Maia Morgenstern (b. May 1, 1962) is a Romanian film and stage actress, described by Florin Mitu of AMOS News as "a symbol of Romanian theater and film". In the English-speaking world, she is probably best known for the role of Mary, the mother of Jesus, in Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ. In Romania, she has been nationally known since her 1992 role as Nela in Balanţa, a film known in the United States as The Oak, set during the waning days of Communist Romania. Born in Bucharest, in a Jewish family, she graduated from the Film and Theatre Academy of Bucharest in 1985. She then played at the youth theater (Teatrul Tineretului) in Piatra Neamţ until 1988, and at the Teatrul Evreiesc de Stat (State Jewish Theatre) in Bucharest 1988-1990. From 1990-1998 she was a member of the company of the National Theatre in Bucharest, and since 1998 of Teatrul Bulandra, also in Bucharest; in addition, she continues to act at the State Jewish Theatre and other Bucharest theaters and elsewhere in Romania. Among her notable stage roles in recent years, in a Romanian-language production of The Blue Angel (Îngerul Albastru in Romanian) at Bucharest's Odeon Theater, in 2001-2 she played (to great critical acclaim) Lola Lola, the character made famous by Marlene Dietrich. At the same time, she was also playing the role of Kathleen Hogan in a Romanian-language production of Israel Horovitz's Park Your Car in Harvard Yard at the State Jewish Theater. Morgenstern has appeared in numerous films, primarily in Hungarian and Romanian-language roles. In The Passion of the Christ, she performs a role in Aramaic, but like the other actors in the cast of that film, she simply memorized her lines phonetically. Her surname Morgenstern means "Morning Star", a title of the Virgin Mary, the character she played in The Passion of the Christ. Mel Gibson, a devout Traditionalist Catholic, thought this of great significance when casting her. In interviews, she has defended The Passion against allegations of antisemitism, saying that the high priest Caiaphas is portrayed not as a representative of the Jewish people, but as a leader of the establishment, adding that "Authorities throughout history have persecuted individuals with revolutionary ideas." She has been married twice and has 3 children: Tudor Aaron, Eva Leea Cabiria and Ana Isadora. She is a member of UNITER (The Theatre Union of Romania) and UCIN (the Romanian Filmmakers Union), as well as a member of the jury that grants Premiile de excelenţă în cultura românească (awards for excellence in Romanian culture).