…In the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict your souls, and you shall not do any work … For on that day he shall provide atonement for you to cleanse you from all your sins before the L-RD.
Raised in a traditional kosher home, Kirk Douglas (1916 – ) b. Issur Danielovitch, recalls his impoverished childhood, yet warmly remembers preparations for Shabbat: his beloved mother Bryna cooking traditional Jewish food, baking challah, Shabbat bread, and kindling the Shabbat candles.
Nevertheless, like so many Jews of his generation, Douglas was deeply conflicted about Judaism.
More than anything young Issur yearned to be a real American, and, like so many Jews of his generation, that meant rejecting Torah Judaism in favor of an all-consuming secular humanity. In fact, when Douglas first came to Hollywood he claimed to be half-Jewish. But as he matured as an actor and gained wisdom as a man Kirk Douglas reevaluated his relationship with Judaism.
I’ve been married twice, each time to a shicksa, a non-Jew. My children were brought up to choose their own religion. But once every year, on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, I revert to my upbringing. That’s the big day. That’s when it’s written in the Big Book—and sealed—who shall live and who shall die, who by fire and who by water. I may not be in the synagogue as a good Jew should, but on that day I know deep down in my guts that I’m related to slaves who escaped to turn Israel into a land flowing with milk and honey are my bretheren. I hear the lament of Kol Nidre, even if I’m riding a horse side by side with Burt Lancaster, and I hear the shofar blowing in the middle of a love scene with Faye Dunaway. And I fast. Yes, I’m a Jew. And that feeling lasts me the rest of the year until the next Yom Kippur.
Tonight Yom Kippur falls on Shabbat. Karen and I wish all our friends and relatives a lovely Shabbat, an inspiring Yom Kippur, and a not-too-terrible fast. May our readers be sealed in the book of life.