Movie Star Michael Douglas: ‘This Year Has Been About Rediscovering the Jewish Values That I Cherish’
Movie star/producer Michael Douglas on Sunday described developing a connection to his Judaism through his son.
Appearing as a special guest at the Jerusalem Post‘s annual conference in New York City, Douglas — whose father, veteran Hollywood great Kirk Douglas, is Jewish, while his mother is not — thanked his son, Dylan, for helping him embrace his Jewish roots. He recounted Dylan’s experience at the age of 11, observing his Jewish friends celebrating Shabbat and practicing for their bar mitzvahs — and subsequently telling his father and mother, actress Catherine Zeta-Jones, that he, too, wanted a bar mitzvah.
Michael recalled: “We thought, ‘Yeah, sure, this is about the presents…but [Dylan] said, ‘No, when they light the candles on Friday, my soul feels alive and I feel something. When I’m with the group, I feel a togetherness.'”
The actor-producer, who describes himself as a “secular Jew,” said he and his wife were “deeply touched” by their son’s request and decided to have a bar mitzvah for him at their local synagogue in Bedford, NY. Shortly after that, the family took a trip to Israel.
The Fatal Attraction star said his son’s path to Judaism constituted a “complete catharsis” for the actor, who always longed to feel like he was Jewish.
“I almost broke down, because I realized that for my entire life, I believed that I was not Jewish,” he said. “I was consistently told by Jews, ‘You’re not Jewish. Your mother’s not Jewish…But I wanted to be a part of this tribe. I love the values. I really do.”
“This year has been about rediscovering the Jewish values that I cherish, that has brought our family closer together and that has clearly hit some kind of nerve,” he added.
Michael, whose daughter, Carys, also had a bat mitzvah recently, won the Genesis Prize in 2015 for his commitment to the Jewish people and Israel. After accepting the prize money, which doubled to $2 million thanks to a donation from billionaire philanthropist Roman Abramovich, Douglas redirected the funds to promote inclusion and diversity in Jewish life, including a $200,000 gift to the Jewish student organization, Hillel International.
Michael claimed that he “fell from the Jewish faith” during his upbringing with one non-Jewish parent. He said his father was raised in an Orthodox family that immigrated to the US from Belarus, but by the time he went to college, Kirk began to “assimilate” and “was not as closely tied to his [Jewish] faith” as he had been in the past.
Michael said after Kirk survived a helicopter crash at the age of 70, he began questioning his life and why he survived while others perished. Kirk began studying the Old Testament with a rabbi and Michael said he began noticing a “market change” in his father’s demeanor, behavior and relationship with his children. When Kirk had a bar mitzvah at the age of 83, Michael said it was a “very moving experience” for him.
“I think that was my really first understanding of ‘Tikkun Olam,'” he explained, referring to the Jewish concept of making the world a better place.
“He spent his life working with a lot of Jewish agencies, and I think it has a lasting effect both on me and certainly on his grandchildren,” Michael said about his father, who is now 99. “I get such ‘nachas’ [Yiddish for joyous pride, particularly in one’s children] knowing that Dylan wore the same prayer shawl that Kirk had. I know what that meant to my father.”
Michael concluded by talking about the US presidential election and its candidates. He told the audience, “It certainly turned out to be different than anybody anticipated, to say the least. I’m historically a Democrat. I support the Clintons [and] I have for a long time, [but] saying that, I know Donald Trump. I play golf with him. We’re friends. Like a lot of situations, you don’t talk politics or religion and you can get along with anyone.”
“Israel is our closest ally,” he added, “so we have to right to disagree like any family does, but I don’t think there’s anything that’s going to destroy the underlining closeness of our relationship.”