The year is 2009. I’m standing in the middle of a dance floor, surrounded by a circle of friends and family, all of whom watched me chant Torah a mere three hours before. There’s one light shining down on me and me alone, the beams glinting off my sparkly dress and braces.
The DJ says, “Snowball,” and plays “Love Story” by Taylor Swift.
I look around, feeling the panic rise in me. I wring my hands together. My eyes flit from person to person, unsure of who to pick for my first dance.
Suddenly, he steps forward. His brown curly hair is flattened by a kippah, but his green orbs glisten as they look into mine. I bite my lip nervously, but like, in a cute way. I pile my long brown hair into a messy bun and he steps closer to me. My breathing becomes shaky.
“Hey. I’m Harry. Mind if I have this dance?”
And scene. Is this a fanfiction? No, it’s just a fever dream I had after months in quarantine combined with hours researching Harry Styles’ relationship to Judaism for this very article. Because while no, Harry Styles is not Jewish, that hasn’t stopped him from being very Jew-ish over the years.
To be fair, I didn’t have to do too much research, because I was there ever since Harry tweeted his first “Shana Tova” in 2011. With my Smashingit1D Twitter handle, my 13-year-old self was part of the greatest moment pop culture has ever seen: The development of stan Twitter.
From 2011-2015 (and tbh, still now), One Direction was my entire life, and I was there for every interview, every music video release, every concert, and every must-read fanfiction.
Anyway, all of this naturally led to me, a now 23-year-old Jewish woman, writing an unbelievably niche article about the cross section of Harry Styles and his Jewish adjacency. I’ve trained for this, I was born for this, and it’s my pleasure to give this gift to you all. Let’s dive in.
While One Direction was formed on The X Factor in 2010, we’re going to kick off this timeline in 2011, as that’s the year 1D truly started seeing success. Their first album, Up All Night, was released in the UK only, meaning I had to listen to it on YouTube until it was released in the US in 2012. This album is the soundtrack to their first documentary, One Direction: A Year in the Making, which came out in November 2011.
Why is this important?
The documentary was directed by Ben Winston, a British, and most importantly, Jewish producer and director. Winston was raised in an observant home in London and attended Jewish day school, an upbringing responsible for his Orthodox Jewish lifestyle throughout his life.
Winston spent months with the 1D boys in 2011, and in that time, he became a “friendly mentor” to Harry. I’m assuming in this time, Winston imparted some Jewish knowledge on Styles, because in October, Harry wishes his followers a chag Yom Kippur, the mensch.
It's Yom Kippur tonight so just wanted to wish my Jewish followers well over their fast. Gemar Tov!!
— Harry Styles. (@Harry_Styles) October 7, 2011
Props to Harry for this one, because I’d never even heard “Gamar Tov” before this — I had to Google it. If you’re also apparently less Jewish than the not-Jewish Harry Styles, “Gamar Tov” is the short way to say “may you be sealed in the Book of Life.”
August is a crucial month for this timeline and Harry’s Jewish adjacency as a whole. At this time, Harry finds a home he’d like to buy in Hampstead Heath, a posh neighborhood in northern London. There’s just one caveat: The house needs about two weeks of work. Harry asks Winston (who asks his wife, Meredith) if he can briefly stay with them in the meantime. She agrees, but only for two weeks.
Fast forward two weeks, and Styles still hasn’t bought the house yet — the plans fell through at the last minute. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Ben recalls, “It wasn’t going through. Then [Harry] said, ‘I’m going to stay until Christmas, if you don’t mind.’ Then Christmas came, and…”
For the next 20 (!) months, Styles would sleep on a mattress in the Winstons’ attic. As Cameron Crowe writes for Rolling Stone, “While fans gathered at the empty house where he didn’t live, Styles lived incognito with a couple 12 years his senior. The Winstons’ Orthodox Jewish lifestyle, with a strong family emphasis, helped keep him sane.”
