Tag Archives: Disney

Jew of the Week: Maurice Sendak

Where the Wild Things Are

Maurice Bernard Sendak (1928-2012) was born in Brooklyn to Polish-Jewish immigrants. He fell in love with books during a lengthy childhood illness, and after watching Disney’s Fantasia at age 12, decided to become an illustrator. Skipping college, Sendak first did illustrations for toy store windows before having his art published in a textbook. He then devoted himself to illustrating children’s books, including many Jewish themed ones like Good Shabbos Everybody. (Sendak once noted that one of his greatest inspirations was his father’s telling of stories from the Torah.) By the late 1950’s, he started writing his own children’s books. His most famous work came in 1963, and made Sendak a household name. Where the Wild Things Are was very controversial when first published, criticized for its edgy theme and “dark” illustrations. Sendak attributed this to his own difficult childhood, having lost many family members in the Holocaust. Nonetheless, the book became hugely popular, and went on to sell over 20 million copies worldwide. It has since been adapted into a Hollywood film and even an opera, and has been ranked as the best picture book of all time. All in all, Sendak authored 22 books, illustrated 90 more, and wrote, directed, or produced seven films. He saw himself not as a children’s author, but an “author who told the truth about children”. Sendak won many awards, including the National Medal of the Arts, and the prestigious Hans Christian Andersen Award for “lasting contribution to children’s literature”. Sendak donated $1 million to New York’s Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services, and left his precious collection of over 10,000 artworks, books, and manuscripts to be turned into a museum and library. He was a humble man, and avoided book signings because he “couldn’t stand the thought of parents dragging children to wait in line for hours to see a little old man in thick glasses.” After his passing of a stroke at age 83, The New York Times hailed him as “the most important children’s book artist of the 20th century.”

Words of the Week

It’s a Jewish way of getting through life. You acknowledge what is spectacular and beautiful and also you don’t close your eyes to the pain and the difficulty.
– playwright Tony Kushner, on Maurice Sendak’s books.

Jew of the Week: Idina Menzel

Let it Go!

Idina Menzel in 'If/Then' (Photo Credit: Joan Marcus, www.joanmarcusphotography.com/)

Idina Menzel in ‘If/Then’ (Photo Credit: Joan Marcus)

Idina Kim Menzel (b. 1971) was born in New York to a Jewish family with grandparents from Russia and Eastern Europe. At 15, she began singing at weddings and bar mitzvahs, which later helped her get through Tisch School of Arts at New York University. Shortly after, she auditioned for the hit Broadway musical Rent, landing the role of Maureen Johnson, for which she was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical. She also starred in other hit shows like Hair and Aida, while releasing her first solo music album. Her greatest Broadway success began in 2003 when she started playing Elphaba in the musical Wicked, winning a Tony Award for Best Leading Actress. When the show opened in London, she became the city’s highest-paid female performer, earning $30,000 per week. Since 2008, she’s starred in Chess, Nero, and her latest, If/Then. The latter has now moved to Broadway, and Menzel has been nominated for another Tony for Best Leading Actress. Aside from her tremendous stage success, Menzel has also played roles in television and film, including a role on Glee. Most popularly, she lent the voice of Elsa in Disney’s Frozen, helping to make it the highest-grossing animated film of all time, and winning its theme song “Let it Go” an Academy Award. It also made Menzel the only Tony Award winner to ever hit the Billboard Top 10. Her most recent album, Holiday Wishes, hit the Billboard Top 10, as well. Menzel is heavily involved in charity work, and her ‘A BroaderWay Foundation’ helps disadvantaged youth make it in the arts through summer camps, scholarships, and workshops.

Words of the Week

…contrary to those who misunderstand or misrepresent this in terms of privilege, which smacks of chauvinism, this ‘chosenness’ [of the Jewish people] is primarily a matter of duty, and obligation to be a model people for the whole world to emulate; a people where form takes precedence over matter, the spiritual over the material, and the soul over the body, a people which was destined to be a “light unto the nations” (Isaiah 42:6).
– Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe