November 18, 2018

Jaglom’s ‘Train’ Ride Into Love and Hatred

Henry Jaglom. Photo courtesy of the Rainbow Film Company.

One of the more pervasive fantasies of Jewish boys and young men growing up amidst the anti-Semitism of Europe and the United States in the first half of the last century ran as follows:

He would meet a beautiful blonde — a gentile, an Aryan, a shiksa — who fell hard for him but enlivened her comments with a compendium of anti-Semitic clichés, topped by the boast that she could smell a Jew a mile away. Our hero would never reveal his own heritage until the climactic moment, dramatically and physically, when during an ardent bedroom scene the boy tells the panting girl that he is a Jew.

Actor Kirk Douglas recalled a very similar scenario in his 1988 autobiography, “The Ragman’s Son.” However, Henry Jaglom does him one better in his film “Train to Zakopané.”

Jaglom, a triple threat as actor, writer and director, didn’t have to invent the script. It was passed to him by his father, Simon (Semyon) Jaglom.

In 1928, Semyon was a young businessman, traveling through Poland by train. Sharing the compartment with him was Katia, an attractive Polish army nurse, her female friend and a Catholic priest.

Katia, portrayed by Tanna Frederick, Jaglom’s favorite actress and wife, is obviously taken with Semyon (Mike Falkow), a sharply dressed young businessman, who is given to bowing and kissing a lady’s hand by way of introduction.

As the foursome get to know one another, the chatter flows easily, focusing first on the changes wrought by World War I, though punctuated by Katia’s favorite topic, the greed, slyness and all-around evilness of Jews.

Semyon occasionally tries to defend his (secret) co-religionists, but without much success. The priest chimes in that he can’t forgive the Jews for “rejecting our Lord,” and adds that “good Jews are the exception, not the rule.”

The two-hour movie draws a comparison between the almost universal, open and deeply-rooted anti-Semitism of the first half of the last century and the less open and respectable form it generally takes today.

Nevertheless, Katia and Semyon keep getting closer over wine and dinner at the train’s buffet while marveling at the star-lit sky as the train hurls through the rural Polish countryside toward the winter sport resort of Zakopané. Will passion triumph over prejudice? Will Semyon acknowledge his heritage? Will Katia see the errors of her ways and join a kibbutz?

“Train to Zakopané” draws a comparison between the deeply rooted anti-Semitism of the first half of the last century and the respectable form it generally takes today.

As writer and director, Henry Jaglom is not of the “aw, shucks, ma’am” school of cowboy dialogue. His characters talk volubly, which may overwhelm viewers at the beginning but adds depth as the plot accelerates toward its climax.

Jaglom is one of the more intriguing Hollywood personalities. His resume includes 21 films as director and writer, 11 as actor, and six theater productions as playwright. He is also one of the entertainment industry’s more controversial figures. Some critics laud him as one of Hollywood’s most original’s directors, while other assign him to the lowest level of his profession.

Born in London 80 years ago, his Russian-born father and German-born mother immigrated to America when he was a year old, beating the outbreak of World War II by a few months.

Though raised in a family strongly involved in Jewish causes and schooled in heavily Jewish Manhattan, Jaglom evinced little interest in his heritage until, at 21, he visited Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial museum, for the first time.

Now he is in the midst of writing “The Third Stone on the Second Row — A Family Memoir and a Brief History of the Jewish People.” He has completed the first 500 pages and in a phone interview said that his Jewishness is evolving with each additional page.

“There is an endless fascination in being Jewish,” he said.

“Train to Zakopané” opens May 5 at Laemmle’s Monica in Santa Monica, Playhouse 7 in Pasadena and Town Center in Encino. It opens May 11 at the Music Hall in Beverly Hills.

New book reveals a lifetime of love letters between Kirk Douglas and wife

Taking a break in 1966 on the set of “Cast a Giant Shadow” in Israel are (from left) Kirk Douglas, son Eric, 8, sitting on the lap of mother Anne Douglas, and actor Yul Brynner. Photo courtesy of the Douglas Collection

“If I live to be one hundred, there will still be so many things unsaid,” Kirk Douglas wrote his wife, Anne, in 1958, four years after their marriage in Las Vegas.

Decades later, after marking his 100th birthday on Dec. 9, 2016, the movie star wrote, “As I have now reached that milestone, I can attest that it is still true.”

Both declarations are included in the couple’s newly published book, written with Marcia Newberger, “Kirk and Anne: Letters of Love, Laughter, and a Lifetime in Hollywood.”

The book, Kirk’s 12th and Anne’s first, chronicles the ardent, if sometimes stormy, relationship between two strong personalities — he the son of a hard-drinking Jewish immigrant ragman and junk collector, she the daughter of a prosperous German family.

During his 60-year film career, when Kirk was frequently away for long periods on location shoots, he and Anne wrote to each other consistently. They started writing on paper stationery, even after the era of email set in. And Anne kept every letter, preserving a stack in the couple’s temperature-controlled wine cellar in Beverly Hills.

From the letters collected for the new book, the reader learns not only about the couple’s love life — including Kirk’s infidelities with various movie queens — but also about the affairs of fellow Hollywood stars, sparing few graphic details.

But that’s only part of the book. The couple befriended U.S. presidents and their wives, from John and Jackie Kennedy and Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson through to Ronald and Nancy Reagan and Barack and Michelle Obama.

The Douglases also played and worked with Los Angeles’ rich and famous and cast a frequently jaundiced eye on the predominantly Jewish — and often imperious — magnates who dominated Hollywood, before the studios transformed into bland corporations.

In the book, Kirk writes, “Sometimes it was easy in Hollywood to forget that anti-Semitism, polite or overt, was still mainstream. Jews ran the major studios. With Anglicized names and beautiful blonde shiksas replacing their starter wives, they lived like the wealthy WASPS of their movies: entertaining lavishly at their grand estates; presiding over screenings in projection rooms hung with museum-quality art; voting Republican.”

The pair also take particular pride in their Douglas Foundation, which has contributed some $120 million for charitable projects, among them numerous playgrounds for poorer communities in the United States and Israel.

Anne addressed her love letters to “Isidore” or “Izzy,” and Kirk wrote back to “Stolz.” Thereby, like almost every other entry in the book, hangs a story.

Back in Russia, Kirk’s father’s name was Herschel Danielovitch, but after settling in New York, he “Americanized” his name, sort of, to Harry Demsky. When his son (born Issur Danielovitch) entered St. Lawrence University in northern New York State — on a wrestling scholarship — he enrolled as Isidore Demsky. He was usually called Izzy, a salutation adopted later by his wife.

Anne’s family left Germany shortly after the Nazis came to power, and she was living in Brussels when the German army invaded Belgium. With the help of a friend, Albert Buydens, she escaped by car to France. The two wed, in a marriage of convenience, to enable Anne to gain Belgian citizenship.

As a multilinguist, she quickly found work in the French movie industry in public relations and as a writer of movie subtitles. When Kirk, who had divorced his first wife, actress Diane Dill, came to Paris in 1953 to star in “Act of Love,” he met the pretty and brainy Anne Buydens, now also divorced.

Kirk already had established an impressive reputation for his outsized ego and appetite for bedding an endless parade of women, and at the moment was engaged to marry Italian-American actress Pier Angeli. Nevertheless, he made a play for Anne and immediately asked her out for dinner. He was stunned when she declined this and subsequent invitations. That’s when Kirk started to label her “Stolz,” a German word usually translated as “proud,” but, Anne said, also meaning “stubborn.”

Kirk, now 100, and Anne, 98, recently opened their spacious, but not ostentatious, Beverly Hills home for an interview with the Journal.

To compress a lively courtship, the couple married in 1954 in Las Vegas, and when the justice of the peace asked her if she would take Kirk as her lawful husband, she replied, in yet-imperfect English, “I take thee, Kirk, as my AWFUL husband.” After the laughter died down, the flustered Anne explained that she thought the word meant “full of awe.”

Despite this rocky start, after 49 years of marriage, Anne decided in 2003 to convert to Judaism under the tutorship of Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple in Westwood. She described her mikveh experience to the Journal.

“After removing all nail polish, I entered the swimming pool and put my head under the water,” she recalled. “I came out looking like a wet dog. But I was Jewish.”

She announced her new status at a full-scale religious celebration marking the couple’s 50th wedding anniversary. “Kirk has been married to two shiksas,” she said. “It is time he got a nice Jewish girl.”

One immediate impact was that Kirk, who had lighted the Friday evening candles at their home throughout the marriage, now transferred the honor to his wife.

Kirk has developed his own definition of Judaism. “I grew up praying in the morning and laying tefillin, but I gave up much of the formal aspect of religion,” he said. “I believe in God and I’m happy to be a Jew. But I think too much religion has not helped civilization. Caring for other people is my religion.”

The sons and grandchildren from Kirk’s two marriages follow the elective-choice pattern of many interfaith families. Of Kirk’s children, Oscar-winner Michael Douglas, born of his first marriage, identifies most strongly as Jewish, and two years ago used a $1 million prize to launch an outreach program to connect children of mixed marriages with their Jewish heritage. None of Kirk’s four sons had a bar mitzvah, but four of his seven grandchildren insisted on celebrating their b’nai mitzvah.

Kirk, who changed his name to Douglas before entering the Navy during World War II, learned about anti-Semitism early on. His father could not get a job at the local mills in New York because they didn’t hire Jews, and young Issur was turned down for a newspaper delivery route for the same reason. When Kirk was elected class president at St. Lawrence College, a major donor threatened to withhold donations unless the election result was nullified. 

Even as a bona fide movie star, Kirk and the likes of Walter Matthau, Peter Lorre and Billy Wilder couldn’t escape prejudice in the 1950s and ’60s.

In the mid-1950s, Douglas formed his own independent production company, naming it Bryna, in honor of his mother, who also gave birth to six daughters. Among the first productions of the company — of which Anne became president — were “Paths of Glory,” followed by “Spartacus,” arguably Kirk’s most famous movie.

Kirk took his mother to one of his film premieres, with the words “Bryna Productions Present” high up on the marquee. When his mother saw this, she turned to her son and whispered in Yiddish, “Isn’t America a wonderful country?”

