post A Comment

The news that CBS Entertainment President Nina Tassler, at the age of 49, is going to become bat mitzvah Friday might divide her circle of acquaintances into those who wonder why and those who wonder what took her so long.

It seems apparent that faith has long held a place in her life that is perhaps even more prominent than the one it held in her father’s. Her mother, raised in a Puerto Rican Catholic family, converted to Judaism before marrying Ms. Tassler’s dad.

“My mother, having gone through conversion, was perhaps more observant than my father,” Ms. Tassler told The Insider. “My father was raised in a more traditional home, albeit a little bit more sociopolitical. He was not a proponent of organized religion, and also this was the ’60s and the politics of Reform Judaism was much more their cup of tea.”

But the Jewish holidays were observed “all my life,” said Ms. Tassler, a native New Yorker who learned what it feels like to be one of few Jewish kids when her family lived in Upstate New York-where, “It was me, my sister and the pharmacist’s son”-and one of many Jewish kids when the family moved to Miami.

Miami would prove to be pivotal in her spiritual development.

“One of my best girlfriends was raised in a conservative home, very, very traditional, and I used to spend the holidays with her. Her grandfather lived with them. He was orthodox. I had never met anybody who incorporated so much of the custom and tradition in the very essence of everyday living. He would walk around the house singing in Hebrew and chanting and was a very lovely man. I just was very touched by that.”

Fast forward: College was, among other things, the first time she was not at a seder table with her own famiy during the Passover holiday. “So I made my own seder in college,” she said. “It started my freshman year with, like, 12 of us-myself and some friends. It grew to like 20 my sophomore year. My junior and senior year, the numbers were up in the 50s. It was really terrific.”

Fast forward: It is two years ago. Ms. Tassler and actor husband Jerry Levine-who, like Ms. Tassler, and Ms. Tassler’s boss, Leslie Moonves, appeared as himself in the 2004 film “Frankie and Johnny Are Married”-have been members of Temple Beth Hillel some 13 years. Their son has attended a Jewish high school and their daughter has gone to a Jewish day school.

“I dropped her off for Hebrew school on a Sunday. I just stood there in the parking lot at the temple, and I said, ‘This is the right time [to go for my bat mitzvah], because she’s going to be here on Sundays, we’ll come [to temple] together. I walked into the temple office and signed up for the class and that was it.'”

Fast forward: It is mid-April and Ms. Tassler has spent two years studying Jewish history and culture and prayers and how to chant from the Torah. She has learned to read Hebrew. “There’s the Hebrew without vowels, which is how the Torah is written. That’s hard to read. I fumble around with that. But if I have vowels, I have no problem. I’m not fluent. I can read it. I don’t know what I’m saying. I’m still kind of into it and may continue studying it.

“I’ve had several meetings with my rabbi and cantor to learn my Torah portion, to talk about why I’m doing this, what the significance is. It’s been an amazing experience,” said Ms. Tassler, who thrives on study, learning, interpreting and debating.

She also has received a prayer shawl from her mother.

She also has had practice in not being in control. Neither the choice of her Torah portion, Leviticus, Chapter 13, with its detailed descriptions of skin diseases, nor the date of her bat mitzvah were hers.

“When I saw the date, I thought: ‘Can you imagine if it were May?”-in May she would be bumping up against the so-important upfront presentation of the 2006-07 CBS lineup to advertisers at Carnegie Hall in Manhattan.

As it is, “I’ve got two rough cuts the Friday of the bat mitzvah, and and then I’ve got to come into the office because I have three rough cuts Saturday morning before the party.”

“Yes, ‘My husband is having a little function,’ as they say.”

The icing on this satisfying and enriching cake for Ms. Tassler? “Carnegie Hall is nothing compared to this. So I’m glad I’m doing this before Carnegie Hall.”