Tag Archives: US Navy

Jew of the Week: Eric Garcetti

Mayor of Los Angeles

Eric Garcetti, mayor of LA (Credit: Emily Shur)

Eric Michael Garcetti (b. 1971) was born in Los Angeles to a Russian-Jewish mother and a Mexican-Italian father. He was always interested in civics and politics, and was a member of Junior State of America, an organization for high school students aiming to cultivate America’s future leaders. Garcetti studied political science at Columbia, then earned his Master’s there in international affairs. He was also a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University and worked on his doctorate at the London School of Economics. After returning to the States, Garcetti taught at several colleges and sat on the board of California’s Human Rights Watch. In 2001, he ran for a seat on Los Angeles’ City Council, and won. Between 2006 and 2012, he was president of the council, and implemented important changes including a policy that all constituents must be answered within 24 hours. He led the way in passing new laws to clean up Los Angeles’ waterways, and to make all new buildings environmentally-friendly. During his tenure, graffiti in his district was reduced by 78%, housing got an injection of $100 million in funds, and the Hollywood neighbourhood was revitalized. In 2013, Garcetti won the race for mayor of Los Angeles, making him the city’s first elected Jewish mayor and its youngest mayor ever. He has become one of LA’s most popular figures, and won re-election in 2017 with a whopping 81% of the vote. He has been hailed for improving the city’s budgets, urban development, and immigration policies, as well as for increasing minimum wage and raising more funds for the LAPD and fire department. He has also secured LA as the host city for the 2028 Summer Olympics. Meanwhile, Garcetti is a devoted member of LA’s IKAR Jewish community. He and his wife have one adopted daughter, and have fostered seven other children. Garcetti was also a lieutenant in the US Navy Reserves until 2013, once lived in Thailand, and—together with relatives from his mother’s side of the family—oversees the Roth Family Foundation, which has given out over $6 million in grants and donations. He won the Green Cross Millennium Award for environmental leadership, and was NAACP’s “Person of the Year” in 2014. That same year, Bill Clinton said that Garcetti may be America’s president one day. There were rumours that he would run this year, but he decided to stick with his job as mayor for now. He is currently listed among potential candidates to be Joe Biden’s running mate.

An In-Depth Look at the Custom of Eating Dairy on Shavuot

Words of the Week

Woe to him whom nobody likes, but beware of him whom everybody likes.
– Hasidic proverb

Mayor Garcetti lighting Chanukah candles and putting on tefillin. (Credit: COLlive)

Jew of the Week: James White Jr.

The Inmate Who Transformed Thousands of Lives

James “Sneaky” White Jr.

James A. “Sneaky” White, Jr. (b. 1939) was born in London, England. He was adopted by a Jewish couple from Connecticut as a child, and never knew his biological parents. White grew up in a kosher home, and regularly went to the synagogue. He studied at Texas A&M, then enlisted in the US military where he served for the next decade and rose to the rank of sergeant. White did a tour in Cuba in 1965, followed by four tours in Vietnam as a marine and helicopter pilot. He earned over twenty medals, including three silver stars and a Distinguished Flying Cross for “uncommon courage, bold initiative and selfless devotion to duty at great personal risk.” Once, he ran across a field studded with land mines and emerged unharmed, for which he was given the nickname “Sneaky”. As with many Vietnam veterans, White returned to the US disabled and broke. He made a living working various jobs. In 1975 he met Nancy, the love of his life, and they married several years later. Nancy’s abusive ex-husband threatened the newlyweds, then sexually assaulted a step-daughter. In a fit of rage, White shot and killed the man. He turned himself in to police immediately. Despite suffering from PTSD, White was sentenced to life in prison without parole. He decided to make the most out of his incarceration. White took college courses, subscribed to as many magazines as he could, started studying Torah, became deeply religious, and even published a book. He wanted to help other war veterans who struggled like he did and co-founded a veterans’ support group, as well as a chapter of Alcoholics Anonymous. After reading about recidivism rates, White decided to start a program to get inmates educated and keep them out of prison. Through his program, over 1500 of his fellow inmates went on to get college degrees. White ran a charity, too (from prison!) and raised over $350,000 for numerous causes. He recently donated his long hair for charity as well. White personally saved the lives of at least two inmates and one guard. He became an inspiration to countless people, and even gave a TEDx talk in 2014 (see here). Over the years, many have tried to get him pardoned and released. The campaign finally succeeded earlier this year when California’s governor intervened, and White was freed on January 21st after some 40 years in prison. In his own words: “I just want people to know that even in prison we can do mitzvahs and do something good for society. Just because a person commits a crime, it doesn’t mean that he or she is no longer a worthy person.”

Words of the Week

You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you.
– Walt Disney

Jew of the Week: Kirk Douglas

In Memory of Hollywood’s Biggest Star

Kirk Douglas

Issur Danielovitch (1916-2020) was born in New York to a traditional Yiddish-speaking family of Jewish-Russian immigrants. Growing up in poverty, young Issur worked hard delivering newspapers and selling snacks to mill workers to help make a living. He studied at the local religious cheder, and was such a good student that everyone wanted him to become a rabbi. This frightened him, so he ended up moving to public school where he first got to act in plays. At this point, he went by the name Izzy Demsky (a last name he adopted from his uncle), and only changed his name to Kirk Douglas when he enlisted in the US Navy in 1941. Not long before that he graduated from St. Lawrence University, having convinced the dean to allow him to study for free since he had no money for tuition. While he tried to make it as an actor, Douglas also worked as a gardener, janitor, and professional wrestler. He eventually made it to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and received a scholarship there, too. Douglas served in the navy for three years working in anti-submarine combat and was honourably discharged after being injured. After the war, he got his first acting job doing commercials and soap operas over the radio. A friend got him his first film role in 1946, after which he was instantly recognized as a “natural film actor”. He got his first Oscar nomination just three years later. Douglas was Hollywood’s biggest star through the 1950s and 60s, and took the lead in classic films like Spartacus (at that point the most expensive film ever made), The Bad and the Beautiful, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, and Ace in the Hole (ranked among the greatest movies of all time). His portrayal of Vincent van Gogh in Lust for Life was especially praised. (He actually stayed in character throughout the weeks of filming, even when off-set!) He also played Israeli Hershel Vilnofsky in Victory at Entebbe, the first film about the famous rescue operation. All in all, Douglas starred in nearly 100 films, acted on Broadway, and made appearances in numerous TV shows. He also wrote 11 books, had his own film production company, and directed a number of films, too. Outside of Hollywood, Douglas was a noted philanthropist. He was an American goodwill ambassador for decades, donated some $50 million over his life to schools, hospitals, synagogues, and charities, and promised to leave most of his remaining $80 million net worth to charity as well. After a helicopter crash in 1991, he sought new meaning in life and rediscovered Judaism. He would write in his autobiography that while he once “tried to forget” that he was Jewish (though he never broke a Yom Kippur fast), he later realized “that you don’t have to be a rabbi to be a Jew.” Douglas became more observant, and had a second bar mitzvah at the age of 83. He studied Torah weekly with Rabbi David Wolpe. Douglas was also actively engaged with Aish HaTorah of Los Angeles, and helped support the Aish World Center across from the Western Wall in Jerusalem (the building’s Kirk Douglas Theater is named after him, as is Jerusalem’s Douglas Garden). Among his many awards are the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the French Legion of Honour, the National Medal of Arts, the King David Award, two Golden Globes and, of course, an Oscar for lifetime achievement. Sadly, Kirk Douglas passed away earlier today, aged 103. He is remembered as a film genius (who memorized not only his own lines, but seemingly every word of the entire script), a dedicated philanthropist, and one of the greatest actors of all time.

Words of the Week

The Torah is the greatest screenplay ever written.
– Kirk Douglas

Kirk Douglas at Aish HaTorah in Jerusalem, with Aish founder Rabbi Noah Weinberg on his left.