Tag Archives: Academy Awards

Jews of the Week: Sydney Pollack and Bruce Geller

Mission: Impossible

Bruce Geller

Baruch Bruce Geller (1930-1978) was born in New York City. Although he studied psychology at Yale University, he was far more interested in theatre, and ended up working as a screenwriter. Finding little success in New York, he moved to Hollywood and worked on a number of television shows. In 1965, Geller had an idea for a new secret agent thriller TV show, and created Mission: Impossible. The show ran from 1966 to 1973, with Geller as producer, writer, and director. The hit series went on to win 8 Emmy Awards, including two for Geller as producer and as writer. The show was resurrected in 1988 for another couple of seasons. (Its extremely popular theme song was written by former Jew of the Week Lalo Schifrin.)

Sydney Pollack

In the early 1990s, Sydney Irwin Pollack (1934-2008) began working on a film adaptation of Mission: Impossible. Starring Tom Cruise, the movie became a huge hit, and spawned five sequels, become one of the highest-grossing film franchises of all time, and earning over $2.7 billion, so far. (The latest installment of the film series, Mission: Impossible – Fallout, opens tomorrow.) Pollack was born in Indiana to Russian-Jewish immigrants. After finishing high school, he moved to New York City and studied acting. Pollack served two years in the armed forces, then returned to theatre as a stage assistant. He moved to Hollywood in 1960 to coach child actors, and slowly shifted from acting to directing. Pollack first worked on television shows, then made the jump to feature films, and was hugely successful right from the start. His films went on to earn 48 nominations and 11 wins at the Oscars. Pollack eventually went back to acting, and appeared in numerous films and TV shows. He died of cancer in 2008. Both Pollack and Geller were avid pilots, and enjoyed flying their Cessnas. Sadly, Geller’s life was cut short when his plane crashed in 1978.

Tu b’Av Begins Tonight – Chag Sameach!

Why Tu b’Av Is More Important than Yom Kippur

Words of the Week

I’ve lived through Israel’s entire 70-year history and I believe it is one of the most remarkable countries in the world.
– Warren Buffett

Steven Hill in the lead role of the 1966 pilot episode of Mission: Impossible, and Tom Cruise in the lead role of the 1996 film, together with the film’s most famous (and oft-spoofed) scene.

Jew of the Week: Natalie Portman

Natalie Portman plays Orthodox girl Rifka in ‘New York, I Love You’

Netalee Hershlag (b. 1981) was born in Jerusalem to a Jewish-American mother and Israeli father with a mix of Russian, Austrian, Romanian, and Polish heritage. The family moved to the US when she was three years old, and young Natalie went to a Jewish day school. She spent most of her teenage years in New York, where she studied dance and ballet. When she was 11, an agent spotted her at a pizza parlour. Shortly after, she was cast alongside Britney Spears in a small role on a Broadway play. The following year, she was cast as twelve-year old orphan Mathilda Lando in the popular film Leon: the Professional. It was then that Natalie decided to use her grandmother’s maiden name, “Portman”. Her incredible performance launched her into stardom. Nonetheless, she made sure to reject all the highly sexualized roles she was being offered, later saying that “there’s a surprising preponderance of that kind of role for young girls. Sort of being fantasy objects for men, and especially this idealized purity combined with the fertility of youth… so I definitely shied away from it.” Indeed, she initially rejected a role in 1999’s Anywhere but Here because of a sex scene, and only accepted it when the script was rewritten without it. For this role, she would win a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress. Meanwhile, Portman wanted to get a proper education, even if it meant “ruining my career”. She skipped the premiere of Star Wars: Episode I (where she played beloved Queen Amidala, young mother of Luke and Leia Skywalker) to study for her high school exams, then enrolled in psychology studies at Harvard. Throughout her time there, she was a noted pro-Israel activist, and also served as Alan Dershowitz’s research assistant. Portman continued graduate studies at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University, and has co-authored two scientific papers. (Even in high school she was a scientist, coming up with, and writing a paper titled, “A Simple Method to Demonstrate the Enzymatic Production of Hydrogen from Sugar”.) Portman was later a guest lecturer at Columbia University, and once said, “I’d rather be smart than a movie star.” Thankfully, she is both, with many of her films receiving rave reviews. 2006’s V for Vendetta inspired a whole movement, while 2010’s eye-opening Black Swan won her an Oscar for Best Actress. For the former film she had to shave her head, while the latter required 5 to 8 hours of dance training every day for 6 months. All in all, Portman has acted in, directed, or produced 42 films thus far. Meanwhile, the vegan Portman is an animal rights activist, and has produced an acclaimed film on cruel factory farming. She produced another to depict the plight of gorillas. She has also worked to combat poverty, and served as an Ambassador of Hope for a microlending fund, and an ambassador for Free the Children. She is a member of OneVoice, which strives to build bridges between Israelis and Palestinians. For her tireless work, last month Portman was awarded the $1 million Genesis Prize (“the Jewish Nobel Prize”), which she said would be donated primarily to support women’s causes. Portman has two children, and though she now lives in LA, has said that “my heart’s in Jerusalem. That’s where I feel at home.”

Words of the Week

Fighting evil is a very noble activity when it must be done. But it is not our mission in life. Our job is to bring in more light.
– Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe