Reading the Bible with Kirk Douglas

For nearly a quarter-century, David Wolpe met weekly with Kirk Douglas—born Issur Danielovich—to study Torah. Wolpe reminisces about this Hollywood star, who died on Wednesday, and his strong sense of connection to the Jewish people:

[Douglas] came from nothing. His father, Herschel, who emigrated from Moscow to Brooklyn in 1908, literally picked rags up on the street and resold them. His son, Issur, born in 1916, trained himself as a wrestler and managed to combine sports and academic prizes at his public school to go to St. Lawrence University where he became student-body president. From there it was to the New York stage, the navy, and then Hollywood, with the encouragement of his old friend, [and fellow Jew], Lauren Bacall.

Issur Danielovich became Kirk Douglas after college graduation. He sat around with friends trying on new names (Norman Dems was another consideration). He wanted a name that started with a “d,” and someone suggested Douglas. Another friend suggested Kirk and he liked the hard sound of it. He explained later that the Gentile-sounding name exposed him to new levels of anti-Semitism because people did not know he was Jewish and would say vile things about Jews blithely to his face. “Issur” he wrote in his biography, “was with me all the time.”

He got angry about anti-Semitism, about the government, about Israel and the Palestinians, about things in the Torah he did not like. Once, fed up with a certain passage where he believed God was being harsh, he slammed the book shut and said “Ach, get me a better story.” Yet he would also say over and over that the stories in the Bible were the wisest in the world, and if he were young, he would start making movies of them, beginning with King David—[about whom he once said], “That’s the role I was born to play.”

Read more at New York Times

More about: American Jewry, Anti-Semitism, Hollywood, Judaism, King David

How to Save the Universities

To Peter Berkowitz, the rot in American institutions of higher learning exposed by Tuesday’s hearings resembles a disease that in its early stages was easy to cure but difficult to diagnose, and now is so advanced that it is easy to diagnose but difficult to cure. Recent analyses of these problems have now at last made it to the pages of the New York Times but are, he writes, “tardy by several decades,” and their suggested remedies woefully inadequate:

They fail to identify the chief problem. They ignore the principal obstacles to reform. They propose reforms that provide the equivalent of band-aids for gaping wounds and shattered limbs. And they overlook the mainstream media’s complicity in largely ignoring, downplaying, or dismissing repeated warnings extending back a quarter century and more—largely, but not exclusively, from conservatives—that our universities undermine the public interest by attacking free speech, eviscerating due process, and hollowing out and politicizing the curriculum.

The remedy, Berkowitz argues, would be turning universities into places that cultivate, encourage, and teach freedom of thought and speech. But doing so seems unlikely:

Having undermined respect for others and the art of listening by presiding over—or silently acquiescing in—the curtailment of dissenting speech for more than a generation, the current crop of administrators and professors seems ill-suited to fashion and implement free-speech training. Moreover, free speech is best learned not by didactic lectures and seminars but by practicing it in the reasoned consideration of competing ideas with those capable of challenging one’s assumptions and arguments. But where are the professors who can lead such conversations? Which faculty members remain capable of understanding their side of the argument because they understand the other side?

Read more at RealClearPolitics

More about: Academia, Anti-Semitism, Freedom of Speech, Israel on campus