Tag Archives: Polish Jews

Jew of the Week: Dustin Hoffman

Dustin Lee Hoffman (b. 1937) was born in Los Angeles to a family with Ukrainian-, Polish-, and Romanian-Jewish ancestry. His father was a set decorator who worked for Columbia Pictures, which likely influenced Hoffman to dream of becoming an actor. His family didn’t share this dream, and Hoffman went to college with plans to become a doctor. He dropped out after one year and joined the Pasadena Playhouse. There, he met fellow actor Gene Hackman, and the two soon moved to New York and shared an apartment (together with Robert Duvall). Hoffman had small roles in film and television over the next decade. His first lead role was in 1967’s The Graduate (the famous “Mrs. Robinson” movie), which was wildly popular and earned him an Oscar nomination. The film was hailed as a breakthrough, with Hoffman said to represent “a new breed of actor” – more human, more complex, and not the perfectly-looking stud that Hollywood employed in those days. It was said that “Hoffman’s character made conventional good looks no longer necessary on screen.” Despite the success, Hoffman turned down film in favour of the stage, starring on Broadway where he won an award for outstanding performance. It wasn’t long before Hoffman returned to film, in 1969’s Midnight Cowboy, and incredibly, was nominated for an Oscar once again. (The Library of Congress later included this iconic film in its registry for preservation.) All in all, Hoffman appeared in 6 plays, 16 TV shows, and some 60 films. He was nominated for Best Actor at the Oscars seven times, winning twice (for Kramer vs. Kramer and Rain Man); and won 6 Golden Globes as well. In recent years, he has reconnected with his Jewish roots, taken on more Torah observance, made sure that his children and grandchildren have bar and bat mitzvahs, and aims to learn Hebrew. Hoffman was recently hailed as one of the greatest performers of all time, and “one of the most versatile and iconoclastic actors of this or any other generation”. Last week he celebrated his 80th birthday.

Words of the Week

People ask me today: “What are you?” I say: “I’m a Jew.”
– Dustin Hoffman

Jew of the Week: Rosalie Abella

Rosalie Silberman Abella (b. 1946) was born to Jewish-Polish Holocaust survivors in a displaced persons camp in Germany. When she was a child, the family moved to Halifax, and then settled in Toronto. Abella followed in her father’s footsteps and became a lawyer, graduating from the University of Toronto. She was a civil and family lawyer for five years before being appointed to the Ontario Family Court, aged just 29. This made her the youngest judge in Canada’s history – and the first pregnant one! Sixteen years later, she moved up to the Ontario Court of Appeal. Abella also sat on Ontario’s Human Rights Commission, and became a renowned expert on human rights law. Abella coined the term “employment equity” while overseeing the Royal Commission on Equality in Employment in 1983. She pioneered a number of strategies to improve employment for women, minorities, and aboriginals, which have been implemented in countries around the world. In 2004, she was appointed to Canada’s Supreme Court, making her the first Jewish woman to sit on the nation’s highest judiciary. Recently, Abella was named the Global Jurist of the Year for her work with human rights and international criminal law. Among her many other awards, she has received 37 honourary degrees, including one from Yale University – the first Canadian woman to do so. One politician said of her: “I’ve never met any judge in my life, and I know a lot of them – I used to be a lawyer – who understands people better than Rosie, and the importance of people in the judicial process. I think the human quality she brings to the bench is unsurpassed in my experience.”

Words of the Week

My life started in a country where there had been no democracy, no rights, no justice and all because we were Jewish. No one with this history does not feel lucky to be alive and free. No one with this history takes anything for granted, and no one with this history does not feel that we have a particular duty to wear our identities with pride and to promise our children that we will do everything humanly possible to keep the world safer for them than it was for their grandparents, a world where all children – regardless of race, colour, religion, or gender – can wear their identities with dignity, with pride and in peace.
– Rosalie Abella