Michael Dou­glas in Is­rael for US$1 mil. prize


When ac­tor Michael Dou­glas learned that he had been cho­sen to re­ceive the “Jewish No­bel Prize,” he pointed out a small prob­lem: Un­der strict re­li­gious law, the Os­car-win­ning ac­tor isn’t Jewish.

Dou­glas, who only re­cently has em­braced his Jewish roots, is vow­ing to use the US$1 mil­lion Ge­n­e­sis Prize to build bridges be­tween Is­rael and in­creas­ingly as­sim­i­lated Jewish com­mu­ni­ties around the world.

“Abra­ham’s tent had its flaps open and so hope­fully since ap­prox­i­mately half of the Jewish pop­u­la­tion in the world is out­side of Is­rael, we can find ways to bet­ter un­der­stand each other and to grow to­gether,” Dou­glas told The As­so­ci­ated Press in an in­ter­view.

Dou­glas, ac­com­pa­nied by his wife, ac­tress Cather­ine Zeta-Jones, and their two chil­dren, is in Is­rael this week to ac­cept the Ge­n­e­sis Prize. Jay Leno will host the high­pow­ered event, and Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu is sched­uled to present the award.

Dou­glas, 70, wear­ing a light beige suit and pur­ple tie, ap­peared re­laxed and en­er­getic. He said he re­mains can­cer free af­ter be­ing di­ag­nosed with oral can­cer in 2010, and that his mar­riage to Ze­taJones is go­ing strong af­ter hit­ting a rough patch two years ago.

“Cather­ine is won­der­ful,” he said. “Our kids are here, and we’re hav­ing a fan­tas­tic time. Life is good.”

Dou­glas, known for a ca­reer of macho and some­times morally am­bigu­ous roles, won the Academy Award for best ac­tor for star­ring in the 1987 movie “Wall Street.” Other films have in­cluded “Fa­tal At­trac­tion,” “Ba­sic In­stinct” and “Traf­fic.” He also won an Emmy in 2013 for his por­trayal of Lib­er­ace in the HBO pro­duc­tion “Be­hind the Can­de­labra.” He is set to star in the up­com­ing su­per­hero movie “Ant-Man.”

For Dou­glas, the Ge­n­e­sis Prize — to be awarded on Thurs­day — caps a process that was gen­er­a­tions in the mak­ing. His fa­ther, ac­tor Kirk Dou­glas, was born Is­sur Danielovitch to Rus­sian im­mi­grant par­ents and raised as an Ortho­dox Jew. But he drifted away from his faith. Michael Dou­glas’ mother, ac­tress Diane Dill, is not Jewish.

Fa­ther’s Sur­vival Brought

Ju­daism to Dou­glas

Dou­glas said he be­gan to be drawn to Ju­daism af­ter his fa­ther sur­vived a 1991 he­li­copter crash that left two oth­ers dead. He said that his fa­ther be­gan study­ing the Bi­ble with a rabbi. “I was cer­tainly touched by that and the spir­i­tu­al­ity it brought to him,” he said.

More re­cently, he said his son Dy­lan had grown in­ter­ested in Ju­daism and de­cided he wanted to have a bar mitz­vah, a Jewish com­ing-of-age cer­e­mony for 13-yearold males.

“So he’s brought a spir­i­tu­al­ity to our life and an aware­ness of Ju­daism that we did not have,” Dou­glas said. Last year, the fam­ily came to Is­rael af­ter Dy­lan’s bar mitz­vah. Dou­glas says he now be­longs to a Re­form syn­a­gogue in New York.

Sim­i­lar sto­ries are com­mon in the U.S., where nearly 60 per­cent of Jews now marry out­side the faith, ac­cord­ing to a 2013 Pew Re­search Cen­ter sur­vey.

But in Is­rael, in­ter­mar­riages and lib­eral streams of Ju­daism pop­u­lar in the U.S., in­clud­ing the Re­form move­ment, are not rec­og­nized by the of­fi­cial rab­bini­cal author­i­ties.

Un­der a com­pli­cated ar­range­ment, Is­rael al­lows any­one with at least a Jewish grand­par­ent to qual­ify for cit­i­zen­ship un­der its “Law of Re­turn.” Yet the ul­tra­Ortho­dox rab­binate over­sees civil ser­vices for Jews, in­clud­ing cir­cum­ci­sions, wed­dings, di­vorces and buri­als.

That means that Dou­glas and his son could the­o­ret­i­cally im­mi­grate to the Jewish state, but as the chil­dren of in­ter­mar­riages, they could not marry or have a Jewish burial here. Un­der Ortho­dox Jewish law, only peo­ple with a Jewish mother are con­sid­ered Jewish.

Dou­glas said he raised this is­sue when the Ge­n­e­sis Prize Foun­da­tion ap­proached him about its award. But he said the group was in­ter­ested in him be­cause he rep­re­sented so many other peo­ple in sim­i­lar po­si­tions. In its an­nounce- ment, it praised Dou­glas’ fam­ily for its “in­clu­sive ap­proach for Jews of di­verse back­grounds.”

Dou­glas will have his work cut out for him. The Re­form and Con­ser­va­tive move­ments, which are dom­i­nant among U.S. Jewry, have strug­gled for recog­ni­tion in Is­rael, pro­vid­ing an oc­ca­sional source of ten­sion be­tween Is­rael and Amer­i­can Jews.

Dou­glas said he re­al­ized his se­lec­tion could raise eye­brows in some quar­ters of Is­rael.

“I don’t ex­pect dra­matic changes, cer­tainly among the Ortho­dox and the ul­tra-Ortho­dox,” he said. But he said he hoped that Is­raelis would re­al­ize that Jews are a “very very small mi­nor­ity” in the rest of the world and ev­ery­one must get along. He said he plans on us­ing his prize money to sup­port a num­ber of Jewish or­ga­ni­za­tions that pro­mote in­clu­sive­ness, in­clud­ing the Jewish Hil­lel.

Dou­glas comes at a dif­fi­cult time for Is­rael and the Jewish peo­ple. Anti-Semitism is on the rise in Europe, and Is­rael has been con­fronting a bur­geon­ing boy­cott move­ment by pro-Pales­tinian ac­tivists who, among other things, have pres­sured en­ter­tain­ers not to visit Is­rael.

Dou­glas said he has not been a tar­get of the boy­cott move­ment, but called it “an ugly can­cer.”

The Ge­n­e­sis Prize was in­au­gu­rated last year in a part­ner­ship be­tween the Is­raeli prime min­is­ter’s of­fice, the Ge­n­e­sis Phi­lan­thropy Group, a non­profit group that pro­motes Jewish ed­u­ca­tion for Rus­sian-speak­ing Jews world­wide, and the chair­man’s of­fice of the Jewish Agency, a non­profit group with close ties to the Is­raeli gov­ern­ment.



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