Tag Archives: Psychology

Jew of the Week: Natalie Portman

Natalie Portman plays Orthodox girl Rifka in ‘New York, I Love You’

Netalee Hershlag (b. 1981) was born in Jerusalem to a Jewish-American mother and Israeli father with a mix of Russian, Austrian, Romanian, and Polish heritage. The family moved to the US when she was three years old, and young Natalie went to a Jewish day school. She spent most of her teenage years in New York, where she studied dance and ballet. When she was 11, an agent spotted her at a pizza parlour. Shortly after, she was cast alongside Britney Spears in a small role on a Broadway play. The following year, she was cast as twelve-year old orphan Mathilda Lando in the popular film Leon: the Professional. It was then that Natalie decided to use her grandmother’s maiden name, “Portman”. Her incredible performance launched her into stardom. Nonetheless, she made sure to reject all the highly sexualized roles she was being offered, later saying that “there’s a surprising preponderance of that kind of role for young girls. Sort of being fantasy objects for men, and especially this idealized purity combined with the fertility of youth… so I definitely shied away from it.” Indeed, she initially rejected a role in 1999’s Anywhere but Here because of a sex scene, and only accepted it when the script was rewritten without it. For this role, she would win a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress. Meanwhile, Portman wanted to get a proper education, even if it meant “ruining my career”. She skipped the premiere of Star Wars: Episode I (where she played beloved Queen Amidala, young mother of Luke and Leia Skywalker) to study for her high school exams, then enrolled in psychology studies at Harvard. Throughout her time there, she was a noted pro-Israel activist, and also served as Alan Dershowitz’s research assistant. Portman continued graduate studies at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University, and has co-authored two scientific papers. (Even in high school she was a scientist, coming up with, and writing a paper titled, “A Simple Method to Demonstrate the Enzymatic Production of Hydrogen from Sugar”.) Portman was later a guest lecturer at Columbia University, and once said, “I’d rather be smart than a movie star.” Thankfully, she is both, with many of her films receiving rave reviews. 2006’s V for Vendetta inspired a whole movement, while 2010’s eye-opening Black Swan won her an Oscar for Best Actress. For the former film she had to shave her head, while the latter required 5 to 8 hours of dance training every day for 6 months. All in all, Portman has acted in, directed, or produced 42 films thus far. Meanwhile, the vegan Portman is an animal rights activist, and has produced an acclaimed film on cruel factory farming. She produced another to depict the plight of gorillas. She has also worked to combat poverty, and served as an Ambassador of Hope for a microlending fund, and an ambassador for Free the Children. She is a member of OneVoice, which strives to build bridges between Israelis and Palestinians. For her tireless work, last month Portman was awarded the $1 million Genesis Prize (“the Jewish Nobel Prize”), which she said would be donated primarily to support women’s causes. Portman has two children, and though she now lives in LA, has said that “my heart’s in Jerusalem. That’s where I feel at home.”

Words of the Week

Fighting evil is a very noble activity when it must be done. But it is not our mission in life. Our job is to bring in more light.
– Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe

Jew of the Week: Sigmund Freud

The Father of Psychoanalysis

Sigmund Freud

Sigmund Freud

Sigismund Schlomo Freud (1856-1939) was born in what is today the Czech Republic to Galician-Jewish parents. His father, a once-Hasidic wool merchant, brought the family to Vienna where Freud grew up. A natural academic, he absorbed his studies effortlessly and became proficient in 8 languages. His favourite were the works of Shakespeare, which he read his entire life and are said to have greatly influenced his theories. He became a doctor and worked for several years in hospitals, asylums, and clinics before starting his own practice specializing in nervous disorders. At the same time, he married the daughter of Hamburg’s chief rabbi and they would go on to have 6 kids. After learning hypnosis in Paris, Freud found that a certain patient was able to open up to him while hypnotized and in the process of talking out her problems, brought about her own relief. Freud realized that patients need only be guided to speak freely, with no need for hypnosis. He also found that much of their issues were reflected in their dreams. By 1896, he abandoned hypnosis entirely and created “psychoanalysis”. From his own experiences and that of his patients, he put together a series of new theories about the mind, emotions, consciousness, religion, dreams, and sexuality. He published a range of books and papers, and delivered lectures each Saturday night. On Wednesdays, he led a small discussion group with 5 other physicians, all Jews. The Wednesday Psychological Society would evolve into the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society, and spawn many other such groups across Europe and the world. Freud would go down in history as the founding father of psychoanalysis. His ideas inspired a proliferation of new literature in psychology, philosophy, science, and sociology. Despite the rise of the Nazis and the burning of his books, Freud was determined to stay in Austria until he was finally convinced by colleagues that his life was in danger. After much difficulty, he escaped to London (though 4 of his older sisters could not, and perished in the Holocaust). He continued his work, analyzing patients and writing more of his ground-breaking ideas. After battling an oral cancer for nearly two decades – a direct result of his smoking addiction – he reached a critical state of illness and a decision was made together with doctors and Freud’s daughter to end his life. After several days of high-morphine doses, Freud passed away on Yom Kippur.

Words of the Week

Someone else’s material needs are my spiritual responsibility.
– Rabbi Israel Salanter

Jews of the Week: Dear Abby & Ann Landers

The Most Quoted Women in the World

Pauline Esther Phillips and Esther Pauline Lederer, aka. Abigail van Buren and Ann Landers

Pauline Esther Phillips (1918-2013) was born in Iowa to the Friedmans, poor Jewish immigrants from Russia. Despite their poverty, the Friedman home was always full of guests, where Pauline picked up both her humour and advice-giving abilities. She studied psychology and journalism in college, then moved to San Francisco, where she was unhappy with the advice column of the San Francisco Chronicle. Phillips phoned the newspaper’s editor and told him she could do a far better job. After seeing her samples, she was hired immediately – without any prior work experience or even a social security number! Pauline chose the pen name Abigail, after the Biblical prophetess who advised King David. Thus was born “Dear Abby”, the most-widely syndicated newspaper column of all time – read by over 110 million readers across 1400 newspapers. In 1963, Dear Abby also became a daily radio program that ran for 13 years. People around the world fell in love with Abby’s compassion, honesty, humour, and “tough love”, while learning about the most difficult of human and family problems. Phillips herself was devoted to her family, and was famous for her dedication to her husband and conservative family values – advising couples not to live together before marriage, and telling women to be strong in the face of “masculine lunacy”, with divorce a very last resort. Her own marriage lasted 73 years, until her death this past January at age 94, following a battle with Alzheimer’s. Most interestingly, Pauline Esther had a twin sister named Esther Pauline (1918-2002), who was also a journalist and wrote an advice column under the name Ann Landers – nearly as popular as Dear Abby, with over 90 million readers. Both sisters married on the same day, their birthday. Life magazine billed the two as the most “widely read and most quoted women in the world.”

Words of the Week

“He’s one of the greatest men I ever met, but he’ll be a Jew before I’m a Catholic.”
Pauline Phillips, aka Abby, referring to her friend, Bishop Fulton Sheen