Tag Archives: Pilot

Jews of the Week: Maurice Druon and Joseph Kessel

Game of Thrones


Joseph Kessel

Joseph Kessel (1898-1979) was born in Argentina to a Jewish-Russian family, the son of a doctor from Lithuania. He spent his early childhood in Russia before the family moved to France. Kessel became a pilot and a writer. In the former capacity, he served valiantly in both World Wars, and in the latter, wrote over 20 novels. Many of his novels were translated into a number of languages, and were later adapted into very popular French films. Today, the Prix Joseph-Kessel is among the top literary prizes awarded for French literature. Maurice Druon (1918-2009) was Kessel’s nephew. (He went by his stepfather’s last name). He was born in Paris and raised in Normandy. Like his uncle, Druon became a writer as well. His career was interrupted by World War II, when he fought with the French Resistance, and together with his uncle, wrote the well-known anthem of the Resistance (based on an earlier Russian song).


Maurice Druon

Following the war, Druon wrote Les Grandes Familles, a bestseller adapted to an equally popular film. Druon would write two sequels to this novel, together with dozens of other important literary works. Among those is the seven-volume Les Rois Maudits (The Accursed Kings). This series was adapted to a TV show in 1972, and again in 2005. It also served as the foundation and inspiration for George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, which was adapted to the current hit show Game of Thrones. In addition to his writing, Druon was France’s Minister of Cultural Affairs in the 1970s. Both he and his uncle Joseph Kessel were lifelong members of the prestigious ‘Académie française’.

Words of the Week

No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.
Albert Einstein

Jew of the Week: Lydia Litvyak

The White Lily of Stalingrad

Lydia Litvyak

Lydia Litvyak

Lydia Vladimirovna Litvyak (1921-1943) was born in Moscow in the early days of the Soviet Union. She was fascinated by flight from a young age, and enrolled in a flying club at 14. She flew her first plane at 15 before heading to a military flight school. After graduating, Litvyak became a flight instructor. In 1941, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union. Litvyak immediately volunteered to join a fighter pilot unit. However, she was rejected based on “lack of experience”, even though she had already trained 45 other pilots! Meanwhile, Marina Raskova established an all-female fighter force, and Litvyak was accepted. In 1942, Litvyak flew her first combat missions. She was soon moved to a standard (male) air force unit. In the battle for Stalingrad, Litvyak scored her first two kills, setting her name in history as the first female fighter pilot to take down an enemy plane. She went on to run 66 combat missions, and logged 16 victories. In 1943, now promoted to junior lieutenant and awarded the Red Star, Litvyak was assigned to the okhotniki, “hunters”, experienced fighter pilots who were given permission to roam the skies on their own, and strike at will. Despite suffering multiple wounds, and recommended to go on medical leave, Litvyak refused. Shortly after, she went on her final mission, and did not return to base. Her whereabouts were unknown. She was either killed or taken captive – the latter possibility preventing her from being awarded the prestigious ‘Hero of the Soviet Union’ award. Litvyak was only 22 years old. In 1979, after decades of searching, the remains of her plane and body were found. She had been buried by local villagers, having died from a head wound. In 1990, she was posthumously awarded the Hero of the Soviet Union, with a rank of senior lieutenant. Nonetheless, some claim that she survived, and either perished in a German prisoner camp, or lived out the rest of her life in secret, marrying and having children. Litvyak’s story has been featured in several fiction novels, and even a stage production. In the Soviet Union, she was affectionately called the “White Lily of Stalingrad”.

Words of the Week

Everything is by Divine Providence. If a leaf is turned over by a breeze, it is only because this has been specifically ordained by God to serve a particular function within the purpose of creation.
– Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov


Jew of the Week: Harrison Ford

Harrison Ford (Photo Credit: Georges Biard)

Harrison Ford (Photo Credit: Georges Biard)

Harrison Ford (b. 1942) was born to a Russian-Jewish mother and Irish-Catholic father, but was raised in a secular home. (He would later say that “As a man I’ve always felt Irish, as an actor I’ve always felt Jewish.”) He grew up a devoted Boy Scout, which later helped him immensely in his role as Indiana Jones. It was in college that Ford first became drawn to acting. In 1964 he did some acting at a local theatre, and then moved to LA. For several years he worked as an uncredited film extra, then had minor roles in a number of TV shows. To support his family during this time, Ford worked as a carpenter. His big break came in the early 70’s when he was cast for a role in American Graffiti and met director George Lucas. Lucas gave Ford a couple more small roles until finally casting him as a lead in his new Star Wars film, playing the role of Han Solo. He went on to play Han Solo in both Star Wars sequels, and will reprise his role again in the latest Star Wars film, to be released next month. Meanwhile, Steven Spielberg, too, was eager to work with the rising star, and pushed to have him cast as Indiana Jones (despite Lucas’ initial protests). By the time he was done starring in all three Indiana Jones films, Ford was a Hollywood superstar and a household name. Since then, he has starred in over two dozen more films, among them the classic Blade Runner (which also has a sequel on the way). Ford’s films have grossed over $6 billion, making him among the highest-grossing actors in history, and he has been ranked first among the Top 100 Movie Stars of All Time. Ford is also a pilot and owns both airplanes and helicopters, which he has used for emergency rescue services. He is a member of the humanitarian organization Wings of Hope, and vice-chair of the environmental group Conservation International. He is also on the governing board of the Archaeological Institute of America. The Calponia harrisonfordi spider and the Pheidole harrisonfordi ant are named after him. Ford has also been a peace activist (particularly for Tibet, where he is now barred from travelling to), and has criticized Hollywood for its portrayal of violence in film (he even turned down the lead role in The Patriot because he felt the film was too violent). Among his many other awards, Ford has won three Golden Globes for Best Actor, and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He has also won several aviation awards and was ranked among the “Heroes of Aviation” by Flying magazine.

Words of the Week

Fix yourself first, and then fix others.
– Talmud, Bava Kamma 107b