Expelled From Ramaz, Former Pot Dealer Scores Netflix Hit
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Expelled From Ramaz, Former Pot Dealer Scores Netflix Hit

Natasha Lyonne, who plays a Jewish ex-heroin addict on 'Orange Is The New Black,' remains connected to her religious upbringing.

Natasha Lyonne is the perfect ex-drug dealer to take home to your Jewish mother—after all, the "Orange Is The New Black" actress was expelled from Ramaz, the acclaimed day school on the Upper East Side, for selling marijuana.

In a classic case of art imitating life, the actress plays a semi-autobiographical role as an acerbic, Jewish ex-heroin addict and prison inmate Nicky Nichols on the show, which will premiere its third season in June. She has spoken publicly about the impact that her religious upbringing has had on her life and career.

“I grew up in an environment where everything was all about Hitler,” Lyonne said in an interview on the popular podcast “How Was Your Week.” “When you talk about it every single day…it becomes so much a part of your DNA,” said the actress, who describes her self as being “from my father’s side Flatbush and from my mother’s side Auschwitz.”

In a 2013 interview on the podcast “WTF with Marc Maron,” the 36-year-old star revealed that not only was she an honors Talmud student at the Ramaz School on the Upper East Side, she was also “expelled for selling weed to the children.”

While Lyonne claims that she does not have completely fond memories of Ramaz, she credits her Talmudic training and the in-depth manner in which the subject is studied as a source of influence in her life and decision-making practices. (Full disclosure: The author of this piece graduated from Ramaz.)

“Basically you just do interpretations of interpretations,” said Lyonne about the Talmud in her interview with Maron. “For me, my early rebellion, before I found the drugs, would be arguing with rabbis.”

Currently, Lyonne embraces her Judaism in a variety of ways. Recently, the actress, whose real name is Natasha Bianca Lyonne Braunstein, spoke at an event at the historic Sixth & I Synagogue in Washington D.C. in honor of the holiday of Shavuot.

You can catch Lyonne, and any Jewish references that she may make, on the third season of Orange is the New Black, which is set to premiere on Netflix on June 12. For those who don’t watch, seasons one and two are available for binging on the streaming website.

Lyonne could not be reached for comment.

editor@jewishweek.org

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