Natasha Bianca Lyonne Braunstein is a wildly likeable actress best known for her character in “Orange is the New Black.” She’s also starred in “But I’m a Cheerleader,” “Russian Doll” and “Ad Astra.” Born in 1979, the unabashedly genuine star has been open about her struggles with a heroin addiction and complicated family relations. But the troubled child star has grown into an independent director, writer and producer who deserves more attention. In celebration of Netflix’s renewal of “Russian Doll” and to get us hyped for its return early 2021, here’s some fun Jewish factoids about Lyonne.
1. Her childhood: Lyonne was raised in an Orthodox family who lived in Great Neck, Long Island, the Upper East Side and Israel. When her family moved to Israel, she told NPR, she started to dream of becoming Golda Meir. “She was my big childhood icon,” Lyonne said.
When she moved back to the U.S. after her parent’s divorce, Lyonne attended Ramaz School. It was also known as The Rabbi Joseph H. Lookstein Upper School of Ramaz, a Jewish school, where Lyonne said she was a scholarship kid who took honors Talmud classes and read Aramaic.
2. Her lineage: Her mother was the daughter of Holocaust survivors. Her grandmother, Ella, came from a large family, but only she and her two sisters and two brothers survived, which Lyonne credits to their blonde hair and blue eyes. Lyonne’s grandfather, Morris Buchinger, operated a watch company in Los Angeles. During the war, he hid in Budapest as a non-Jew working in a leather factory.
Lyonne told NPR that this upbringing affected her personality. “I think I’m sort of, you know — my lineage is dark survivors. I mean, I come from real Auschwitz stock. So, you know, Hitler was a big player in my childhood, and it was this kind of mentality of surviving. And that, you know, no matter what sort of horrors life throws your way, that was something that had been endured by my grandmother and my grandfather. And, you know, therefore it was kind of the litmus test of a human experience.”
3. Her artistic expression: When she graced the cover of Tablet, she chose to cosplay as Yentl. She told Tablet, “I am in conflict with my heritage and there is an element of integrity to my own, conflicted views. Posing as Yentl seemed like the perfect way to reconcile my complicated feelings about Judaism. But I also feel very connected to it — Bugsy Siegel, Lenny Bruce, Larry David. Those are Jews I can get behind.”
4. Her role in “Russian Doll”: This brilliant role features many nods to her culture. From wishing someone Chag Sameach, to the Israeli drug plot line, to the fact that she keeps repeating her 36th birthday — a significant number in Judaism. Chai, the Hebrew word for life, is 18. Two lives, or 18 x 2, is 36: the show is about getting a second chance at life.
There’s also the yeshiva. Lyonne’s character keeps resurrecting in a building that used to be a yeshiva. This leads her to investigate the original synagogue, where she ends up praying for her life in Hebrew with the rabbi’s assistant.
Finally, remember her necklace? Lyonne’s character wears a South African gold bullion. Why does she have this? Her character explains that her Holocaust survivor grandparents acquired gold bullion because they were paranoid about putting their money in banks.
5. Her role in “Orange Is The New Black”: Her character in this popular show was born into a Jewish family in New York City. At her bat mitzvah, her character expresses frustrations with her parents’ lack of love in front of the entire congregation.
6. Her role in “Everyone Says I Love You”: Or rather, the story of her casting for the Woody Allen musical. She’d just been expelled from her Jewish school when she showed up for the audition dressed in her school-mandated long skirt, according to JTA. “He asked how I was, and instead of just saying ‘fine,’ I launched into it,” Lyonne told JTA. She went into a shpiel of not having time for her Talmud homework and how everyone at school was mean to her. She was cast as his daughter.
6. That iconic curly hair: Come on, you thought we could make this list without appreciating her Jewish beauty? Please.