From Hollywood Star to Protecting Angel

Famous child actor turns Jiu-Jitsu fighter and volunteers to protect ultra-Orthodox Jews on Shabbat

By Yossi Aloni | | Topics: Antisemitism
Illustration. Students practice Jiu Jitsu. Photo: Abir Sultan/Flash90

In the largely-Jewish neighborhood of Fairfax in Los Angeles, they are called “Shabbat Angels.” A group of martial arts experts has been volunteering in recent months to accompany Orthodox Jews on foot on their way to the synagogue on Shabbat and back home. It started after a rise in antisemitic incidents and assaults during the recent Gaza conflict ”Operation Guardian of the Walls”. Among other things, Jews were beaten on the street, subjected to a car-ramming attempts, stabbed and humiliated. An anti-Israel convoy waved flags and shouted curses at every Jew they saw on the street.

In most cases, the attackers were Muslims who immigrated to the United States and simply wanted to abuse Jews.

One of the volunteers is the former American movie star Jonathan Lipnicki. The Jewish actor first gained fame as the little boy who starred alongside Tom Cross in the movie Jerry MaGuire. Since then he has earned a black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

Every Shabbat he and his friends come to Fairfax and accompany Orthodox Jews on foot to the synagogue and back home so that no one dares to mess with them.

Meanwhile, Lipnicki also gives self-defense lessons to Jewish children, one of whom was attacked with paintball bullets in the middle of the street.

At the tender age of six, Lipnicki became famous for his debut in the movie Jerry Maguire as the cute boy “Ray,” the son of single mother Dorothy Boyd (Renee Zellweger), alongside Tom Cruise. He gained further fame as the boy George Little in the movies Stuart Little and Stuart Little 2. In addition, he appeared in the Michael Jordan children’s basketball movie Like Mike as “Murph.” He also performed the voice role for the tiger cub in the movie Dr. Doolittle.

He is now 30-years-old. For the past few months Lipnicki has been volunteering every weekend accompanying Orthodox Jews. “We have a schedule. We pick up people from their homes and bring them to the synagogue and then back home.”

They come to volunteer in white shirts. Because of the shirt color and also because they walk in pairs alongside the Orthodox Jews, they got the nickname “Shabbat Angels.”

Our presence deters people, but it also shows solidarity,” said Lipnicki, who explained that he was doing it in memory of his grandfather, a Holocaust survivor. “My grandfather was the toughest person I’ve ever met in my life. He was a survivor, and it makes me proud to come from that.” Lipnicki added, “…this is probably one of the more important things I’m going to do in my life.”

In addition to the Shabbat Angels, others are also defending these LA Jews. It turns out that the religious Jews themselves set up a security patrol, one of whose members is Rabbi Yossi Eilfort. He heads the Magen Am (shield of the nation) security organization, some of whose members are IDF veterans.

In 2017, Lipnicki paid his first visit to Israel as part of the Taglit/Birthright project. “I had very high expectations of this place, and everything I experienced here surpassed them. This trip changed my life,” Lipnicki said after a 10-day visit to Israel. “It’s impossible to really describe the feeling when you arrive at the Western Wall or when you experience Shabbat here. I had a wonderful experience and felt very close to everyone on this trip. I feel that there are special energies in Israel that I have never felt before.”

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