Tag Archives: Aish HaTorah

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.

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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: Howard Schultz

Starbucks

Howard Schultz, Mr. Starbucks

Howard Schultz was born to a poor Jewish-German family in Brooklyn. A phenomenal athlete, he paid his way through higher education on sports scholarships. After working as a salesperson for Xerox, he became the general manager of Swedish coffee machine maker Hammarplast. In this role, he paid a visit to one of the company’s clients – a tiny café in Seattle called Starbucks. Having traveled through Italy and seen the importance of café-socials in Italian society, Schultz was inspired to create the same for America. Unfortunately the three Starbucks founders (two of whom are fellow Jews Gordon Bowker and Zev Siegl) didn’t share his vision. So in 1985 Howard Schultz started his own café called Il Giornale. Hugely successful, by 1988 Schultz was able to buy out the original Starbucks and adopted it as his own brand name! Schultz quickly became a billionaire, went on to own the Seattle Supersonics basketball team, wrote two books, and received multiple awards, including one from Aish HaTorah for his Israel advocacy work. Today, Starbucks is the largest coffeehouse in the world, with 19,435 locations in 58 countries. The company continues to run under the direction of Schultz, and has become well-known for its humanitarianism: their Ethos brand raises money for water development projects, while Product Red delivers AIDS medication to Africa. The Starbucks Foundation works to develop youth literacy and leadership, sponsoring volunteer work and providing millions of dollars in grants every year.

 

Words of the Week

Leave Israel alone, for even if they are not themselves prophets, they are still the children of prophets.

The very first Starbucks in Seattle, 1971

– Hillel