Ferenc Hoffman (1924-2005) was born in Budapest, Hungary to a secular Jewish family. He loved to write from a young age, and won a prize for a novel he wrote while still in high school. He was also an avid chess player. During World War II, he was first expelled from university before being imprisoned at a number of concentration camps, ending up in the Sobibor death camp. One of the ways he survived is by challenging the guards to chess matches. Another is by maintaining his sense of humour. After the Holocaust, he went by the name Franz Kishunt, studying sculpting and art history while also writing satire. In 1949, he escaped communist Hungary and made aliyah, becoming “Ephraim Kishon”. He was a passionate Zionist and would staunchly defend the State of Israel for the rest of his life—often being disparaged by the media for his hardline views. Within two years of settling in the Holy Land, Kishon was fluent in Hebrew (he literally hand-copied an entire dictionary) and began writing satire for a number of papers. His most famous column was Had Gadya in the Ma’ariv newspaper, which he wrote almost daily for over 30 years. Kishon soon became Israel’s greatest and most famous humourist. He also wrote popular plays, an opera, and books that have been translated into some 40 languages, including So Sorry We Won! about the Six-Day War. In the 1960s, Kishon entered the world of film. He wrote, directed, and produced five movies, the first being the critically-acclaimed Sallah Shabbati, highlighting the struggle of Mizrachi Jewish refugees to Israel. The film won a Golden Globe and was nominated for an Oscar, making Kishon the first Israeli with that distinction. (The film also launched the international career of Israeli actor Chaim Topol, most famous for portraying Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof.) Kishon’s fourth film, The Policeman, also won a Golden Globe and was nominated for an Oscar. Not surprisingly, Kishon has been credited with opening up Israeli cinema to the world, and paving the path to Hollywood for Israelis. He won a long list of awards, including the Bialik Prize and the Israel Prize. He was a billiards champ, a pioneer in the field of computer chess, and even created a board game (“Havila Higiya”) once popular in Israel. Kishon has been called the “father of Israeli satire”, and inspired an entire generation of Israeli humourists.
Words of the Week
The State of Israel wasn’t founded so that anti-Semitism would end. It was founded so that we could tell the anti-Semites to shove it. – Ephraim Kishon
Jerry Bruckheimer at a ceremony to receive his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (Credit: Angela George)
Jerome Leon Bruckheimer (b. 1943) was born in Detroit to German-Jewish immigrants. His favourite pastimes growing up were stamp-collecting, photography, and watching films. Bruckheimer studied psychology at the University of Arizona, then got a job in advertising. After producing a number of TV commercials, Bruckheimer decided to pursue his passion for film. He teamed up with directors Dirk Richards and Paul Schrader to make several movies, and soon caught Hollywood’s attention. Bruckheimer’s first big hit was Flashdance, which went on to earn $200 million and become a cultural icon. The following year came Beverly Hills Cop—originally meant to star Sylvester Stallone before Eddie Murphy took the lead, launching his film career. Two years later, Bruckheimer produced another big hit: Top Gun, going on to earn $356 million despite costing just $15 million to make. It won an Oscar and was later selected by the Library of Congress for historical preservation. (A long-awaited sequel is coming out later this year.) Top Gun was the first movie in Hollywood history that was produced in collaboration with the US Navy, and is credited with cleaning up the US military’s image after the Vietnam War. Bruckheimer went on to make blockbusters like Days of Thunder, The Rock, Armageddon, Enemy of the State, and Pearl Harbor. He produced the hugely successful Pirates of the Caribbean series, too—one of the highest-grossing film franchises in history. Bruckheimer has been hugely successful on the small screen as well. His first TV show was CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, which spawned multiple spin-offs. He is behind the The Amazing Race, now in its 32nd season in the US, with a whopping 15 Emmy Awards (and 77 more nominations). At one point, three of Bruckheimer’s shows were in the top 10 in TV ratings. He has become something of a Hollywood legend, for whom nearly every film and show strikes gold. Bruckheimer has had a tremendous influence in the development of the modern “blockbuster”. He is a hockey fan, too, and invested in an NHL expansion team coming to Seattle starting in the 2021-2022 season. His latest production is the third installment of the classic cop-duo comedy Bad Boys, starring Will Smith and Martin Lawrence, which opens in theatres next Friday.
Words of the Week
Do not try to evade taxes, lest the government catch you and take everything you own. – Rabbi Yehuda haNasi (Talmud, Pesachim 112b)
Taika David Cohen Waititi (b. 1975) was born and raised in New Zealand to a native Te Whānau-ā-Apanui Maori father and a Russian-Jewish mother. He is probably the world’s most famous “Polynesian Jew” (as he describes himself). While studying drama at Victoria University of Wellington, Waititi joined a comedy troupe called So You’re a Man and toured across New Zealand and Australia. He was later part of a successful comedy duo which won New Zealand’s Billy T Award for comedy in 1999. That same year he acted in his first film, the low-budget Scarfies. After appearances in another film and a TV show, Waititi shifted his focus to film-making. His 2005 short film Two Cars, One Night was nominated for an Oscar. He made his first full-length film in 2007, and his second in 2010. The latter, Boy, set records in New Zealand and was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival. Meanwhile, Waititi wrote the original draft of the screenplay for Moana. His big break came in 2017 when he directed his first blockbuster, Thor: Ragnarok. He also voiced the characters Surtur and Korg in the move. The film was critically acclaimed for bringing an entirely new flavour to the dying franchise, and resurrecting the series. It was so popular that a new set of Thor films was put in production, making it the first among the heroes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe to have more than a trilogy. Waititi will direct the upcoming Thor: Love and Thunder, in which (former Jew of the Week) Natalie Portman is set to take over the title role. Waititi is also working on Star Wars: the Mandalorian, as well as an adaptation of the classic Akira. His next film, Jojo Rabbit, is generating some controversy as it is a comedic story of a Hitler Youth whose family is sheltering a Jewish child. Waititi is not only the director, but plays the youth’s imaginary Adolf Hitler. Though satirical, Waititi maintains that the film is “anti-hate” and is an “insult” to that “f*cking c**t” Hitler (see trailer here). Waititi was 2017’s New Zealander of the Year, and has been called a “visionary director”, a “comedy genius”, and a “master of suspense”. His best work is undoubtedly ahead of him.