Tag Archives: Fencing

Jew of the Week: Neil Diamond

“The Jewish Elvis”

Neil Leslie Diamond (b. 1941) was born in Brooklyn to a Jewish family of Russian and Polish heritage. In high school, he sang in the school choir alongside classmate Barbra Streisand. Diamond was inspired by a Pete Seeger performance at his Jewish summer camp, and as soon as he returned home got a guitar and started writing songs. Meanwhile, he was on his high school fencing team and got a fencing scholarship to attend New York University. (He won an NCAA fencing championship in 1960!) Eventually, Diamond dropped out of his pre-med program and went to work for Sunbeam Music writing songs for $50 a week. He then went off on his own and formed a singing duet with a friend. Finding no success, Diamond decided to go solo and got a recording deal with Columbia in 1962. Unfortunately, despite good reviews his first album was a commercial flop. Diamond was dropped by Columbia and lived in poverty for the next several years of his life, at one point barely surviving on just $3 a day. In 1965, Diamond started writing hit songs for The Monkees, including “I’m a Believer”. Soon, Diamond became a popular songwriter and composed for the likes of Elvis Presley and Deep Purple. He had his own first hit in 1966 with “Solitary Man”, followed by “Sweet Caroline” in 1969 (later selected for historical preservation by the Library of Congress). After that, the hits kept coming and his shows sold out night after night. During one San Francisco show in 1979, Diamond suddenly collapsed on stage and couldn’t get up. It turned out that he had a tumour in his spine, and went through a 12-hour surgery to remove it. His 1980 hit “America” became the most recognizable song in the country, and is sometimes likened to a second national anthem. All in all, Diamond had ten Number 1 singles, and 38 reached the Billboard Top 10. He has sold over 100 million records, making him one of the most successful musicians of all time. Diamond has always been open about his Jewish faith, sang “Kol Nidre” in a famous Yom Kippur scene in the film The Jazz Singer, and has been called “the Jewish Elvis”. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, won a Grammy for Lifetime Achievement, and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In 2018, Diamond retired after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, though he still spends much of his time writing songs.

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Words of the Week

Noah was told, “Make a tzohar for the ark.”  [Genesis 6:16] The word “ark” in Hebrew is teivah, which also means a “word”. A tzohar, meanwhile, is something that shines. So the verse could be read to teach us: “Make each word you say shine.”
– Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov (1698-1760)

Jew of the Week: Gene Wilder

Gene Wilder

Gene Wilder

Jerome Silberman (1933-2016) was born in Milwaukee, the son of Russian-Jewish parents. When he was eight years old, his mother fell ill and the doctor told him to try to make her laugh. This is when his passion for acting began. At 13, he started taking professional acting lessons, and his mother soon sent him to a school in Hollywood. As the only Jewish kid, he was often bullied and abused, and had to leave the school shortly after. Back in Milwaukee, he performed in his first official play (Romeo & Juliet) at 15. Silberman went on study theatre at the University of Iowa, where he became a lifelong member of the Jewish fraternity AEPi. After college, he went to acting school in England. There, he also studied fencing and became a fencing champion. Upon returning to the US, Silberman was drafted to the army and served as a medic. After this, he went back to acting school (in New York) and supported himself by working as a limo driver and fencing instructor. After three more years of study, he started getting professional acting jobs. During this time, he adopted the stage name Gene Wilder. It wasn’t long before Wilder appeared in a number of hit Broadway plays. In 1967, he got a leading role in The Producers. The movie became a comedy classic, and Wilder was nominated for an Oscar. After some more successes, Wilder was cast as Willy Wonka in the adaptation of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, perhaps his most famous role. Wilder went on to star in many more popular films, including multiple collaborations with fellow comedy legends Richard Pryor and Mel Brooks. All together, he appeared in 23 films, 9 television shows, and 5 Broadway plays. He inspired a generation of comedians, actors, and pastry chefs. Wilder also wrote 6 books. Sadly, the beloved actor passed away earlier this week. His film Blazing Saddles – which some consider the funniest movie of all time – will be playing in many theaters this weekend as a tribute.

Words of the Week

Most tragedy is misunderstood comedy. God is a great humorist working with a rather glum audience.
– Garrison Keillor