New book reveals a lifetime of love letters between Kirk Douglas and wife

“If I live to be one hundred, there will still be so many things unsaid,” Kirk Douglas wrote his wife, Anne, in 1958, four years after their marriage in Las Vegas.

Decades later, after marking his 100th birthday on Dec. 9, 2016, the movie star wrote, “As I have now reached that milestone, I can attest that it is still true.”

Both declarations are included in the couple’s newly published book, written with Marcia Newberger, “Kirk and Anne: Letters of Love, Laughter and a Lifetime in Hollywood.”

The book, Kirk’s 12th and Anne’s first, chronicles the ardent, if sometimes stormy, relationship between two strong personalities — he the son of a hard-drinking Jewish immigrant ragman and junk collector, she the daughter of a prosperous German family.

During his 60-year film career, Kirk was frequently away for long periods on location shoots, and husband and wife wrote to each other constantly. Fortunately, the couple started writing on actual paper stationary and continued the habit even after the start of the email era. And it helped that Anne kept every letter, both ways, preserving one stack in the couple’s temperature-controlled wine cellar in Beverly Hills.

Along the way, the reader learns not only about the couple’s love life — including Kirk’s infidelities with various movie queens — but also about the affairs of fellow Hollywood stars, sparing few graphic details.

But that’s only part of the book. The couple befriended U.S. presidents and their wives, from John and Jackie Kennedy and Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson through to Ronald and Nancy Reagan and Barack and Michelle Obama.

The Douglases also played and worked with Los Angeles’ rich and famous and cast a frequently jaundiced eye on the predominantly Jewish — and often imperious — magnates who dominated the studios, before these transformed into bland corporations.

In the new book, Kirk writes, “Sometimes it was easy in Hollywood to forget that anti-Semitism, polite or overt, was still mainstream. Jews ran the major studios. With Anglicized names and beautiful blonde shiksas replacing their starter wives, they lived like the wealthy WASPS of their movies: entertaining lavishly at their grand estates; presiding over screenings in projection rooms hung with museum-quality art; voting Republican.”

The pair also take particular pride in their Douglas Foundation, which has contributed some $120 million for charitable projects, among them numerous playgrounds for poorer communities in the United States and Israel.

Anne addressed her love letters to “Isidore” or “Izzy,” and Kirk wrote back to “Stolz.” Thereby, like almost every other entry in the book, hangs a story.

Back in Russia, Kirk’s father’s name was Herschel Danielovitch, but after settling in New York, he “Americanized” his name, sort of, to Harry Demsky. When his son (born Issur Danielovitch) entered St. Lawrence University in northern New York state — on a wrestling scholarship – he enrolled as Isidore Demsky. He was usually called Izzy, a salutation adopted later by his wife.

Anne’s family left Germany shortly after the Nazis came to power, and she was living in Brussels when the German army invaded Belgium. With the help of a friend, Albert Buydens, she escaped by car to France. The two wed, in a marriage of convenience, to enable Anne to gain Belgian citizenship.

As a multi-linguist, she quickly found work in the French movie industry in public relations and as a writer of movie subtitles. When Kirk, who had divorced his first wife, actress Diane Dill, came to Paris in 1953 to star in “Act of Love,” he met the pretty and brainy Anne Buydens.

Kirk already had established an impressive reputation for his outsized ego and appetite for bedding an endless parade of women, and at the moment was engaged to marry Italian-American actress Pier Angeli. Nevertheless, he made a play for Anne and immediately asked her out for dinner. He was stunned when she declined this and subsequent invitations. That’s when Kirk started to label her “Stolz,” a German word usually translated as “proud,” but, Anne said, also meaning “stubborn.”

Kirk, now 100, and Anne, 98, recently opened their spacious, but not ostentatious Beverly Hills home for an interview with the Journal. To compress a lively courtship, the couple married in 1954 in Las Vegas, and when the justice of the peace asked her if she would take Kirk as her lawful husband, she replied, in yet-imperfect English, “I take thee, Kirk, as my AWFUL husband.” After the laughter died down, the flustered Anne explained that she thought the word meant “full of awe.”

Despite this rocky start, after 49 years of marriage, Anne decided, on her own, to convert to Judaism under the tutorship of Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple in West Los Angeles. She described her mikvah experience to the Journal.

“After removing all nail polish, I entered the swimming pool and put my head under the water,” she recalled. “I came out looking like a wet dog – but I was Jewish.”

She announced her new status at a full-scale religious celebration marking the couple’s 50th wedding anniversary. “Kirk has been married to two shiksas,” she opened. “It is time he got a nice Jewish girl.”

One immediate impact was that Kirk, who had lighted the Friday evening candles at their home throughout the marriage, now transferred the honor to his wife.

Kirk has developed his own definition of Judaism. “I grew up praying in the morning and laying tefillin, but I gave up much of the formal aspect of religion,” he said. “I believe in God and I’m happy to be a Jew. But I think too much religion has not helped civilization. Caring for other people is my religion.”

The sons and grandchildren from Kirk’s two marriages follow the elective-choice pattern of many interfaith families. Of Kirk’s children, Oscar-winner Michael Douglas, born of his first marriage, identifies most strongly as Jewish and two years ago used a $1 million prize to launch an outreach program to connect children of mixed marriages with their Jewish heritage.

None of Kirk’s four sons had a bar mitzvah, but four of his seven grandchildren insisted on celebrating their b’nai mitzvah.

Kirk, who changed his name to Douglas before entering the Navy during World War II, learned about anti-Semitism early on. His father couldn’t get a job at the local mills because they didn’t hire Jews, and young Issur was turned down for a newspaper delivery route for the same reason. When Kirk was elected class president at St. Lawrence College, a major donor threatened to withhold major donations unless the election result was nullified.

Even as a bona fide movie star, Kirk and the likes of Walter Matthau, Peter Lorre and Billy Wilder couldn’t escape prejudice in the 1950s and ‘60s.

In the mid-1950s, Douglas formed his own independent production company, naming it Bryna, in honor of his mother, who also gave birth to six daughters. Among the company’s first productions were “Paths of Glory,” followed by “Spartacus,” arguably Kirk’s most famous movie.

Kirk took his mother to one of his film premieres, with the words “Bryna Productions Present” high up on the marquee. When his mother saw this she turned to her son and whispered in Yiddish, “Isn’t America a wonderful country?”

Three extraordinary lives: Kirk Douglas, Abe Zarem and Max Webb

From left: Kirk Douglas, Abe Zarem and Max Webb

The rabbis teach that Abraham was the first who had the merit of looking old. Notice the word — “merit.” It was considered, by our tradition, a good thing; it meant you had lived and learned. We compliment people by saying, “You look so young!” Accomplishment and wisdom counted more to our ancestors than vitality; innocence was not as valued as experience. For our tradition, what lay before you was not as important as what was behind you.

Recently in my synagogue, we celebrated three remarkable individuals who reached their 100th birthdays. One hundred years is a long time when measuring a human life. Each was distinguished in different fields, and together, they summed up the Jewish experience of the 20th century.

I am proud and privileged to introduce you to the star, the scientist and the survivor.

It is a privilege and a blessing to know each of them. The first is the star: Kirk Douglas, born Issur Danielovitch. 

One day in the mid-’90s, I was preparing to move back to New York to teach at the Jewish Theological Seminary. The phone rang and when I answered, the voice on the other end of the line said, “This is Kirk Douglas.”

Yes, I wanted to say, and I’m the queen of England.

But it was! He had seen me on a TV show about the Bible and wanted to study together. But I was leaving. Two years later, when I came to Sinai Temple, we reconnected and have been studying together ever since.

The first time I met him, he told me that because of his stroke, he spoke slowly and felt a little guilty for it. I said, “Don’t feel guilty, everyone uses what they have. Didn’t you always use the fact that you were handsome and charming?” I asked. “You know,” Douglas answered, “I never thought I was handsome.”

“Really?” I marveled, “and what about charming?”

“Oh,” he said, “I always knew I was charming.”

Kirk Douglas grew up so poor that his father would pick up rags off the street and resell them. On a hot day when I was marveling at air conditioning, I said to him, “My God, in your day, you had a block of ice and a fan.” He fixed me with his famous stare and said, “Who had a fan?”

But he roared out of Brooklyn and onto the stage and screen. He named his production company after his mother, Bryna. She lived to see it in lights on Broadway. Surrounded by friends and family, he celebrated his 100th birthday.

He and his wife, Anne, have dedicated almost 500 playgrounds, enabling kids from poor neighborhoods to have beautiful, modern facilities on which to play. In addition to his other charities, they named the Early Childhood Center here at Sinai Temple.

The scientist, Abe Zarem, was born in Chicago. Abe is among the dwindling number of surviving people who worked on the Manhattan Project, the greatest cooperative scientific endeavor of modern times. Physicist Robert Oppenheimer directed the Los Alamos Laboratory in New Mexico, where scientists dedicated themselves to building an atomic bomb before our enemies accomplished it.

After such an auspicious beginning, Abe went on to the Stanford Research Institute and became vice president of Xerox. He is also responsible for the invention of the camera with the fastest shutter speed in the world.

But Abe is gifted not only with an extraordinary scientific mind. His mother told him when he was young that his life’s mission was to meet gifted people and make them better than they would have been if they hadn’t met him. So Abe mentored thousands of people — scientists and CEOs and more than a couple of rabbis.

When Abe first took me under his wing, he told me he was a mentor and a tormentor. He pushed, encouraged and gave honest feedback. 

Our Chumashim are dedicated by Abe and Esther as a legacy of this man. Each time we follow along in the Torah, it is because of the philanthropy of Abe Zarem, whose foundation gives to causes near and far.

 On Yom Kippur, this then-99-year-old man chanted the Book of Jonah — the entire book — in a voice the entire congregation could hear. It rang out, and we were stunned by the vitality and skill of someone who has seen so much and done so much.

And the survivor: Max Webb. Max was born in Lodz, Poland. He and his family were taken by the Nazis. He trained himself as a medic and survived 18 concentration camps. He saw the worst of human beings.

But he knew he would survive if it was possible. He told his mother when the Nazis were coming that if she heard he was shot or hanged, it might be true, but if she heard he starved, don’t believe it. He knew he had the smarts and resources to survive.

After the war, he became a dance instructor. And the same grace and spirit that animated his dance has woven throughout his life.

Max’s success as a builder touches all areas of his life. He promised that if he survived, he would help rebuild Jewish life. And he has — here and in Israel. Apart from the actual buildings he has created, many synagogues, schools and even university programs owe their existence to this remarkable man.

I could not be more proud to be the Max Webb Senior Rabbi of Sinai Temple.

No life can be adequately summarized in a few sentences. Even more, no 100-year-old life can. And most of all, not lives as rich and fascinating as those of Kirk, Abe and Max.

In these three lives is the story of our people. The star, the scientist, the survivor. One created works of art that millions admire. The second created products and ideas that benefited the lives of countless people. The third supported Jewish life here and abroad and told the story of our people over and over again to young and old.

All three have unbelievable life force. These are men who, even at 100, sparkle with life and give you life when you are with them. They have seen incredible changes; they were born at the end of World War I, an era of trench warfare and silent pictures. These men and a few others like them took that world and brought it kicking and screaming into the 21st century.

Not only their talents, but their longevity enabled these three titans to contribute so much to our community and to the world. We are fortunate to be the beneficiaries of their goodness, generosity and wisdom. The rabbis were right: The blessings of age are often greater than the blessings of youth.


David Wolpe is the Max Webb Senior Rabbi at Sinai Temple.

Moving and Shaking: Kirk Douglas birthday, JCC’s ‘One. Healthy. Community.’, and more

Legendary actor Kirk Douglas celebrated his 100th birthday with family, friends and a shot of vodka during a party in the Sunset Room of the Beverly Hills Hotel on Dec. 9.

The approximately 135 attendees included Douglas’ wife, Anne; his son and fellow actor Michael Douglas and his wife, actress Catherine Zeta-Jones, and their children Dylan Michael and Carys Zeta.

Also in attendance were Don Rickles, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Steven Spielberg, Arthur Cohn, Jeff Kanew and Sinai Temple Rabbi David Wolpe, who has been Douglas’ Torah study teacher for many years.

“It was a great privilege to celebrate a century of Kirk surrounded by his family, his friends and screens around the room with clips of his astonishing career,” Wolpe told the Journal. “I offered a blessing, but more, I felt blessed.” 

From left: Lenny Levi, Celine Kabaker, Julia Trakhtenberg, David Fox and Peter Genov attend a retreat in Malibu organized by graduates of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ Community Leadership Institute. Photo courtesy of Celine Kabaker

On the weekend she graduated from The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ Community Leadership Institute, Celine Kabaker, a merchandiser at Juicy Couture, helped organize a gathering for more than 20 people at Wilshire Boulevard Temple’s Camp Hess Kramer in Malibu.

The Dec. 9–10 event was her final project as a participant in the institute’s 15-month leadership training program for people ages 25 to 40.

As the sun went down that Friday, the event kicked off with an intimate Reform Shabbat service led by singer, guitarist and Kehillat Israel b’nai mitzvah teacher Bryce Megdal. The service was followed by a salmon dinner and a bonfire, where the attendees enjoyed s’mores, wine, beer and music. Around midnight, people retreated to their cabins.

In the morning, Kasey Jones of the Los Angeles fitness studio Aura led a yoga class for half the group while the others hiked in the Santa Monica Mountains above Malibu.

 “We wanted to really have that kind of shabbaton-camp-experience vibe, and also wanted people to feel like they could unwind and celebrate Shabbat fully,” said Kabaker, a 2008 graduate of The American University of Paris.

The institute’s program, which this year had 68 graduates, helps working young adults become philanthropically minded Jewish leaders. Individuals who work in real estate, entertainment and other fields — as well as members of the young-adult Russian Jewish community — participated in the program, which included a 10-day trip to Israel, a one-on-one mentoring experience and training in various aspects of leadership.

Before they graduate, participants are asked to complete a final project that engages the community in Jewish life.


Chabad West Coast Director Rabbi Boruch S. Cunin and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti embrace at the 34th annual Chabad of the West Coast menorah lighting at L.A. City Hall. Photo courtesy of Chabad of the West Coast

The 25th yahrzeit for Rabbi Avraham Hyam Lapin, who served as chief rabbi of Cape Town, South Africa, before serving at a small congregation in San Jose, was held Dec. 11 at Congregation Beth Jacob.

More than 150 people attended the ceremony, including two of Lapin’s sons, Raphael Lapin and Rabbi David Lapin — a leader in the ba’al teshuvah (return to Judaism) movement in South Africa in the 1970s and ’80s — and syndicated radio host Michael Medved, a former student of the late rabbi, who died in 1991 in San Jose and is buried in Jerusalem.


The 34th annual Chabad of the West Coast menorah lighting at Los Angeles City Hall on Dec. 13 drew an array of local leaders, including Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, Chabad of Downtown Los Angeles Rabbi Moshe Greenwald, West Coast Chabad Director Rabbi Boruch S. Cunin and others.

Greenwald emceed the event. Garcetti’s remarks stressed lessons gleaned from the perseverance of the Maccabees.

The Kol Yakov Yehuda Boys Choir, led by Rabbi Mendel Duchman and his son, Yakov Yehuda, performed classic Chanukah songs.

A menorah rescued during the Holocaust from Katowicz, Poland, was lit at the ceremony, which was held 11 days before the first night of Chanukah. 

Moving & Shaking highlights events, honors and simchas. Got a tip? Email ryant@jewishjournal.com.

Friends, family to fete Kirk Douglas on his 100th birthday

Kirk Douglas — actor, director, producer, author, philanthropist and Torah student — will celebrate his 100th birthday Dec. 9, and there is a special treat in store for the centenarian.

Douglas has been under strict medical orders to abstain from alcohol, but his cardiologist, Dr. P.K. Shah, promised the actor that if he made it to 100, he could have a glass of vodka. So at an afternoon tea party in Beverly Hills, Shah will be in attendance to personally administer the medication.

Some 150 other guests will fete Douglas, ranging from extended family, including his three sons and seven grandchildren, to old friends like director Steven Spielberg — who will be there with his wife, Kate Capshaw, and mother, Leah Adler — Jeffrey and Marilyn Katzenberg, Don and Barbara Rickles and other Hollywood luminaries.

Also on hand will be Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple in Westwood, who has directed Douglas’ weekly Torah studies for many years. Wolpe also officiated at the actor’s second bar mitzvah, when Douglas — then 83 — declared, “Today, I am a man.”

Hosting the event will be Kirk Douglas’ son, Oscar-winner Michael Douglas, and his wife, actress Catherine Zeta-Jones, who also will welcome leaders of numerous charities and institutions in the United States and Israel, which have received approximately $118 million from Kirk and Anne Douglas.

Once complimented on such generosity, the actor explained, “You have to give back. … I came from abject poverty. I didn’t dream of being a millionaire. So you have to pay back.”

On Dec. 9, 1916, the future Kirk Douglas was born in the upstate New York town of Amsterdam as Issur Danielovitch, the son of an illiterate Russian-Jewish immigrant, who supported his family of six daughters and one son as a rag picker and junkman.

His rise from this low estate to one of Hollywood’s top male stars in the 1950s and ’60s is the stuff of American legend. In most of his 87 movies, the blond, blue-eyed boy who once laid tefillin every morning was now cast as the just about the toughest, roughest guy around.

But this is only part of the story. Douglas is the author of 11 books, including harsh childhood recollections, explaining the Holocaust to children, love verses to his wife, and tracing his recovery from a helicopter crash, stroke and attempted suicide.

He is now reading the proofs for his 12th book, co-authored with his wife and titled “Kirk and Anne: Letters of Love, Laughter and a Lifetime in Hollywood.”

With all these accomplishments, ask Douglas about his proudest recollection and he will point to his act of moral courage in breaking the Hollywood blacklist of alleged communists during the McCarthy red-hunting era. He did so by insisting that the name of writer Dalton Trumbo, who had been blacklisted for a decade, be publicly credited for the “Spartacus” screenplay, despite warnings that such a provocation would end Douglas’ own Hollywood career.

Most of the old friends at the party are familiar with another of the actor’s talents: pithy observations on life, love and advice to future generations.

On the Bible: “The Torah is the greatest screenplay ever written. It has passion, incest, murder, adultery, really everything.”

On religious observance: “I don’t think God wants compliments. God wants you to do something with your life and to help others.”

In his heyday, when Douglas was as famed for his egocentricity and womanizing as his screen roles, he spared little time and interest for his Jewish heritage. However, he observed, “I always fasted on Yom Kippur. I still worked on the movie set, but I fasted. And let me tell you, it’s not easy making love to Lana Turner on an empty stomach.”

Kirk was upstaged by his second and current wife at the celebration of their 50th wedding anniversary in 2004. The former Anne Buydens — who is now 97 —startled the assembled guests by announcing that she had converted to Judaism.

“Kirk has been married to two shiksas,” she declared. “It’s about time he married a nice Jewish girl.”

Douglas has always had a special spot in his heart for Israel, and in “The Juggler,” he starred in the first Hollywood feature to be shot in the Jewish state, returning later for “Cast a Giant Shadow” and “Remembrance of Love.”

Shortly before his 100th birthday, Douglas recalled a blessing he first pronounced on his 90th birthday.

“In the Jewish tradition, a birthday gives a person special powers, and if he issues a blessing, his blessing will come true,” he said.

“I bless all the people in the land of Israel that the current conflicts resolve themselves, that no more people die or are hurt and that you can continue your lives in peace.”

Sharansky’s campus tour with Michael Douglas, talking Israel, anti-Semitism and how to combat BDS

People in the audience at UC Santa Barbara’s Pollack Theater on the evening of Feb. 3 weren’t quite sure what to make of Michael Douglas clapping one hand against the other and then against his leg.

Until he said in his trademark New York accent, “That’s the Cossacks.”

He was answering a question from Natan Sharansky, the Soviet refusenik and chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel, who had asked the renowned actor to share the story of his family’s Jewish journey. Douglas began in 1914 czarist Belarus, traced his grandfather’s immigration two years later to New York, where his father, Issur Danielovitch (Kirk Douglas), was born and raised Orthodox. Kirk Douglas had become secular by the time he and his wife, Diana, had Michael in 1944.

Michael Douglas, who identifies as a secular Jew, began to speak out publicly in support of Israel in June 2015 while on a trip to receive the Genesis Prize, an annual $1 million award from the Office of the Prime Minister of Israel, Genesis Philanthropy Group and the Jewish Agency. On that trip, Douglas called the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement “an ugly cancer.”

The Feb. 3 event featured a conversation between Sharansky and Douglas and was co-hosted by the Genesis Prize Foundation, Hillel International, the Jewish Agency and Santa Barbara Hillel. It was their third event in a joint weeklong national trip in which the pair discussed their Jewish backgrounds, concerns about intrafaith and interfaith inclusion, and about activism on college campuses. They also made visits to Brown and Stanford universities.

The discussion lasted about 40 minutes, plus 20 minutes of question-and-answer with students in the audience; it shifted between the two famous personalities’ own Jewish stories and comments on current issues, including the BDS movement and the landmark compromise in Israel to create a separate egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall that had been announced the previous weekend.

“They realized that if the other side will be defeated, the wall will stop being a symbol for half the Jewish people,” Sharansky said of the decision by the Israeli government. “I believe that if we will succeed with this compromise, it’s a great place for addressing many other problems, [like the] condition of conversions.”

Sharansky said both the Women of the Wall — which has been fighting for more than 25 years for the right of women to wear prayer shawls and conduct services at the Wall, as men do — and the rabbis of the Wall, who have resisted change, have acted as heroes in this episode “because they had to make concessions.”

Douglas, a UC Santa Barbara alumnus, described himself as having been a “good hippie” in the 1960s, and as having been engaged in “some slight medical research” for glaucoma, jokingly referring to marijuana use.

“I felt I was part of a tribe,” Douglas said of being awarded the Genesis Prize last year. “As secular as I am, just being a part of that community and the values they represented meant a tremendous amount to me.”

At one point, Douglas asked everyone in the room who had been to Israel to raise their hands. Nearly everyone did.

Sharansky showed his blunt and often dark sense of humor when he responded to Douglas’ comment that he’s not sure “if it necessarily makes you a better Jew if you daven more than someone else.”

“You can try; it helps a lot,” Sharansky said, referring to prayers he had invented while imprisoned in the Soviet Union at a time when he didn’t know Hebrew.

The Israeli statesman also quipped toward the end of the evening: “I never in my life took so many selfies with Hollywood celebrities.”

Sharansky spoke of a “deep connection” between classical European anti-Semitism, “which was all based on demonization, delegitimization [and] double standards toward Jews,” and today’s anti-Semitism, which Sharansky said is based on those same three things, but now directed toward Israel.

Douglas told of an experience in Europe in which his son, Dylan, was verbally assaulted at a hotel pool by a Swiss man who had spotted the boy’s Star of David necklace. He also described how, at their recent event at Brown University, Sharansky had tried without success to talk with anti-Israel protestors.

“Natan goes out and talks to people to try to find out what the issues are, and very quickly you find out they don’t know how to talk — they really don’t. They know how to protest,” Douglas said. “Israel is an apartheid state? How do you mean? That you’re going to compare Israel to South Africa before Nelson Mandela? I don’t think so.”

Moving and shaking: ‘Bridging the Divide,’ Project Angel Food, Kirk Douglas and more

“Bridging the Divide: Tom Bradley and the Politics of Race,” a new PBS documentary about the first African-American mayor of Los Angeles, screened Aug. 12 at the Laemmle Music Hall in Beverly Hills during an event organized by the Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival (LAJFF).

The event drew 150 people and included remarks by Hilary Helstein, festival executive director. A panel moderated by Journal Executive Editor Susan Freudenheim featured “Bridging the Divide” filmmakers Lyn Goldfarb and Alison Sotomayor; Lorraine Bradley, the oldest of the late mayor’s three daughters; Raphael Sonenshein, executive director of the Pat Brown Institute of Public Affairs at CSU Los Angeles and a Journal columnist; actor and activist George Takei (“Star Trek”); and former City Councilman Robert Farrell. The panelists discussed Bradley’s family history, the legacy of African-Americans in Los Angeles and more.

The film’s release coincided with the 50th anniversary of the Watts Riots, during which tensions between the Los Angeles African-American community and police reached a flashpoint. Bradley became mayor in 1973 by bringing together a multiracial coalition in the years after the riots.

TRIBE Media Corp., parent company of the Jewish Journal, is the nonprofit sponsor of the LAJFF.


Former Temple Israel of Hollywood Chazzan Danny Maseng has launched Makom LA, the House of Song and Prayer, a nondenominational and musically driven spiritual congregation.

Chazzan Danny Maseng. Photo courtesy of Makom LA

“It is a community of people who are interested in the actual spiritual practice of Judaism as opposed to the so-forth-and-so-on denominational model,” Maseng said in a phone interview. 

The congregation debuted on July 24 with a Kabbalat Shabbat service at Hollywood Temple Beth El that attracted more than 300 people, according to Maseng. Subsequent services took place Aug. 14 and 15, each drawing more than 100 people, and it will hold services again on Aug. 28. The congregation will hold High Holy Days services on erev Rosh Hashanah, Rosh Hashanah morning, Kol Nidre and Yom Kippur. 

A Makom LA service in July drew a large crowd of attendees. Photo by Jonathan Maseng

Makom’s debut marks a new partnership between the old — Beth El, a historic Conservative synagogue on North Crescent Heights Boulevard — and the new. Beth El will host Makom services on the second and fourth Fridays of every month, as well as on the second Saturday of every month. Beth El Rabbi Norbert Weinberg will contribute to the Makom Saturday morning services, and the two congregations will partner on Yom Kippur, Chanukah and on other events, according to the Beth El website. Maseng called it is an opportunity “to bridge gaps and bridge generations and to cross denominations without anyone losing their own unique identity.” 

Carmen Fraser, a Beth El board member, echoed those remarks: “To me it doesn’t matter if they come for Beth El or Makom, as long as they are not leaving the community, as long as we are giving them something that is of interest to them.”

Maseng previously served as cantor and music director at Temple Israel of Hollywood, where his tenure ended on June 30. He said he is grateful for his experiences there and is concentrating on the future with Makom LA. 


Actor Kirk Douglas and his wife, Anne, have announced plans to donate $80 million in new gifts to an array of charitable causes, including Sinai Temple, which houses the Kirk and Anne Douglas Childhood Center.

Kirk Douglas

In a Hollywood Reporter interview published Aug. 24, Douglas, 98, said major beneficiaries will include Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and the Motion Picture & Television Fund. The two already have donated millions of dollars through their Douglas Charitable Foundation.

In the interview, Douglas recalled his modest childhood as the son of Russian immigrants.

“Sometimes we didn’t have enough to eat, but very often there would be a knock at the door and it would be a hobo wanting food, and my mother always gave them something,” he recalled. “My mother said to me, ‘You must take care of other people.’ That stayed with me.”

In 2013, the most recent year for which tax information is available, the Douglas Foundation gave away more than $2 million in grants. Jewish beneficiaries included Jewish Family Service, Chabad’s Children of Chernobyl and the Anti-Defamation League.

Douglas is the father of Hollywood actor Michael Douglas, who this year won the $1 million Genesis Prize, which is known informally as the “Jewish Nobel.” 

— JTA


Hundreds of supporters of Project Angel Food gathered at Hollywood’s Taglyan Complex to celebrate the organization that began to provide food and nonmedical services to people with HIV and AIDS and has since grown to serve a variety of needy clients throughout the city. 

From left: David Kessler, Marianne Williamson, Howard Rosenman, Freddie Weber and Ed Rada. Photo by Charlie Steffens/Gnarly Photos

The glittery but down-to-earth event on Aug. 22 honored Project Angel Food founder Marianne Williamson and founding team David Kessler, Ed Rada, Howard Rosenman and Freddie Weber. Actresses Jane Lynch and Kate Flannery performed a duet from “Fiddler on the Roof.” Olympic diver Greg Louganis, fashion expert Lawrence Zarian, and actors Nathan Lane, Judith Light and Frances Fisher were among the guests.

— Staff report 

Moving and Shaking highlights events, honors and simchas. Got a tip? Email ryant@jewishjournal.com. 

Kirk Douglas and wife donating $80 million in new gifts

Actor Kirk Douglas and his wife, Anne, announced plans to donate $80 million in new gifts to an array of charitable causes.

In a Hollywood Reporter interview published Monday, Douglas, 98, said major beneficiaries will include Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and the Motion Picture & Television Fund. The two already have donated millions of dollars through their Douglas Charitable Foundation.

While most of the beneficiaries are secular organizations, the couple also is donating to the Sinai Temple of Los Angeles, which houses the Kirk and Anne Douglas Childhood Center.

Douglas is Jewish and the father of Hollywood actor Michael Douglas, who this year won the $1 million Genesis Prize, which is known informally as the “Jewish Nobel.”

In the interview, Douglas recalled his modest childhood as the son of Russian immigrants.

“Sometimes we didn’t have enough to eat, but very often there would be a knock at the door and it would be a hobo wanting food, and my mother always gave them something,” he recalled. “My mother said to me, ‘You must take care of other people.’ That stayed with me.”

In 2013, the most recent year for which tax information is available, the Douglas Foundation gave away more than $2 million in grants. Jewish beneficiaries included Jewish Family Service, Chabad’s Children of Chernobyl and the Anti-Defamation League.

Kirk Douglas’ underground tunnel to the Playboy Mansion is no April Fool’s joke

In recent years, Kirk Douglas has been in the news for having his second and third bar mitzvahs (at ages 83 and 95 respectively), publishing a book of poetry and for his grandson’s brush with anti-Semitism.

This story is a little less G-rated.

On Monday, Playboy revealed that secret underground tunnels were built in the 1970s to connect the Playboy mansion to the houses of a select group of A-list actors – which included Kirk Douglas and fellow Jewish actor James Caan.

A Playboy editor who was looking for photos in their archive stumbled upon images of underground mansion walkways. Next came the discovery of a trove of “old photos, plans and blueprints” in a secret basement area of the Playboy Mansion. And then came the realization that the actors involved in this construction project – Jack Nicholson and Warren Beatty rounded out the list — were so famous in the 1970s that this might not have been such a far-fetched idea.

It’s also worth noting that Playboy published this information on March 30, well before April Fool’s Day, so we are inclined to believe it.

Not surprisingly, none of the actors commented on this developing story.

However, Caan, 75, who stayed with Playboy founder Hugh Hefner at his legendary abode several times throughout the ’70s, has said in the past that the mansion was the “greatest nightclub in the world.”

Douglas, who is 98, has been married to his second wife Anne since 1954. Maybe he visited the Playboy mansion through his secret tunnel just to hang out with Hugh Hefner.

My son’s encounter with anti-Jewish hatred

Last summer our family went to southern Europe on holiday. During our stay at a hotel, our son Dylan went to the swimming pool. A short time later he came running back to the room, upset. A man at the pool had started hurling insults at him.

My first instinct was to ask, “Were you misbehaving?”

“No,” Dylan told me through his tears.

I stared at him. And suddenly I had an awful realization of what might have caused the man’s outrage: Dylan was wearing a Star of David.

After calming him down, I went to the pool and asked the attendants to point out the man who had yelled at him. We talked. It was not a pleasant discussion. Afterward, I sat down with my son and said: “Dylan, you just had your first taste of anti-Semitism.”

My father, Kirk Douglas, born Issur Danielovitch, is Jewish. My mother, Diana, is not. I had no formal religious upbringing from either of them, and the two kids I have with Catherine Zeta-Jones are like me, growing up with one parent who is Jewish and one who is not.

Several years ago Dylan, through his friends, developed a deep connection to Judaism, and when he started going to Hebrew school and studying for his bar mitzvah, I began to reconnect with the religion of my father.

While some Jews believe that not having a Jewish mother makes me not Jewish, I have learned the hard way that those who hate do not make such fine distinctions.

Dylan’s experience reminded me of my first encounter with anti-Semitism, in high school. A friend saw someone Jewish walk by, and with no provocation he confidently told me: “Michael, all Jews cheat in business.”

“What are you talking about?” I said.

“Michael, come on,” he replied. “Everyone knows that.”

With little knowledge of what it meant to be a Jew, I found myself passionately defending the Jewish people. Now, half a century later, I have to defend my son. Anti-Semitism, I’ve seen, is like a disease that goes dormant, flaring up with the next political trigger.

In my opinion there are three reasons anti-Semitism is appearing now with renewed vigilance.

The first is that historically, it always grows more virulent whenever and wherever the economy is bad. In a time when income disparity is growing, when hundreds of millions of people live in abject poverty, some find Jews to be a convenient scapegoat rather than looking at the real source of their problems.

A second root cause of anti-Semitism derives from an irrational and misplaced hatred of Israel. Far too many people see Israel as an apartheid state and blame the people of an entire religion for what, in truth, are internal national-policy decisions. Does anyone really believe that the innocent victims in that kosher shop in Paris and at that bar mitzvah in Denmark had anything to do with Israeli-Palestinian policies or the building of settlements 2,000 miles away?

The third reason is simple demographics. Europe is now home to 25 million to 30 million Muslims, twice the world’s entire Jewish population. Within any religious community that large, there will always be an extremist fringe, people who are radicalized and driven with hatred, while rejecting what all religions need to preach — respect, tolerance and love. We’re now seeing the amplified effects of that small, radicalized element. With the Internet, its virus of hatred can now speed from nation to nation, helping fuel Europe’s new epidemic of anti-Semitism.It is time for each of us to speak up against this hate.

Speaking up is the responsibility of our political leaders. French Prime Minister Manuel Valls has made it clear that anti-Semitism violates the morals and spirit of France and that violent anti-Semitic acts are a crime against all French people that must be confronted, combated and stopped. He challenged his nation to tell the world: Without its Jews, France would no longer be France.

Speaking up is the responsibility of our religious leaders, and Pope Francis has used his powerful voice to make his position and that of the Catholic Church clear, saying: “It’s a contradiction that a Christian is anti-Semitic. His roots are Jewish. Let anti-Semitism be banished from the heart and life of every man and every woman.”

In New York, Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan is well-known for building a bridge to the Jewish community. His words and actions and the pope’s are evidence of the reconciliation between two major religions, an inspiring example of how a past full of persecution and embedded hostility can be overcome.

It’s also the responsibility of regular citizens to take action. In Oslo, members of the Muslim community joined their fellow Norwegians to form a ring of peace at a local synagogue. Such actions give me hope — they send a message that together, we can stand up to hatred of the Jewish people.

So that is our challenge in 2015, and all of us must take it up. Because if we confront anti-Semitism whenever we see it, if we combat it individually and as a society, and use whatever platform we have to denounce it, we can stop the spread of this madness.

My son is strong. He is fortunate to live in a country where anti-Semitism is rare. But now he too has learned of the dangers that he as a Jew must face. It’s a lesson that I wish I didn’t have to teach him, a lesson I hope he will never have to teach his children.

Michael Douglas, award-winning actor/producer and United Nations messenger of peace, received the 2015 Genesis Prize, which honors “exceptional people whose values and achievements will inspire the next generation of Jews.” This article first appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

Kirk Douglas, a poet at 98, gets personal

Kirk Douglas, born Issur Danielovitch, the son of an immigrant Russian-Jewish ragpicker, marked his 98th birthday on Dec. 9 by launching his 11th book.

The legendary star of 87 movies (who can forget “Spartacus”?) can look back, in happiness and grief, on countless one-night stands with filmdom’s most beautiful women, a helicopter crash in which he was the only survivor, a stroke, two bar mitzvahs and the death of a son.

He has written about this and many other parts of his life in his previous works, but there is something special about his latest, “Life Could Be Verse.”

“I have expressed my personal feelings and emotions more than in any other of my books,” Douglas, sitting in his art-filled Beverly Hills home, told the Jewish Journal.

In the slim volume of poems, photos and anecdotes, he is no longer the swaggering Hollywood star and serial philanderer of the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s.

His trademark dimpled chin and bright blue eyes are still there, but his blond hair is now fastened in a gray ponytail; he walks carefully and speaks with a slur, a legacy of his stroke.

What he has not lost is his sharp sense of humor, his pride as a Jew and his love for Anne, his wife of 60 years.

Does 50 years together
Seem so long to you?
The older the violin, the sweeter the music
It is often said, and it’s true.
To me, it seems like yesterday
We met in gay Paree.
Now Paris is sad, but I am glad
You chose to marry me.

Another, lesser-known side of Douglas is expressed in “For Eric,” an elegy for the youngest of his four sons, whose drug-induced death haunts his father still:

I sit by your grave and weep,
Silently, not to disturb your sleep.
Rest in peace my beautiful son
It won’t be long before we are one,
While I lie down by your side.
And talk, no secrets to hide.
Tell me, Eric, what did I do wrong?
What should I have done to make you strong?
Now I sit here and cry,
Waiting to be with you when I die.

Neither Douglas’ first wife, actress Diana Dill, nor his second, Anne, are of Jewish descent, but 10 years ago, Anne converted to Judaism, explaining, “Kirk has been married to two shiksas,” she said. “It’s time he married a nice Jewish girl.”

The conversion did not change the couple’s relationship, except for one ritual. During the first 50 years, Douglas lit the Friday evening Shabbat candles, and now Anne has taken over.

During an hour’s conversation with the Journal, Douglas looked back on the lessons of a very full and long life.

On God and religion: “I grew up praying in the morning and laying tefillin. I gave up much of the formal aspect of religion … I don’t think God wants compliments. God wants you to do something with your life and to help others.”

Douglas celebrated his first bar mitzvah at the Sons of Israel congregation in his hometown of Amsterdam, N.Y., and his second, 70 years later, after the traditional biblical lifespan, at 83 at Sinai Temple in Westwood, with Rabbi David Wolpe.

He skipped his third bar mitzvah at 96, and plans to do the same at 109, when he would be entitled to his fourth bar mitzvah. “That would be showing off,” he said. “I’m an actor, so I have already been showing off all my life.”

As a world-renowned expert on women, how does one go about attracting the other gender, Kirk was asked. He responded with an anecdote:

“When I was courting Anne in Paris, I couldn’t get through to her,” Douglas said. “One day she agreed to go to the circus with me, and when the circus performers recognized me, they insisted that I participate in the show.

“I had no idea what I was supposed to do, but as a string of circus elephants trotted out, I followed them in my tuxedo with a shovel and broom and started to clean up what the elephants had left behind.”

Anne was still laughing when he took her home, and she bestowed her first good-night kiss on him. The poet in him celebrated the triumph by noting:

“Anne thought I was a big hit,
As she saw me shoveling sh-t.”

After this reporter had left, Douglas sent him a final thought on a more serious subject.

“In the Jewish tradition, a birthday gives a person special power,” he wrote. “And if he issues a blessing, his blessing becomes true. So on my 98th birthday, I bless all people in the Land of Israel that the current conflict resolves itself, that no more people die or are hurt and that you can continue your lives in peace.”

Book Review: Turan’s pick of pics

Film critic Kenneth Turan grew up in Brooklyn in the 1950s in an observant home, which means that he did not often enjoy a Saturday matinee at the Lowe’s Pitkin or the Brandt’s Sutter. “That said, I do have a vivid memory of sneaking out to see a vibrant, cleft-chinned Kirk Douglas so bringing to life the title role of Ulysses … that I still have trouble visualizing the Homeric epic without him in it,” Turan writes in his wholly compelling new book, “Not to Be Missed: Fifty-Four Favorites From a Lifetime of Film” (

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Opposing gay marriage is opposing love

One comes to understand many things after 97 years of life. Here’s one: Sex may fade, but love … that’s forever.

So says Issur Danielovitch, the man better known to the world as the nonagenarian actor Kirk Douglas. In an item this week on the Huffington Post, Douglas comes to the defense of his “friend” David Wolpe, the influential Los Angeles rabbi recently the subject of a front-page story in The New York Times describing the blowback in his congregation to his decision to perform gay marriage ceremonies.

Opposing gay marriage, Douglas writes, is opposing love. And who could be against love? Douglas even includes a poem to demonstrate how love can persevere into old age. Here’s the first few stanzas:

    Romance Begins at 80
    And I ought to know.
    I live with a girl
    Who will tell you so.

    I sit by her bath
    As she soaks in the tub.
    Then help her out
    For a strong towel rub.

    She likes that a lot
    But before I tire.
    It’s time to pour the wine
    And start lighting the fire.

    As the fire crackles,
    We talk of the past
    We met over 50 years ago
    Did you think it would last?

Fifty years later, Kirk Douglas wins tribute for breaking Hollywood blacklist

Kirk Douglas has achieved much in his 94 years, but asked for his proudest accomplishment the actor cites the breaking of the infamous Hollywood Blacklist.

Douglas did so by giving writer Dalton Trumbo full credit for the script of the movie “Spartacus,” normally a routine acknowledgment.

But in 1960, openly employing an accused Communist or Communist sympathizer was an almost guaranteed career killer, even for one of Hollywood’s biggest stars, and required an extraordinary degree of moral courage.

The San Francisco Jewish Film Festival will honor this act on July 24 by conferring its Freedom of Expression Award on Douglas “for his courageous actions in support of artistic freedom.”

Douglas will be on stage at the Castro Theatre to accept the award and to introduce a 50th anniversary screening of “Spartacus,” in which he played the title role and served as executive producer.

Meeting Douglas at his relatively modest, art-filled home in Beverly Hills, a visitor first notices the famous dimpled chin still jutting out, and that his full head of hair has turned from blond to white.

A near fatal helicopter crash and a stroke in the 1990s forced him to relearn speaking, which he now does slowly and with a slight slur. His memory, however, is as good as ever, and he clearly recalls the mood and details of the Red-hunting McCarthy era.

“I was always an impulsive guy and young enough not to pay attention to the possible consequences of openly hiring Trumbo,” Douglas recalled.

“Though people told me I was crazy and would never work in this town again, I was so disgusted with what was going on in the country and in Hollywood, that I had to do something.”

Nevertheless, Douglas spent a lot of sleepless nights, not in debating his decision, but in cursing, he said,  “the stupidity of it all, in which some of the most talented actors and writers accused of Communism couldn’t work anymore.

“Then there was the utter hypocrisy, because everybody in Hollywood knew that Trumbo was writing ‘Spartacus,’ though under the pseudonym of Sam Jackson.” Trumbo later thanked Douglas, writing, “Thank you for giving me my name back”

Douglas finally had his way, and it didn’t hurt that he was one of Hollywood’s most bankable actors, the Brad Pitt or Tom Cruise of his day, and just off the box office hit “The Vikings.” The premiere of “Spartacus” in October 1960 was followed within two months by the opening of “Exodus,” also written by Trumbo and with his name openly listed in the screen credits.

Though the period from the late 1940s to the early 1960s is generally named for the demagogic Wisconsin Sen. Joseph McCarthy, his baleful work was preceded, and continued after his 1957 death, by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC).

Among the earliest HUAC targets were the Hollywood Ten, predominantly well-known screenwriters, who refused to declare their political affiliations or denounce colleagues. They were cited for contempt of Congress and imprisoned for up to one year.

Trumbo was not Jewish, but six of the other Hollywood Ten were, and among many politicians and compilers of “suspect” lists, charges of being a New York or Hollywood “commie symp” served as the code word for Jew.

“Spartacus” had three prominent Jews—Douglas, director Stanley Kubrick, and Howard Fast, also blacklisted, who wrote the original book, based on the life and death of the Thracian slave whose followers almost overthrew the mighty Roman Republic in the Third Servile War of the first century BCE.

So, I asked Douglas, was the campaign against “politically unreliable” artists fueled, at least partly, by anti-Semitism? Of course, he answered. “Listen, all my life I’ve always assumed that everybody I met was an anti-Semite unless he could prove otherwise.”

Douglas also finds in the Spartacus revolt an analogy to the current uprisings in the Arab Middle East. “If Spartacus were to return today, he would go to Libya or Syria to fight with the rebels,” he said.

Young Kirk, then named Issur Danielovitch, learned early about anti-Semitism from his boyhood fights in Amsterdam, N.Y., but as he made his way in Hollywood as a Nordic-looking leading man, he shed most of his religious upbringing.

However, he reminisced, “I always fasted on Yom Kippur. I still worked on the movie set, but I fasted. And let me tell you, it’s not easy to make love to Lana Turner on an empty stomach.”

He returned to Jewish observance in 1991, after surviving a helicopter crash that compressed his spine by three inches and killed two younger companions.

“I came to believe that I was spared because I had not yet come to terms with my Judaism, that I had never come to grips with what it means to be a Jew.”

In his mid-70s, he embarked on an intensive regime of Jewish studies and discovered “the greatest screenplay ever written. It has passion, incest, murder, adultery, really everything. That’s why they keep making movies about it.”

Now he maintains his weekly sessions with Rabbi David Wolpe, lights candles at home on Friday nights and celebrated his second bar mitzvah at age 83.

Yet, he is ambivalent about religion in general. “I believe in God; I’m happy to be a Jew,” he declares. “But I think too much religion has not helped civilization. Caring for other people, that’s my religion.”

Douglas has embarked on two more careers – first as philanthropist, underwriting hundreds of playgrounds in California and in Israel, for Arab and Jewish kids, and, second, as author.

He has written nine books – autobiographies, novels, children’s books – with two more due to be published in late 2011 and early 2012. One is “I Am Spartacus,” playing off the movie’s most famous line and describing the making of the film and the breaking of the Blacklist. The other is “Fragments of Memory,” a story of his tumultuous life.

In addition, Warner Brothers is releasing a DVD of his earlier one-man show in New York, “Before I Forget.”

After all that, Douglas promises at least one more book, “with lots of humor,” titled “It’s Hard to Be a Jew.”

S.F. film festival to honor Kirk Douglas

Kirk Douglas will be honored at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival this summer.

Douglas, 94, is expected to attend the July 23 festival to receive the Freedom of Expression award at a special 50th anniversary showing of “Spartacus.”

The actor, born Issur Danielovitch, insisted on giving a screen credit to blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo for the Stanley Kubrick-directed drama of a legendary gladiator rebellion against the Roman Empire.

The act has been credited with helping to end the notorious Hollywood blacklist, one of the last vestiges of the McCarthy era. One of the film’s final scenes, where captured gladiators refuse to name the real Spartacus, was widely understood as support for those who refused to name communists for the House Un-American Activities Committee.

“We feel that Kirk Douglas is the ideal recipient for this year’s award, and we can think of no better film to present in the context of freedom of expression,” said the festival’s program director, Jay Rosenblatt, who received the same award in 2005.

“It will also be an interesting experience for our audience to view ‘Spartacus’ within the context of a Jewish film festival. Spartacus is the story of slaves freeing themselves from the Romans. That has particular reverberations for Jews familiar with the Passover story of deliverance from slavery in Egypt.”

Douglas has made a well-publicized return to Judaism following a helicopter crash in 1991 and a stroke in 1996. At 83 he had a second bar mitzvah in Los Angeles.

The San Francisco festival, founded in 1980, is the nation’s oldest and largest Jewish film festival.

When Crystal met Spielberg; A rabbi, a reverend and a pastor walk into a shul

Spielberg’s Shoah Foundation Shines

When Billy Crystal met Steven Spielberg at the Oct. 22 Shoah Foundation dinner, the comedian had a beef with the filmmaker.

Why, asked Crystal, was there never a part for him in a Spielberg movie? Couldn’t he have changed the title of “Jaws” to “Jews”?

Or how about a juicy part in “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Beth Shalom” or “Saving Private Mishkin?” Or another Spielberg movie, “Artificial Intelligence,” starring opposite Sarah Palin?

Cystal’s running shtick on Jewish themes was often hilarious, but somewhat lost on Circuit’s tablemates, who included a good-looking blonde couple of Christian evangelists from Orange County, a witty black South African and an Israeli ex-pat with his Chinese wife from Seattle.

But the three-hour dinner and show at the Wallis Annenberg Building of the California Science Center, to benefit the USC Shoah Foundation Institute, had much more.

Spielberg, who established the foundation following the triumph of his “Schindler’s List,” and USC President Steven B. Sample, spoke of the unique collection of video testimonies by 52,000 Holocaust survivors.

“There were Six Million who left their foot prints in the ashes,” Spielberg said. “On our watch, these footprints will never blow away.”

A feisty Bette Midler sang, backed by a 12-piece band, with lyrics and side comments that made my evangelical tablemates blush.

Finally, the climax, when Kirk Douglas, recipient of the Ambassadors for Humanity Award, came onstage — we should all look so good after 91 years on this earth, a helicopter crash, a stroke and a record-breaking career as a one-time Hollywood stud.

Douglas gracefully accepted the encomiums, such as Spielberg’s praise of him as “a great American, a great Jew, who stands up for what he believes in,” and Crystal’s admiration for “the greatest head of hair I’ve seen on a Jew.”

Douglas wore his laurels easily, commenting, “If my wife Anne ever leaves me, I’m going to marry Steven’s mother, so I’ll have a rich son-in-law to take care of me in my old age.”

Among those joining some 600 guests were the extended Douglas mishpacha (though son Michael was shooting a film in New York), actors Tobey Maguire (“Spider-Man”) and Debbie Allen, singer Eric Benet, producer J.J. Abrams and former studio head Sid Sheinberg.

The gala’s main sponsor was TNT (Turner Network Television), while June Beallor organized the fete with her customary skill and taste.

— Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Coming Together for ‘Radical’ Dialogue

Billed as “Radical Conversations in a Reluctant Metropolis,” the friendly Oct. 23 chat at Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills before an audience of about 150 seemed anything but revolutionary.

Three clergy — Rabbi Laura Geller of Temple Emanuel, the Rev. Dr. Clyde Oden of Bryant Temple AME Church in Central Los Angeles and Samuel Chu, pastor of Immanuel Presbyterian Church — talked about how they come together to break bread, share concerns and create community among their diverse congregations. The event was organized under the umbrella of One LA — an organization that aims to unify Los Angeles communities that otherwise might not band together.

ALTTEXTIn a session moderated by “Speaking of Faith” American Public Media radio talk show host Krista Tippett, Oden spoke of how the group had helped to change the route and date of the annual L.A. Marathon to avoid interruption of Sunday services, and Geller told of how her interaction and friendship with Oden had raised her consciousness on news topics such as the unraveling of the King-Drew Medical Center, located near Bryant Temple.

Chu explained how opening up to Los Angeles’ larger community helps him focus on more than just his congregation’s immediate personal concerns: “When I am not engaged in public life, I tend to be easily manipulated by my fears,” said the Hong Kong-born leader of a mostly Latino congregation in Koreatown — a microcosm of Los Angeles diversity in itself. The interfaith interaction and the stories people share helps dispel fears like “they’re taking out jobs; they’re taking our resources,” he added.

The desire for unity and connection — and attempts at coming together — is hardly new to Los Angeles. In the aftermath of the 1992 riots, for example, outreach was deemed key to healing, and such exchanges abounded. But what was perhaps most revealing at the Thursday night event, and the only thing that was radical, albeit subliminally, was the evidence of comfort and true friendship among the three pastors.

That comfort clearly has come from long-term commitment to friendship and sharing with one another. As Oden and Chu joked and shared from Geller’s pulpit, their relaxed posture and easy exchanges bespoke of real commitment to a new kind of family, earned through the rewards of time. And if that’s not a step toward tikkun olam, what is?

(From left) Samuel Chu, Immanuel Presbyterian Church; Rabbi Laura Geller, Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills; Krista Tippett, “Speaking of Faith” creator and host; and Rev. Dr. Clyde Oden, Bryant Temple AME Church Photo by Alexi Rosenfeld

— Susan Freudenheim, Managing Editor

Kirk Douglas packs 90 years of living into latest book

For decades as one of Hollywood’s brightest stars, Kirk Douglas paid little attention to his religion — with one exception.

“I always fasted on Yom Kippur,” he recalls. “I still worked on the movie sets, but I fasted. And let me tell you, it’s not easy making love to Lana Turner on an empty stomach.”

Besides bearing up under this ordeal, the nonagenarian has survived 87 movies, countless one-night stands with filmdom’s most beautiful women, a helicopter crash, a stroke and two bar mitzvahs.

He’s not done yet, not by a long shot. Just out is his ninth book, “Let’s Face It: 90 Years of Living, Loving and Learning.” It is a mix of reminiscences, anecdotes, tributes to Hollywood luminaries now faded or gone, a critique of America’s present leadership and somber thoughts on the drug-induced suicide of Eric, the youngest of his four sons.

As in his previous works — three memoirs, three novels and two children’s books on biblical and Holocaust themes — Douglas writes with the artlessness of a man talking about the incidents and reflections of an interesting life, whose casual conversation has been surreptitiously taped and transcribed.

When I mention this appraisal to Douglas, he seems pleased. “I am glad to hear you say that, because I don’t want to be like a writer. I want to write impulsively,” he comments.

It is almost impossible to recall the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s without remembering a Douglas movie. In the ’50s alone, he starred in 23 films, receiving Oscar nominations for “The Bad and the Beautiful” and “Lust for Life” (as Vincent van Gogh). These were bracketed by his 1949 breakthrough role as a cynical boxer in “Champion” (his first Oscar nomination) and perhaps his best-known movie, “Spartacus,” in 1960.

Douglas produced and played the title role as the leader of a slave revolt against ancient Rome in “Spartacus.” He himself received no Academy Award honors but earned even higher distinction for moral courage by breaking the McCarthy-era blacklist of artists suspected of communist leanings — in this case, openly employing screenwriter Dalton Trumbo.

Now Douglas, pronouncing each word slowly, carefully and with a slight slur after his stroke forced him to re-learn the language (“For a guy who can’t talk, I sure talk a lot,” he jokes), has reached a new stage in his life.

Once known as one of Hollywood’s most self-centered denizens, in a town notorious for supersized egos, Douglas is now looking beyond himself. He is exhorting the Internet generation to practice tikkun olam (repairing the world) through social action and respect for human rights.

Douglas knows where to reach his target audience — not in the movie theaters but on MySpace and YouTube. There he urges the young viewers “to rebel, to speak up, vote and care about people…. You are the group facing many problems: abject poverty, global warming, AIDS and suicide bombers … we have done very little to solve these problems. Now we leave it to you. You have to fix it, because the situation is intolerable.”

Douglas’ own childhood might well seem intolerable to most young people in Britain or America today. The Nordic-looking hero, who vanquished hordes of Vikings and Romans on the screen, began life as Issur Danielovitch in the small town of Amsterdam in upstate New York.

His parents were poor, illiterate immigrants from Russia, and his father made a precarious living as a peddler. In his first memoir, “The Ragman’s Son,” Kirk recalls, with undiminished pain, growing up with a loveless father who was unresponsive to his son and six daughters.

To compensate, he makes it a point to show emotion and affection toward his own children and grandchildren. “When we meet,” he says, “we embrace and kiss each other on the mouth, Russian style.”

Douglas has always been aware of his Jewishness. When he was 12, the Sons of Israel congregation in his hometown offered to send him to a yeshiva to become a rabbi. Young Kirk declined, informing his would-be benefactors that he would become an actor.

But for most of his life, he has been an indifferent Jew, at best. At one point in college, though a popular student body president and champion wrestler, he tried to pass himself off as a half-Jew.

He dates his return to Jewish observance and full identification to a collision between his helicopter and a light stunt plane, in which two young men died while he survived. The crash in 1991 compressed his spine by three inches, and while lying in a hospital bed with excruciating back pains, he started pondering the meaning of his survival and his life.

“I came to believe that I was spared because I had not yet come to terms with my Judaism, that I had never come to grips with what it means to be Jewish,” Douglas reflects.

In his mid-70s, Douglas embarked on an intensive regime of Torah studies with two young Orthodox rabbis and found an immediate relevance to his profession.

“The Torah is the greatest screenplay ever written,” he observes. “It has passion, incest, murder, adultery, really everything.”

These days, Douglas has a weekly study session with Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple, but he is hardly an unquestioning pupil. Sitting in his office in Beverly Hills, relatively modest as is his art-filled house where we had met on previous occasions, Douglas poses a few questions.

“Why was God so talkative in biblical times but doesn’t talk to us now? We Jews are supposed to be smart, so why was Samson so dumb as to let Delilah cut off his hair?”

Wolpe officiated at Douglas’ second bar mitzvah, at which time the 83-year-old celebrant informed the assembled Hollywood glitterati, “Today, I am a man.”

On the present state of his Jewishness, Douglas ruminates, “I think of myself as a secular Jew, but I have great admiration for Chasidic Jews who preserve the old laws. I attend High Holy Days services — every man should have a day of atonement — and I light candles in my home every Shabbat. I don’t keep kosher, but it would be very difficult for me to go into a restaurant and order pork.”

Socalled music, mythic characters, legal pugilism, Kirk again, open casting call

Saturday the 9th

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The Greek myth of Orpheus and his wife Eurydice is a tale about love, life and death. When Eurydice dies, her bereaved husband follows her down to the underworld, the realm of Hades, and with his angelic singing, convinces the god of death to return Eurydice to the world of the living. The only condition is that Orpheus not look back at his wife as they make their way home. At the last minute, he violates the rule and his wife fades away. “Sliding Into Hades” is playwright Aaron Henne’s modern exploration of the myth, dealing with our own attitudes toward mortality.

Thurs.-Sun., through June 17. $12 (under 25), $22.50 (weeknight), $25 (weekend). Odyssey Theatre Ensemble, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 477-2055. ” border = 0 vspace = ‘8’ alt=”Robert Shapiro”>

Radio personality and serial bad boy Danny Bonaduce will go head-to-head with high-profile attorney Robert Shapiro (see photo) in a charity boxing match this evening. The “Sports Sweepstakes” fundraiser benefiting Vista Del Mar Child and Family Services promises to be quite punchy — with Monty Hall of “Let’s Make a Deal,” Olympic gymnast Mitch Gaylord, fabulous prizes and three sanctioned bouts. I’ve got my money on Bonaduce — the former “Partridge Family” member destroyed fellow child stars Donny Osmond and Barry Williams (a Brady) in previous charity boxing events.

5:30 p.m. $1,250. Beverly Hilton, 9876 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills. (310) 996-1188.

Tuesday the 12th

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Wednesday the 13th

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Thursday the 14th

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Friday the 15th

After eating a large Shabbat meal you often want to do nothing more than sit back and be entertained. And entertained you shall be by Barry J. Hershey’s “Casting About,” a documentary chronicling the agony, frustration and hilarity of casting calls, told from the perspective of a filmmaker. In the vein of “American Idol,” footage includes interviews, monologues and audition sessions with more than 350 actresses trying out for a dramatic role.

Various show times. $7-$10. Laemmle Music Hall 3, 9036 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills. (310) 274-6869.

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Orthodox Union Searches for New Director; Happy Birthday Kirk Douglas!

Orthodox Union Searches for New Director

The Orthodox Union appointed a search committee to begin to identify candidates for the position of executive director, OU President Steve Savitsky said Monday. The job is currently held by Rabbi Tzvi H. Weinreb, whose term runs out in June 2008.

However, Savitsky said he “can’t comment on the process. It’s confidential.”

He said he hopes the two-man team will have recommendations for the board by February.

Insiders who preferred not to be named said candidates are Rabbi Hershel Billet of Young Israel of Woodmere on Long Island, Rabbi Hillel Davis of Yeshiva University and Rabbi Steven Weil of Beth Jacob in Los Angeles. Weil denied a report in the Jewish Press that he had already been named for the job, saying, “The whole story was false. I haven’t been approached, and since I haven’t heard about the details and specifics, I can’t comment.”

— Amy Klein, Religion Editor

Happy Birthday Kirk Douglas!

Issur Danielovitch celebrated his 90th birthday on Dec. 9, hardly a show-stopping announcement except that this son of poor, illiterate Russian immigrants changed his name to Isadore (Izzy) Demsky as a college wrestler, and still later, when he arrived in Hollywood, to Kirk Douglas.The birthday celebration at L’Orangerie on La Cienega Boulevard was a private affair of sorts, with close to 100 family members and close friends in attendance, according to spokeswoman Annabelle Stevens.

They included Kirk’s wife Anne, who marked their 50th wedding anniversary two years ago by converting to Judaism.

“It was about time he married a nice Jewish girl,” she remarked at the time.

Also on hand were the nonagenarian’s three sons and their families, including actor-producer Michael Douglas and his wife, Catherine Zeta-Jones, all of whom serenaded the patriarch with lyrics set to “Fiddler on the Roof” tunes.

Among the congratulants were Nancy Reagan, wife of the late president, Merv Griffin, Don Rickles and David Niven Jr.

Douglas made 87 movies, among them such favorites as “Champion,” “The Bad and the Beautiful,” “Lust for Life,” “Paths of Glory” and “Spartacus.”

In “Cast a Giant Shadow,” one of three films he made in Israel, Douglas portrayed U.S. Col. Mickey Marcus, who lost his life fighting in Israel’s War of Independence.

As befits his more mature years, Douglas issued a manifesto on his 90th birthday to the youngsters of Generation Y, introducing himself as having survived “World War II, a helicopter crash, a stroke and two new knees.”

He urged the new generation “to rebel, to speak up, write, vote and care about people…(because) the world is in a mess” (his punctuation).

Douglas continued, “You are the group facing many problems: abject poverty, global warming, genocide, AIDS and suicide bombers…. We have done very little to solve these problems. Now we leave it to you. You have to fix it, because the situation is intolerable.

“When I blow out my candles — 90!… it will take a long time, but I’ll be thinking of you.”He will expand on these thoughts in his ninth book, “Let’s Face It: 90 Years of Living, Loving and Learning,” to be published in March.

With years and life-changing experiences, Douglas has returned with full intensity to a Jewish heritage he never abandoned but rarely practiced. The wake-up call came in 1991, when the helicopter in which he was riding crashed, killing two young companions and leaving the actor with a severely compressed spine.

A few years later, Douglas suffered a debilitating stroke, which left him literally speechless, an actor’s worst nightmare. He painfully taught himself to speak again.

While wrestling with these afflictions, and even contemplating suicide, “I came to believe that I had been spared because I had not yet come to terms with my Judaism; that I had never come to terms with what it means to be Jewish,” Douglas told this writer at his Beverly Hills home some time ago.

He embarked on an intense course of Torah study with Orthodox and Conservative rabbis, wrote two autobiographies and a children’s book on the Holocaust, and is supporting numerous Israeli, Jewish, educational and medical causes.

Yet, even in his more hedonistic days, when he frequently starred as a Nordic-looking action hero slaying legions of Romans and Vikings, Douglas always knew he was a Jew.

As he recounted during his second bar mitzvah at age 83, “I always fasted on Yom Kippur. I still worked [on the movie set], but I fasted. And let me tell you, it’s not easy to make love to Ava Gardner on an empty stomach.”

— Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Jewish Internship Program

For years, CSUN junior Karen Klein dreamed of pursuing a career in radio journalism. But after a summer internship with The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, the 20-year-old granddaughter of four Holocaust survivors now wants to work in the Jewish community.

Klein is one of 28 local college students who have participated in the New Linkages Internship Program, a 10-month-old Jewish Vocational Service (JVS) initiative that places young Jewish undergraduates in eight-week internships with the Anti-Defamation League, the Bureau of Jewish Education, Los Angeles Hillel Council and other local Jewish organizations.

During the fall and spring semesters, students work for a minimum of 16 hours and receive a stipend of $200. Over the summer, interns log in 80 hours and receive $500. JVS publicizes the program through its own Web site and by enlisting executives at Jewish agencies to spread the word.

In addition to gaining hands-on work experience, participants also receive a dose of Judaism through the New Linkages program, which requires them to attend three two-hour sessions on Jewish values and Jewish history taught by area rabbis.

The goal of the internship “is to give students a more meaningful connection to Jewish life,” said Michal Temkin, New Linkages coordinator and a career counselor at JVS.

Kirk Douglas — Bar Mitzvah Boy

The 200-seat chapel at Sinai Temple was crammed with Hollywood luminaries of yesterday and today, when Rabbi David Wolpe called Issur ben Heshel to the Torah for his bar mitzvah reading and speech.

“Today, I am a man,” intoned 83-year-old actor Kirk Douglas in the prescribed fashion, adding, from the perspective of a long and rich life, “But it takes time to really become a man and assume your responsibilities in this troubled world.”

Douglas had decided some years ago to crown his return to his Jewish roots with a second bar mitzvah on his 13th birthday, following the traditional allotted life span of 70 years.

Draped around his shoulders was the same tallit he wore on the same date of Dec. 9 exactly 70 years earlier, when Issur Danielovitch, the son of poor, illiterate Russian-Jewish immigrants, marked his coming of age at the Sons of Israel synagogue in Amsterdam, New York.

Now, seven decades and 84 films later, his trademark dimpled chin was still jutting out, though his blond hair had turned to white. His slow and occasionally slurred words were a reminder of a stroke almost four years ago, which had left him literally speechless.

Douglas briefly recounted his movie career, when as a Nordic-looking hero “I killed so many Vikings and Romans, I knocked people out of the ring, and I shot it out with Burt Lancaster.”

He always knew he was a Jew, but kept that knowledge to himself, Douglas recalled, except for one link.

“I always fasted on Yom Kippur. I still worked (on the movie set), but I fasted. And let me tell you, it’s not easy making love to Ava Gardner on an empty stomach” — a remark greeted, in Hollywood fashion, with enthusiastic applause.

Douglas dates his return to Jewish observance and full identification to a helicopter crash in 1991, in which two men died. While lying in a hospital bed with excruciating back pains, he started pondering the meaning of his survival and his life.

“I came to believe that I was spared because I had not yet come to terms with my Judaism, that I had never come to grips with what it means to be Jewish,” he said.

Since then, he has become a conscientious Torah student, under the guidance of Rabbis Nahum Braverman of Aish HaTorah, Robert Wexler at the University of Judaism, and Wolpe of Sinai Temple.

In a second career as a writer, Douglas has turned to Jewish themes. Before the bar mitzvah ceremony, he read excerpts from his latest work, “Young Heroes of the Bible” to a Sinai class.

As any other bar mitzvah boy, Douglas was surrounded by his proud family, including Anne, his wife of 45 years, three of his four sons, and three grandchildren.

Although none of Douglas’s sons are Jewish according to halacha (Jewish law), or were raised as Jews, they increasingly “feel” Jewish, said their father. In a graceful luncheon talk, producer-actor Michael Douglas, the oldest son, easily inserted Yiddish and Hebrew expressions.

Kirk Douglas’ Greatest Role

When Kirk Douglas was in his mid-70s, he started to study the Torah. The actor in him immediately detected a professional relevance.

“The Torah is the greatest screenplay ever written,” he says. “It has passion, incest, murder, adultery — really everything.”

It has been a long road back to Judaism for the veteran of 82movies, who began life as Issur Danielovitch, the son of poor,illiterate Russian-Jewish immigrants, became college wrestler Isadore(Izzy) Demsky, and achieved great fame and success as actor Kirk Douglas — often starring as a Nordic-looking hero or antihero.

His trademark dimple chin jutting out — for his first movie role,Paramount honchos wanted to obliterate the million-dollar dimple through plastic surgery — Douglas reminisced about his life andfaith during a 75-minute interview in his art-filled, but relatively modest, Beverly Hills home.

Today, Douglas is an 80-year-old man with an implanted pacemaker,who has been sorely tested in the past few years by severe injuries sustained in a 1991 helicopter crash and, more recently, by a stroke.But don’t think that his glories lie behind him.

Having passed his biblically allotted life span of 70, Douglas is looking forward to his second bar mitzvah, in Israel, at age 83. His fifth and sixth books, the autobiographical “Climbing the Mountain:My Search for Meaning” and “The Broken Mirror,” a Holocaust-themed story for children, are coming out this month.

He is planning for his first collaboration with his oldest son,Michael Douglas, in the movie “A Song for David,” which centers on the relationship between a father, who rediscovers his Judaism in old age, and his workaholic son. Waiting in the wings, “if Hashem wills it,” is another joint film project, tentatively titled “Josiah’s Cannon,” also on a Jewish theme.

Then he has his carefully selected collection of modern, not yet fashionable painters and his pet charitable projects: Children playgrounds for poor neighborhoods in Los Angeles and Israel; an Alzheimer’s unit at the hospital for retired show-biz folks; AIDS andhomeless projects; the Access Theater for the Handicapped; and a $2million theater that’s rising opposite the Western Wall, where worshipers will watch films on the history of the Wall, Judaism and Jerusalem.

He has a date at the White House on Dec. 23, together with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, to watch President Clinton light the first Chanukah candle, which will also symbolize the beginning of Israel’s 50th anniversary year. Douglas hopes to revisit Israel,where he has made three films, next year.

Unfulfilled, as yet, is his ambition to climb Mount Sinai and greet the sunrise at the pinnacle.

Finally, there is his family. His countless love affairs and one-night stands — with movie queens and casual pickups alike –well behind him, Douglas speaks often and proudly of his 43-yearmarriage to his second wife, Anne, and of his four sons, Michael,Joel, Peter and Eric.

The first two sons are from his first marriage, to actress Diana Dill; the two younger ones from his present marriage. Despite their father’s dire warning, all four sons work in the film industry as actors and/or producers.

Douglas still remembers, with undiminished pain, growing up alongside six sisters with a loveless and unresponsive father, and he makes it a point to show emotion and affection toward his own children. “Whenever we meet, we embrace and kiss each other on the mouth — Russian style,” he says.

Douglas has always been aware of his Jewishness. When he was 12, the Sons of Israel congregation in his native Amsterdam, N.Y.,offered to send him to a yeshiva to become a rabbi. Young Issur declined, informing his would-be benefactors that he planned to become an actor.

For most of his life, he has been an indifferent Jew, at best. Atone point in his college career, though a popular student body president and champion wrestler, he tried to pass himself off as a half-Jew.

He dates his