The Truth About Whoopi Goldberg's Relationship To Judaism

Whoopi Goldberg's name has been forever immortalized in popular culture thanks to her stand-up comedy, her Oscar-winning film work, and her long-running gig as moderator of "The View." But the accredited name on her seminal works is not the one she was born with. The EGOT winner was originally named Caryn Elaine Johnson; like many celebrities, she adopted a stage name — and the first part of the name came to be in the most Goldberg way possible. "When you're performing on stage, you never really have time to go into the bathroom and close the door," she explained to The New York Times Magazine in 2006, adding, "So if you get a little gassy, you've got to let it go. So people used to say to me, You are like a whoopee cushion. And that's where the name came from." 

Goldberg has been less open about the origin of her second name. In 1997, Playbill ran a Reuters quote in which Goldberg supposedly said she picked the last name of "a Jewish ancestor" as her stage name, adding that her "family is Jewish, Buddhist, Baptist and Catholic." At the same time, however, Goldberg said she didn't "believe in man-made religions." 

But throughout her life, Goldberg has offered insight into her relationship with Judaism. She has even made comments that drew considerable backlash. 

Whoopi Goldberg opens up about Judaism

While Whoopi Goldberg has long contended she does not practice any particular religion, she does consider herself Jewish. Speaking at an event in London in 2011, Goldberg said the Jewish faith and traditions are integral parts of her life, The Jewish Chronicle reported at the time. "My mother did not name me Whoopi, but Goldberg is my name, it's part of my family, part of my heritage. Just like being black," she said. "I just know I am Jewish," Goldberg continued, adding, "I practice nothing. I don't go to temple, but I do remember the holidays. Religion is a lot of work, it's exhausting. So I keep it simple, I have a pretty good relationship with God. We talk."

Nearly 20 years earlier, in December 1993, Goldberg was accused of anti-Semitism when she included a recipe for her "Princess American Jewish Friend Chicken" in a Connecticut fundraising cookbook, "Cooking in Litchfield Hills," the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported. The recipe, which included directions like sending "the chauffeur to your favorite butcher shop" and letting the "cook prepare the rest of the meal while you touch up your makeup," was deemed "insensitive" by the Anti-Defamation League. 

Speaking with the Orlando Sentinel the following year, Goldberg dismissed the criticism as "political correctness." She added, "I am a Jewish-American princess. That's probably what bothers people most. It's not my problem people are uncomfortable with the fact that I'm Jewish."

Whoopi Goldberg dives deeper into her ancestry

It's clear Whoopi Goldberg is interested in exploring and sharing her roots with the world, as she agreed to take part in the 2006 PBS documentary "African American Lives," which set out to unveil the ancestry of prominent Black Americans, including Quincy Jones, Mae Jemison, Chris Tucker, T. D. Jakes, Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot, Ben Carson, and Oprah Winfrey. In his research, historian Henry Louis Gates Jr. traced Goldberg's genealogy to two specific ancestral ethnic groups from Guinea-Bissau in West Africa: Papel and Bayote, as ABC News reported at the time. 

After learning about Goldberg's ancestry, representatives from Guinea-Bissau extended a two-page invitation to the actor and comedian to visit the country, a document that "was hand-delivered to the U.S. Embassy," ABC News detailed. "[I]t is with great euphoria that the government of Guinea-Bissau ... learned of your ancestral origins. ... The news has awoken in each and every one of us a deep sense of fraternity. ... We simply cannot remain indifferent to the news of your Guinean heritage," the letter stated, concluding simply with "Please come visit our country." At the time, Goldberg's publicist told The Associated Press (via the East Bay Times) a visit was unlikely, given that the actor was known to be deathly afraid of flying.

From opening up about her ancestry to relationship Judaism, it's clear Goldberg has a deep interest in her history, as well as sharing it with her fans.