Photo Credit: YouTube screenshot
Frank Meeink

Edward Norton was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor for his role in “American History X” as Derek Vinyard, a White Supremacist from Venice Beach, California. The individual who served as the inspiration for Norton’s part this week disclosed that he embraced Judaism and is a devout Jew.

“I found out by a beautiful gift from God that I was Jewish through DNA,” he told the NY Post on Tuesday.


Derek shoots two men, killing one and wounding the other, then curb stomps the wounded man to death. He is arrested and sentenced to three years for voluntary manslaughter. In prison, Derek becomes disillusioned by prison gang politics and the Aryan ideology. After he is released, Derek discovers that his younger brother, Daniel, is on his way to becoming a skinhead. Derek tries to persuade him to leave the gang by sharing his prison experiences. In the end, Danny is killed by a black student he had confronted earlier, and Derek cradles his brother’s body, blaming himself for his tragic demise.

Frank Meeink, 48, a former white supremacist skinhead gang member, was the inspiration for the Derek Vinyard role. He became a Neo-Nazi at age 13 and followed the White Supremacist ideology all the way to prison, where he began to reevaluate his life’s decisions. Meeink later discovered his Jewish ethnicity through DNA testing. After prison, he created Harmony Through Hockey, a group dedicated to giving young kids a chance to stay out of violence by belonging to a hockey team. He also visits schools and lectures about his life and how to avoid degenerating into a life of crime.

The DNA test revealed that his ancestry includes a mere 2.4% Ashkenazi Jewish heritage. Despite its seemingly small percentage, its significance is profound: tracing back through his maternal lineage, he discovered that his great-great-grandmother, Elizabeth Zellman Rementer, was Jewish, thereby establishing his Jewish identity according to the tradition of matrilineal descent.

Meeink’s mother, who was Jewish by the same matrilineal descent, was beaten by his stepfather and abused drugs and alcohol.

Meeink devoutly engages in daily prayer, donning the tallit and tefillin, regularly attends synagogue services, participates in three Torah study sessions each week, and strictly adheres to kosher dietary laws.

If we’re lucky, maybe he’ll inspire the next Edward Norton movie. Perhaps “American History Yud?”


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