2019 flip book website - Page 144

Kirk Douglas, one of the last survivors of Hollywood’s golden age, celebrated his 101st birthday on December
9, 2017. The actor was born Issur Danielovitch to Russian immigrant parents in Amsterdam, New York, in 1916 and
eventually changed his name to Kirk Douglas.
In 1946 after theater work and a stint in the Navy during World War II, Kirk embarked on an illustrious screen career
that spanned more than five decades. The three-time Oscar nominee appeared in such classics as “Champion” (1949),
“The Bad and the Beautiful” (1952), “Lust for Life” (1956), “Paths of Glory” (1957) and “Spartacus” (1960). He has played
many parts including Vincent Van Gogh, Spartacus and boxer Midge Kelly, to name just a formidable few. But the one
character he has never played – to his deep regret, he now says – was that of Issur Danielovitch, his own former self.
Douglas revealed this, and much more, when he opened his Beverly Hills, Calif., home to the Forward for a wideranging chat in advance of his newly released memoir, “Let’s Face It: 90 Years of Living, Loving, and Learning” (John
Wiley & Sons). Wearing a pale green cotton sweater, khaki pants and tan canvas Vans, the cleft-chinned former Adonis of
the silver screen chatted with us about the importance of living a good life and how to sustain a marriage. But Douglas
reserved his most ardent feelings for a topic that has become close to his heart: the renewed state of his Jewish identity.
“ Now?” he writes in his book, “I feel guilty for abandoning Issur Danielovitch.”
It was clear from Douglas’s desire to share his reflections on life – both in person, with a reporter, and on the printed
page – that he is painfully aware he is nearing his end.
With slightly slurred speech – the result of a stroke he suffered in 1996 – Douglas waxed poetic about more serious
topics, as well, including his own history. The child of Russian immigrant parents, he grew up in a Yiddish-speaking home
in Amsterdam, N.Y., a small upstate town, where he endured daily run-ins with a street gang who pelted him with pebbles
wrapped in women’s stockings and called him such names as “Jew b------d” as he walked home from Hebrew school.
He was also a promising student of the Torah who had to beat back his community’s efforts to ship him off to yeshiva.
Douglas first rediscovered Judaism after being in a helicopter crash in 1991. He reconnected with his roots, and had
a second bar mitzvah at the age of 83. Now he studies weekly with Rabbi David Wolpe, a Conservative rabbi who occupies
the pulpit at Los Angeles Sinai Temple. Douglas has also emerged as a committed Jewish philanthropist, giving money to
rebuild playgrounds in Israel – in both Arab and Jewish neighborhoods – and to a multimedia theater at Jewish outreach
organization Aish HaTorah’s World Center in Jerusalem, where visitors learn about the history of the Western Wall.
Because Douglas married two non-Jewish women, none of his four sons are technically Jewish, nor were they
taught any of the customs and traditions. While Douglas contends in his book that he is not bothered by the fact that his
children aren’t Jewish, saying he cares only that they do good in the world, in person he is more candid.
But even if his sons Peter, Michael and Joel do not practice his religion, Eric was eventually bar mitzvahed during
a stint in rehab – they are, he said, acutely aware that their father is Jewish. Resting on a bookshelf, above a copy of
Leon Uris’s Holocaust tale, “QB VII,” prominently displayed in the inner sitting room, is an ornate menorah with violet- and
peach-colored flower buds for candleholders – a gift from Michael on the occasion of his father’s 90th birthday.
“They’ve given me so many menorahs, I have to laugh,” Douglas said, referring to his children. (For his 86th
birthday, he added, Michael had 86 trees planted in Israel in his father’s name.)
But it is Douglas’s German-born wife of 53 years, Anne, who may have given him the biggest Jewish-themed gift
of all: On the occasion of their “second wedding,” commemorating their 50th anniversary, Anne announced that she was
Judaism may have even skipped a generation in the Douglas line. His 14-year-old granddaughter, Kelsey, decided
without any prompting that she wanted to have a bat mitzvah. Douglas said that at first he wasn’t convinced of her
seriousness, thinking that she just wanted the extravagant party, but he was proved wrong. She studied hard to learn her
Torah portion, he said, and now, even her 11-year-old brother, Tyler, is talking about having a bar mitzvah.
Douglas’s final book, his ninth in a slate that includes two novels, is dedicated to his seven grandchildren. He
worries, he said, that they are poised to inherit an intractably troubled world.
“Let’s face it, the world is in a mess,” he said. “Horace Mann, a great educator, once said, ‘Be ashamed to die
before you do something for humanity,’ and as I get older, I see how correct that is.”
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1/7/19 12:00 PM

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