The world was only made privy to this information in 2017, which means that for almost two years, Harry was becoming more Jewish and we had no idea why. Where was all this Jewish knowledge coming from? Honestly, it’s better I didn’t know, because 13-year-old me would probably pass out if I’d thought too hard about Harry celebrating Hanukkah, Yom Kippur, or weekly Shabbats with the Winstons in a mundane, sweet family neighborhood.
After one month of living with the Winstons, Harry kicks off the Jewish New Year with a “Shana Tova” to all his Jewish fans. I, of course, lose my fucking mind.
Shana Tova to all our Jewish fans.. Hope you have a great day .xx
— Harry Styles. (@Harry_Styles) September 16, 2012
And then, the best part of 2012: Harry gets a tattoo of his sister Gemma’s name — in Hebrew.
The boys start filming their “Best Song Ever” music video, which was shot in an old Miami synagogue! The synagogue is now a museum space called The Temple House.
2013: The Golden Year of One Direction (and Harry Styles’ Jewish solidification)
As any One Direction fan will tell you, 2013 was the Golden Year. It was the year of their third album Midnight Memories. It was the year of their second tour, and when This Is Us hit theaters. It was the year of 1D Day, a nonstop eight-hour interactive livestream the boys did full of games, interviews, and live performances.
It was also the year Harry Styles was crowned the Jewish Adjacent King.
In 2013, One Direction would release music videos for “Best Song Ever” and “Story of My Life,” as well as This Is Us, a documentary concert film — all directed and/or produced by Winston. So, basically, Harry was with Winston for a good chunk of the year. That’s a lot of time to impart Jewish knowledge, and it shows. Also, it’s important to note that while researching for this article, I unearthed 2013 Twitter-era screenshots of many of Harry’s tweets, so please allow them to really set the mood for you. You’re welcome.
Harry dines at a kosher Chinese restaurant, Met Su Yan, just north of where he was living with the Winstons.
My favorite Twitter exchange of all time goes down, wherein Harry brags about his Jewish knowledge and uses SO. MUCH. YIDDISH. The other players here are Ben Winston and Gabe Turner, who both work at Fulwell 73, a production company founded by Winston, Gabe Turner, and Ben Turner, who all met at Bnei Akiva, a religious Zionist youth movement.
For his birthday on February 1, Winston gifts Harry a custom blue knitted kippah with the singer’s name on it.
Harry tweets back to a Jewish fan in Hebrew:
Harry wishes us a happy Purim, and encourages us to boo at Haman. He even knows about the megillah. What a gift.
Harry! Singing! Mah Nishtanah! It hurts so good!!
One Direction ruins 15-year-old me with an unbelievably hot photoshoot for Fabulous magazine, but the pièce de résistance was THIS PHOTO, with a Magen David necklace front and center. Just look at his smoldering punim!! (According to the very reputable Twitter account HarryJewish, the necklace was given to Harry by a friend, Natalie.)
At this point, rumors start flying. And so do my hopes. Could I have the best of both worlds? Marrying the love of my life who ALSO happens to be Jewish? Well, sadly for us (me), Harry’s dad set the record straight:
Still lots of queries asking if H is some % Jewish? No idea where any rumours came from in but, categorically, he is 0% Jewish. Not at all.X
— Des Styles (@desstyles) August 11, 2013
Despite the hearts of Jewish girls breaking everywhere, Harry continues to feed us good Jewish content. He starts using Yiddish in his everyday vocab, and still today I wonder what he was schlepping.
Harry steps onto the Teen Choice Awards’ red carpet flashing the Magen David necklace (and a cross necklace) once again.
He was then filled with naches (pride) for Ben Winston!!!
While doing promo for the This is Us movie, Harry talks about how excited he is to eat kosher Chinese food for dinner that night.
He’s then spotted at Le Marais, a kosher restaurant in Manhattan. Even better? He was wearing his blue kippah!
