18 Things to Know About Jewish Actor Henry Winkler

The "Happy Days" and "Barry" actor is known as one of the sweetest people in Hollywood.

By all accounts, actor Henry Winkler is one of the loveliest people in Hollywood. “The Late Late Show with James Corden” has called him “the kindest man.” Actress Yvette Nicole Brown once tweeted that Winkler is “the sweetest soul alive.” His “Barry” co-star Bill Hader has shared that Winkler brought bundt cake for all the crew. Actress Drew Barrymore has even said that his kindness “changed her life.” We could go on and on and on…

So, while we at Hey Alma normally reserve “18 Things” articles for up-and-coming pop culture Jewish icons, today we’re doing something a bit different. We simply have to honor the biggest mensch there is.

Here are 18 things to know about Henry Winkler!

1. Henry was born on October 30, 1945 in New York City to a Jewish family.

2. His parents Ilse and Harry were German Jews who escaped rising Nazism in 1939.

“My father knew that it was time. He got a six-week visa from Germany to come and do work in New York but was expected to come right back,” Winkler told NPR host Terry Gross in 2019. “I have told this story — that he took his mother’s jewelry, bought a box of chocolate, melted the chocolate down, put the pieces of jewelry in the chocolate box, melted — poured the chocolate over the jewelry, put the box under his arm, so when he was stopped by the Nazis and they said, are you taking anything of value out of Germany, he said, no, you can open every bag; we’ve got nothing.

He went on, “And the jewelry that he encased in chocolate, he sold when he came out of Ellis Island into New York and was able to start a new a new life here, slowly but surely.”

Unfortunately, his Uncle Helmut did not make it out and was murdered at Auschwitz.

3. Winkler’s parents helped found Congregation Habonim in the Upper West Side of New York City, and Henry became a bar mitzvah there and married his wife there.

4. He is “proud of his religion,” but not as religious as his parents were.

“My children were all bat and bar mitzvah’d. But I’m not as traditional or keeping the tradition as my parents were. We said the prayer over the bread and the wine and the candles on Friday night. We had Shabbat dinner. My parents went to temple every week. They — my father was president of the temple,” he told NPR.

5. His cousin was the late “Law & Order: SVU” actor Richard Belzer.

6. Henry knew that he wanted to be an actor after he saw James Dean’s performance in “Rebel Without a Cause.”

7. He graduated from the McBurney School in 1963. He then attended Emerson College, graduating in 1967. He then received his MFA from the Yale School of Drama in 1970.

8. Most people know that Henry gained notoriety for playing Arthur “the Fonz” Fonzarelli in the ’70s and ’80s sitcom “Happy Days.” But did you know that he danced to “Hava Nagila” in an episode?! Check it out:


9. He met his wife Stacey in a clothing store in Beverly Hills in 1976. They married in 1978 and have three kids, Zoe, Max and Jed. (Jed is Stacey’s son from her previous marriage.) Now, he’s an adorable grandfather to his grandkids.


Happy thanksgiving!

♬ original sound – MARC ANDRÉ

10. He’s played many Jewish roles in his career!

Per Kveller, “He played a Jewish tough kid in ‘The Lords of Flatbush’ opposite a very young Sylvester Stallone. He is widely beloved for starring as the Jewishly named coach Klein in Adam  Sandler’s ‘The Waterboy.’ He’s a cult legend for playing the very Jewish feeling Barry Zuckerkorn in ‘Arrested Development’ and of course, the possibly Jewish Dr. Lu Saperstein in “Parks & Rec,” the father of Jean-Ralphio (Ben Schwartz) and Mona-Lisa (Jenny Slate.)”

11. Please enjoy the very best of the Sapersteins:

12. Despite eight previous nominations, Winkler won his first Emmy in 2018 for his part as acting coach Jean Cosineau in “Barry.”

13. Winkler owns a spider plant which was smuggled out of Nazi Germany!

“It grew from cuttings from the original plant that was in the coffin in which a friend of his family, known as ‘Tante Erma’ was smuggled out of Germany in the 1930s,” Steve Lipman wrote for the New York Jewish Week in 2016.

“I grew up with it, I heard the story, and I thought maybe it’s my responsibility to make sure it lives,” Winkler has said of the plant.

14. His Twitter presence is absolutely delightful.

15. Listen to Bill Hader talk about why he cast Henry Winkler in “Barry”:

Aren’t they just the cutest friends?!

16. He’s not just America’s zayde. Henry also voiced Tommy Pickle’s zayde in the 2021 reboot of “Rugrats.” According to Kveller, Zayde is “a fun retired Florida Jew who loves FaceTiming his grandson and also gives the sweetest, cheesiest ad-libbed Hanukkah blessings.

17. His favorite foods are brisket, potato pancakes and applesauce.

18. Henry is also a seasoned author!

He’s co-written 18 (chai!) books in the Hank Zipzer series, a collection of children’s books whose protagonist is a dyslexic child named, you guessed it, Hank Zipzer. (Henry himself struggled with dyslexia as a child.) The Hank Zipzer prequel series “Here’s Hank” also has 12 books in it. Additionally, he co-wrote the “Alien Superstar” trilogy with Hank Zipzer co-writer Lin Oliver.

In terms of adult books, Henry has written an essay collection called “I’ve Never Met an Idiot on the River: Reflections on Family, Photography, and Fly-Fishing.” Finally, Henry published his autobiography in 2023. It’s called “Being Henry: The Fonz… and Beyond.

Evelyn Frick

Evelyn Frick (she/they) is a writer and associate editor at Hey Alma. She graduated from Vassar College in 2019 with a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature. In her spare time, she's a comedian and contributor for Reductress and The Onion.

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