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May 26, 2022 3:08 pm

Actor Liev Schreiber Says Jewish Grandfather’s Roots Inspired His Relief Efforts in Ukraine

avatar by Shiryn Ghermezian

Actor Liev Schreiber. Photo: Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons.

Jewish actor and director Liev Schreiber told a radio program that his Jewish maternal grandfather’s ties to Ukraine pushed him to help residents of the country during the ongoing invasion by Russia.

The “Ray Donovan” star was in Poland last month serving food to Ukrainian refugees for Passover, and in March, he co-founded the BlueCheck Ukraine organization, which identifies, vets and provides financial support to frontline aid groups helping Ukrainians.

At a recent fundraiser for BlueCheck Ukraine in Washington, DC, Schreiber spoke to NPR‘s “All Things Considered” about his grandfather Alex Milgram, a Jewish immigrant from Ukraine and Poland who survived the Holocaust.

“My mother and father separated when I was very young. And so in many respects, Alex … raised me in New York City,” Schreiber explained. “And he was a huge influence on me. And he died right after I got out of graduate school. And I had this kind of powerful, emotional feeling about him when he died that I hadn’t bothered to get to know him. And it was something that really motivated and inspired a lot of the work I did from that time forward.”

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He added that when he saw images of the conflict in Ukraine, he connected to the crisis, and compelled to act. “It made me feel like I was related,” he said.

Schreiber also shared memories about his grandfather, telling the radio show, “he played football, and he was a hockey player. And there were all these things that people said Jews didn’t do that my grandfather did that I loved. He was the kind of guy that would slap me in the back of the head if I didn’t open a door for somebody — not hard, but hard enough.”

The filmmaker’s grandfather did not speak much about his experience in the Holocaust, Schreiber said. Still, his interest in learning about his grandfather’s past ultimately led him to write a screenplay about a young American who visits Ukraine to explore his heritage — which he scrapped before ultimately directing the film adaptation of “Everything Is Illuminated” in 2005. The movie, which was Schreiber’s directorial debut, is about an American Jewish man who travels to Ukraine to find the woman who saved his grandfather’s life during the Holocaust.

Schreiber additionally praised Ukrainians for being “resilient and courageous” while facing war, and spoke about plans for continued aid efforts.

“That’s the thing that’s stuck in my mind right now — the families, the women carrying, you know, those suitcases behind them and heading for the border with their children while their men go off to the front lines to fight a battle in which they’re hugely outgunned and outnumbered,” he noted. “That is the big image in my mind and, I think, in everybody else’s. The challenge for me is, like, sustainability, like keeping everyone interested, you know, keeping this in the headlines, keeping people aware of what’s going on.”

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