Portman was born in Jerusalem, Israel She is the only child of Shelley (née Stevens), an American homemaker who works as Portman's agent, and Avner Hershlag, an Israeli citizen who is a fertility specialist and gynecologist Portman's maternal ancestors were Jewish immigrants to the United States, from Austria and Russia (her mother's family had changed their surname from "Edelstein" to "Stevens Her paternal ancestors were Jews who moved to Israel from Poland and Romania. Her paternal grandfather, whose parents died at Auschwitz, was an economics professor in Israel, and her Romanian-born great-grandmother was a spy for British Intelligence during World War II.
Portman's parents met at a Jewish student center at Ohio State University, where her mother was selling tickets. They corresponded after her father returned to Israel, and were married when her mother visited a few years later. In 1984, when Portman was three years old, the family moved to the United States, where her father received his medical training. Portman, a dual citizen of the United States and Israel has said that although she "really love the States... my heart's in Jerusalem. That's where I feel at home
Portman and her family first lived in Washington, D.C., but relocated to Connecticut in 1988, and then settled on Long Island, New York, in 1990.
In Washington, D.C., Portman attended Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School. Portman learned to speak Hebrew in addition to English, and attended a Jewish elementary school, the Solomon Schechter Day School of Glen Cove, New York She graduated from Syosset High School in Syosset, Long Island, in 1999 Portman skipped the premiere of her film Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace so she could study for her high school final exams.
In 2003, Portman graduated from Harvard College with a B.A. degree in psychology don't care if ruins my career," she told the New York Post, according to a Fox News Channel article. "I'd rather be smart than a movie star At Harvard, Portman was Alan Dershowitz's research assistant in a psychology lab. While attending Harvard, she was a resident of Lowell House and wrote a letter to the Harvard Crimson in response to an essay critical of Israeli actions toward Palestinians
Portman took graduate courses at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in the spring of 2004In March 2006, she appeared as a guest lecturer at a Columbia University course in terrorism and counterterrorism, where she spoke about her film V for Vendetta
Portman has professed an interest in foreign languages since childhood and has studied French,Japanese, German and Arabic
As a student, Portman co-authored two research papers that were published in scientific journals. Her 1998 high school paper, "A Simple Method to Demonstrate the Enzymatic Production of Hydrogen from Sugar," co-authored with scientists Ian Hurley and Jonathan Woodward, was entered in the Intel Science Talent Search, in which she was named a semifinalist In 2002, she contributed to a study on memory called "Frontal Lobe Activation During Object Permanence" during her psychology studies at Harvard
Owing to her scientific publications, Portman is among a very small number of professional actors with a finite Erdős–Bacon number, a concept that reflects the "small world phenomenon" in academia and entertainment by measuring the "collaborative distance" between that person and Hungarian mathematician Paul Erdős – and the number of links, through roles in films, by which the individual is separated from American actor Kevin Bacon.
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