Tag Archives: Oscar Winners

Jew of the Week: Dustin Hoffman

Dustin Lee Hoffman (b. 1937) was born in Los Angeles to a family with Ukrainian-, Polish-, and Romanian-Jewish ancestry. His father was a set decorator who worked for Columbia Pictures, which likely influenced Hoffman to dream of becoming an actor. His family didn’t share this dream, and Hoffman went to college with plans to become a doctor. He dropped out after one year and joined the Pasadena Playhouse. There, he met fellow actor Gene Hackman, and the two soon moved to New York and shared an apartment (together with Robert Duvall). Hoffman had small roles in film and television over the next decade. His first lead role was in 1967’s The Graduate (the famous “Mrs. Robinson” movie), which was wildly popular and earned him an Oscar nomination. The film was hailed as a breakthrough, with Hoffman said to represent “a new breed of actor” – more human, more complex, and not the perfectly-looking stud that Hollywood employed in those days. It was said that “Hoffman’s character made conventional good looks no longer necessary on screen.” Despite the success, Hoffman turned down film in favour of the stage, starring on Broadway where he won an award for outstanding performance. It wasn’t long before Hoffman returned to film, in 1969’s Midnight Cowboy, and incredibly, was nominated for an Oscar once again. (The Library of Congress later included this iconic film in its registry for preservation.) All in all, Hoffman appeared in 6 plays, 16 TV shows, and some 60 films. He was nominated for Best Actor at the Oscars seven times, winning twice (for Kramer vs. Kramer and Rain Man); and won 6 Golden Globes as well. In recent years, he has reconnected with his Jewish roots, taken on more Torah observance, made sure that his children and grandchildren have bar and bat mitzvahs, and aims to learn Hebrew. Hoffman was recently hailed as one of the greatest performers of all time, and “one of the most versatile and iconoclastic actors of this or any other generation”. Last week he celebrated his 80th birthday.

Words of the Week

People ask me today: “What are you?” I say: “I’m a Jew.”
– Dustin Hoffman

Jew of the Week: Rabbi Marvin Hier

The Rabbi at Trump’s Inauguration

Rabbi Hier at Trump’s Inauguration

Moshe Chaim Hier (b. 1939) was born in New York to Polish-Jewish immigrants. At the age of 23, he was ordained as an Orthodox rabbi and moved to Vancouver where he soon took charge of its Congregation Schara Tzedeck. In 1977, Hier moved to Los Angeles and established the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a non-profit dedicated to “confronting antisemitism, hate and terrorism, promoting human rights and dignity, standing with Israel, defending the safety of Jews worldwide, and teaching the lessons of the Holocaust for future generations.” The Simon Wiesenthal Center is now one of the most well-known Jewish organizations in the world, with offices in Toronto, Jerusalem, Paris, Buenos Aires, and across the US. Its Museum of Tolerance welcomes 350,000 visitors a year, and its library holds over 50,000 important volumes. Hier also established the Moriah Films company, which has produced over a dozen films focusing on Jewish history and the Holocaust. Two of these won Academy Awards for Best Documentary. This makes Hier the only rabbi to ever win an Oscar. He is also the only rabbi to be a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Meanwhile, Hier established Los Angeles’ Yeshiva University High Schools and was its dean for many years. He is currently working on a $200 million project to build a Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem, to open next year, and producing his 16th film, about the life of Shimon Peres. Most recently, Rabbi Hier gave a blessing at President Donald Trump’s inauguration. This made him only the second Jewish religious leader in history to speak at a presidential inauguration, and the first Orthodox rabbi to ever do so. He has been ranked as the most influential rabbi in America, and was once described as being “one phone call away from almost every world leader, journalist, and Hollywood studio head.”

Words of the Week

The bond that has united the Jews for thousands of years and that unites them today is, above all, the democratic ideal of social justice coupled with the ideal of mutual aid and tolerance among all men.
– Albert Einstein

Jew of the Week: Bob Dylan

First Musician to Win a Nobel Prize

Bob Dylan in 1963

Bob Dylan in 1963

Robert Allen Shabbatai Zisl Zimmerman (b. 1941) was born in Minnesota, the grandchild of Ukrainian- and Lithuanian-Jewish immigrants. Listening to the radio as a child, Zimmerman fell in love with music. In high school, he formed a number of bands, mostly doing covers of Elvis Presley. While studying at the University of Minnesota, Zimmerman regularly performed at clubs and coffeehouses near the campus, introducing himself as “Bob Dylan” (after the poet, Dylan Thomas). He soon dropped out of school and moved to New York City. It only took about a year for him to get signed by Columbia Records. Though his first album didn’t do very well, and he was nearly dropped from the record label, Dylan’s second album fared much better. With this album, Dylan showed that he was not only a musician and songwriter, but a talented poet as well. The Beatles described his music as “incredibly original and wonderful”. By 1963, Dylan was tremendously popular, and had become an important part of the civil rights movement, too. He went on to produce an unbelievable 37 albums (so far), selling 120 million copies. His “Like a Rolling Stone” was listed as the greatest song of all time on multiple occasions, and his hand-written lyrics for this song recently sold at an auction for a record $2 million. His 2009 album made him the oldest artist ever to debut at number one on the Billboard 200 chart. Since 1988, Dylan has been on a “Never Ending Tour”, consistently performing around 100 concerts every year, and continuing to perform regularly to this day. Dylan also wrote a novel, published six books of his drawings and paintings, as well as a bestselling autobiography that was nominated for the National Book Award. He has won twelve Grammy Awards, an Oscar, a Golden Globe, and a Presidential Medal of Freedom. Last week, it was announced that he received the Nobel Prize for Literature – the first musician to do so. It has been said that Dylan inspired countless musicians “from Mick Jagger to Eminem”, while President Obama once admitted that “There is not a bigger giant in the history of American music.” TIME Magazine placed him on the list of the 100 Most Important People of the 20th century. Many have argued that Dylan’s lyrics should be studied in schools, and indeed, courses on Bob Dylan are now offered at a number of universities around the world.

Chag Sukkot Sameach!

Words of the Week

Most people worry about their own bellies, and other people’s souls, when we all ought to be worried about our own souls, and other people’s bellies.
– Rabbi Israel Salanter

Bob Dylan at his son Jesse's bar mitzvah at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, 1983

Bob Dylan at his son Jesse’s bar mitzvah at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, 1983