Later in August, Ben Winston has a very Jewish interview with Jewish News, giving the scoop on One Direction’s Jewishness:
“As for Harry, he loves the Jewish community and wearing a Magen David. He always has it round his neck and had it on show at the recent Teen Choice Awards. All the boys love Judaism. They are fascinated by it and they enjoy the family atmosphere. Over the years they have become part of our family really and are interested in what we do. I had to laugh because the other night on the red carpet, a reporter asked Harry why he was a bit late arriving that night. He said, ‘Yeah, because our manager is a nudnik!’ They’ve definitely embraced a Jewish way of life, that’s for sure.”
I could cry.
While on stage at one of their “Take Me Home Tour” concerts, the boys are asked to do an impression of a New Yorker. Niall delegates Harry, who delivers — in a perfect Long Island mom accent — the line: “I have a son. His name is Ishmael. He never calls me anymore!”
I don’t even need to explain why this is Jewish:
Shana tova, right on schedule!
Harry then tweets about fasting for Yom Kippur and even attending Kol Nidre services. This man is not your average gentile!!!
Okay, this one isn’t explicitly Jewish, but I will die on the hill that Scrabble is a favorite game amongst Jewish families. At least, in mine it is, so here we are.
The real test: Can Harry pull off the ultimate Hanukkah party trick of spinning the dreidel upside down?
For some background, 2014 was the year One Direction would release their fourth studio album, Four, embark on their first stadium tour, and release music videos for “Midnight Memories,” “You & I,” “Steal My Girl,” and “Night Changes,” all directed or co-directed by Ben Winston.
Thanks to Ben Winston “teaching him Jewish culture,” Harry’s mission for 2014 is to learn to speak and write Hebrew.
“His obsession started with his tattoos, but now he’s becoming very serious about learning as much as he can. So far he’s learnt to write his name and One Direction in Hebrew. Ben has been helping him with Jewish cultural tips and Harry has even taken the prayers at their house on the Sabbath. He bought Ben a velvet, embroidered kippah from Jerusalem.”
Unfortunately, this info was denounced by Winston as false and taken out of context, but I’m including it anyway because the heart attack it gave me cannot be for nothing.
Harry stops by a Jewish bakery in London and buys a challah!
Nothing in life is consistent. Except for Harry wishing everyone a Shana Tova.
Harry polishes his dreidel, as he should.
Polishing my dreidel and searching for oil. Chanukah sameach everybody. H
— Harry Styles. (@Harry_Styles) December 16, 2014
Unfortunately, 2015 is a rough year. It’s the year Z*** leaves the band, and Harry starts distancing himself from social media. He stops posting for Jewish holidays, he lives in LA more often than London, and overall becomes like a sexy aloof social media ghost. In 2015, the only food we get is this picture of Harry wearing his Magen David.
For the next few years, Harry’s Jewish adjacency sort of drops off… UNTIL.
In February 2020, Ben Winston’s mom, Lira, wins a Lifetime Achievement Award for her 25-year contribution to Jewish education. In a congratulatory video, Harry wishes her a loving mazel tov.
— HSD (@hsdaily) February 11, 2020
The songwriter adds: “By being welcomed so many times into your home and feeling like family, I’ve learned what the Jewish community is like, what it stands for, and what a wonderful person you are.”
Then he says, “You really are my favorite balaboosta.”
WE’RE BACK, FOLKS. Baruch Hashem!!!
The last piece of this glorious timeline I’ll leave you with is this 2017 clip from James Corden’s The Late Late Show. Styles was called in as a last-minute host after Corden’s wife went into labor, and Styles did so well, Corden would ask him to host again in 2019.
But for this timeline’s purposes, here’s the clip from a segment Harry did called “Dogs in Sunglasses.”
— sarahellis (@sarahellis027) July 22, 2018
And with that, we say, welcome back, Harry Stylestein. We (I) missed you.