Tag Archives: Order of the British Empire

Jew of the Week: Steven Spielberg

The Greatest Film Director of All Time

Steven Spielberg

Steven Spielberg

Steven Allan Spielberg (b. 1946) was born to an Orthodox Jewish family in Cincinnati, and grew up in New Jersey and Arizona. As a twelve year old boy scout trying to get a photography merit badge, his photo camera broke so he made a short film with his father’s video camera instead. It sparked a life-long passion for film. The following year he made a 40-minute war flick that won a prize, and at 16, made his first full length sci-fi movie, which made $1 in profit. After high school, Spielberg studied film, then got a job at Universal Studios as an unpaid and uncredited intern, working seven days a week in the editing department. During this time, he put together a 26-minute film. A Universal exec saw it and immediately signed Spielberg to a long-term contract, making him the youngest director to do so. He first made 4 TV films, then was offered the chance at Jaws (which had so many production issues it almost never made it). Jaws won 3 Academy Awards and set a box-office record, propelling Spielberg to huge fame. Spielberg continued to make big hits that smashed box-office records, winning two Best Director awards and having his films earn a total of 33 Oscars. Together with two other Jews, Spielberg founded his own studio, DreamWorks, most famous for producing animated hits like Shrek, Antz, and The Prince of Egypt. Spielberg has also participated in many philanthropic causes, including aid to Israel (for which the Arab League voted to boycott his films in 2007). Most notably, he founded the Survivors of the Shoah Foundation to record video testimonies of the Holocaust, lest it be forgotten or denied. Over 52,000 interviews have been conducted in 56 countries and 32 languages. Spielberg was made an honorary Knight of the Order of the British Empire, as well as a knight of the French Légion d’honneur. He has been voted the greatest director of all time, listed as the most influential figure in the film industry, and included by TIME Magazine in their list of 100 Most Important People of the Century.

Words of the Week

Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none.
– William Shakespeare

Jew of the Week: Krystyna Skarbek

The Original ‘Bond Girl’

Secret Agent Krystyna Skarbek - the inspiration for James Bond's Vesper Lynd

Secret Agent Krystyna Skarbek – the inspiration for James Bond’s Vesper Lynd

Maria Krystyna Janina Skarbek (1908-1952) was born in Poland to a Catholic father and a Jewish mother from a wealthy family. From a young age, Maria enjoyed horse-back riding, skiing, and extreme physical activities. At 22, her father died and her mother’s family wealth ran out. Skarbek got a job in a Fiat dealership but fell ill from the fumes. To regain her health, she returned to the slopes and spent the majority of her time skiing and hiking. With the outbreak of World War II, Skarbek fled to London and enlisted in the British Army. She found her way into the Secret Intelligence Service and was sent to Hungary for “espionage, reconnaissance and sabotage”. From there she re-entered Poland by hiking across the mountainous border. Skarbek first attempted to save her mother from the Nazis, but her mother refused to leave and was killed in a camp. Skarbek’s main work was to organize the transfer of vital intelligence reports out of Warsaw to the SIS. (One of these correctly revealed Germany’s planned invasion of the USSR, of critical importance to the Allied victory). She also assisted in smuggling weapons and exfiltrating key military personnel. Arrested by the Gestapo in 1941, Skarbek bit her own tongue until it bled, then pretended to have virulent tuberculosis and used the cover to escape her captivity. She made her way through the Balkans to Turkey, then to the SIS headquarters in Egypt. Upon arrival, she was suspected of being a counter-spy secretly working for the Germans! Thankfully, she cleared her name and returned to work. In 1944 she was posted in France under the name ‘Madame Pauline’. Here were some of her most infamous missions, including demolishing bridges and infiltrating a Nazi prison to save her commanding officer. After the war she was awarded with an Officer of the Order of the British Empire and France’s Croix de Guerre. However, she was dismissed from service with only a month’s salary and left alone in Cairo. She slowly rebuilt her life as Christine Granville. Sadly, in 1952 she was assassinated in a hotel room. Skarbek’s story inspired Vesper Lynd, the original ‘Bond Girl’ in Ian Fleming’s first 007 story Casino Royale. Many consider her Britain’s first female secret agent.

Words of the Week

God transforms spirituality into physicality; the Jew makes physical things spiritual.
– Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov