Category Archives: Arts & Entertainment

Jews in the World of Art & Entertainment

Jew of the Week: Silvio Santos

Brazil’s Most Beloved Person

Silvio Santos (Courtesy: SBT)

Senor Abravanel (b. 1930) was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil to Sephardic parents who immigrated from Greece and Turkey. He is a descendant of (former Jew of the Week) Don Isaac Abravanel, who was treasurer to the Spanish monarchy in the 15th century. Senor worked hard from a young age to help support his family. At 14, while working as a street vendor, he got his first job at a radio station. It didn’t last long, as he made more money on the street. Several years later, Abravanel moved to São Paulo and worked a number of jobs in broadcasting before being hired to host a TV game show. Abravanel adopted the stage name “Silvio Santos”. His show was hugely popular, and Santos quickly became a wealthy celebrity. He soon bought the show’s production company, Baú da Felicidade, and started expanding across Brazilian media. He also diversified into real estate, hotels, agriculture, cosmetics, and banking. After years of trying to get his own TV network, the government finally relented in 1981, and Santos launched TVS (now SBT, Brazil’s second most-watched channel). By 1989, Santos was recognized as Brazil’s most famous personality, and that year he even ran for president! His life story—from poor immigrant to Brazil’s first celebrity billionaire—has served as an inspiration to countless Brazilians. He is admired for trying to help his country wherever he can and, in a place of rampant corruption, for paying his taxes. (In fact, Santos is Brazil’s single biggest individual tax-payer.) He was recently voted by Brazilians to be the most beloved person in the country. Amazingly, although he is nearly 90 years old, Santos still appears on television as the host of the Silvio Santos Show.

Why is the Month of Adar Lucky?

Words of the Week

When we want to believe something, we ask ourselves, “Can I believe it?” …and if we find even a single piece of pseudo-evidence, we can stop thinking. When we don’t want to believe something, we ask ourselves, “Must I believe it?” …and if we find a single reason to doubt the claim, we can dismiss it.
– Jonathan Haidt

Jew of the Week: Kirk Douglas

In Memory of Hollywood’s Biggest Star

Kirk Douglas

Issur Danielovitch (1916-2020) was born in New York to a traditional Yiddish-speaking family of Jewish-Russian immigrants. Growing up in poverty, young Issur worked hard delivering newspapers and selling snacks to mill workers to help make a living. He studied at the local religious cheder, and was such a good student that everyone wanted him to become a rabbi. This frightened him, so he ended up moving to public school where he first got to act in plays. At this point, he went by the name Izzy Demsky (a last name he adopted from his uncle), and only changed his name to Kirk Douglas when he enlisted in the US Navy in 1941. Not long before that he graduated from St. Lawrence University, having convinced the dean to allow him to study for free since he had no money for tuition. While he tried to make it as an actor, Douglas also worked as a gardener, janitor, and professional wrestler. He eventually made it to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and received a scholarship there, too. Douglas served in the navy for three years working in anti-submarine combat and was honourably discharged after being injured. After the war, he got his first acting job doing commercials and soap operas over the radio. A friend got him his first film role in 1946, after which he was instantly recognized as a “natural film actor”. He got his first Oscar nomination just three years later. Douglas was Hollywood’s biggest star through the 1950s and 60s, and took the lead in classic films like Spartacus (at that point the most expensive film ever made), The Bad and the Beautiful, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, and Ace in the Hole (ranked among the greatest movies of all time). His portrayal of Vincent van Gogh in Lust for Life was especially praised. (He actually stayed in character throughout the weeks of filming, even when off-set!) He also played Israeli Hershel Vilnofsky in Victory at Entebbe, the first film about the famous rescue operation. All in all, Douglas starred in nearly 100 films, acted on Broadway, and made appearances in numerous TV shows. He also wrote 11 books, had his own film production company, and directed a number of films, too. Outside of Hollywood, Douglas was a noted philanthropist. He was an American goodwill ambassador for decades, donated some $50 million over his life to schools, hospitals, synagogues, and charities, and promised to leave most of his remaining $80 million net worth to charity as well. After a helicopter crash in 1991, he sought new meaning in life and rediscovered Judaism. He would write in his autobiography that while he once “tried to forget” that he was Jewish (though he never broke a Yom Kippur fast), he later realized “that you don’t have to be a rabbi to be a Jew.” Douglas became more observant, and had a second bar mitzvah at the age of 83. He studied Torah weekly with Rabbi David Wolpe. Douglas was also actively engaged with Aish HaTorah of Los Angeles, and helped support the Aish World Center across from the Western Wall in Jerusalem (the building’s Kirk Douglas Theater is named after him, as is Jerusalem’s Douglas Garden). Among his many awards are the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the French Legion of Honour, the National Medal of Arts, the King David Award, two Golden Globes and, of course, an Oscar for lifetime achievement. Sadly, Kirk Douglas passed away earlier today, aged 103. He is remembered as a film genius (who memorized not only his own lines, but seemingly every word of the entire script), a dedicated philanthropist, and one of the greatest actors of all time.

Words of the Week

The Torah is the greatest screenplay ever written.
– Kirk Douglas

Kirk Douglas at Aish HaTorah in Jerusalem, with Aish founder Rabbi Noah Weinberg on his left.

Jew of the Week: Jerry Bruckheimer

The Man Behind Your Favourite Blockbusters

Jerry Bruckheimer at a ceremony to receive his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (Credit: Angela George)

Jerome Leon Bruckheimer (b. 1943) was born in Detroit to German-Jewish immigrants. His favourite pastimes growing up were stamp-collecting, photography, and watching films. Bruckheimer studied psychology at the University of Arizona, then got a job in advertising. After producing a number of TV commercials, Bruckheimer decided to pursue his passion for film. He teamed up with directors Dirk Richards and Paul Schrader to make several movies, and soon caught Hollywood’s attention. Bruckheimer’s first big hit was Flashdance, which went on to earn $200 million and become a cultural icon. The following year came Beverly Hills Cop—originally meant to star Sylvester Stallone before Eddie Murphy took the lead, launching his film career. Two years later, Bruckheimer produced another big hit: Top Gun, going on to earn $356 million despite costing just $15 million to make. It won an Oscar and was later selected by the Library of Congress for historical preservation. (A long-awaited sequel is coming out later this year.) Top Gun was the first movie in Hollywood history that was produced in collaboration with the US Navy, and is credited with cleaning up the US military’s image after the Vietnam War. Bruckheimer went on to make blockbusters like Days of Thunder, The Rock, Armageddon, Enemy of the State, and Pearl Harbor. He produced the hugely successful Pirates of the Caribbean series, too—one of the highest-grossing film franchises in history. Bruckheimer has been hugely successful on the small screen as well. His first TV show was CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, which spawned multiple spin-offs. He is behind the The Amazing Race, now in its 32nd season in the US, with a whopping 15 Emmy Awards (and 77 more nominations). At one point, three of Bruckheimer’s shows were in the top 10 in TV ratings. He has become something of a Hollywood legend, for whom nearly every film and show strikes gold. Bruckheimer has had a tremendous influence in the development of the modern “blockbuster”. He is a hockey fan, too, and invested in an NHL expansion team coming to Seattle starting in the 2021-2022 season. His latest production is the third installment of the classic cop-duo comedy Bad Boys, starring Will Smith and Martin Lawrence, which opens in theatres next Friday.

Words of the Week

Do not try to evade taxes, lest the government catch you and take everything you own.
– Rabbi Yehuda haNasi (Talmud, Pesachim 112b)