As Kirk Douglas turns 101, the Jewish Breaking News ran a feature article on the actor’s life both as an acclaimed artist and as a renowned philanthropist. The article mentions Aish Ha’Torah and Kirk’s involvement there:
“Outside of his career, Douglas is also renowned for his immense philanthropy alongside his wife Anne, with acts such as helping to rebuild Los Angeles’s playgrounds; donating over 44 million to charity, feeding the homeless and more.
Around the time Kirk began to rediscover his Jewish heritage, he was sitting at the Western Wall, feeling very emotional, yet perplexed at exactly what caused him to feel this way. At that moment, he thought, There ought to be a facility here that explains the meaning and importance of this site. This of all places is where people are inspired to ask, “What does it mean to be Jewish? What is our historical mission? What yet remains to be achieved?”
When Kirk realized this is precisely Aish HaTorah’s concept, he made a major commitment to construct a giant-screen theater to Aish Hatorah’s Western Wall Experience. The Experience features the Kirk Douglas Theater, named after Kirk, who was an active student at Aish HaTorah in Los Angeles for many years.”
This warmed my heart as I remember clearly when Kirk came to Jerusalem and then we met at his home to talk about the Theater.
When I undertook to raise funds to build the Aish World Center in Jerusalem, directly opposite the Kotel, I met some very interesting people and had some really special experiences. In the real estate business, they say ‘location, location, and location.’ And our location was certainly the most prominent one on the Western Wall Plaza. But Aish wasn’t in the real estate business. We were in the business of restoring Jewish pride.
I once had a meeting with a well-known philanthropist in Toronto asking him to make a dedication in the building. He said, ”Boruch, you know, I don’t put money into bricks and mortar.” I said, do you consider that the Kotel is just bricks and mortar? And then he said “of course not! It is a holy site.” So as we continued our discussion, I said that our building is not just bricks and mortar. This is about building a building for a very holy purpose – to educate Jews about who they are. The Jewish people are a beautiful people with a special mission in the world and that is what the building is about. And of course, who wouldn’t want to be part of this holy cause? It was a done deal.
Kirk Douglas was at the Kotel and had a spiritual experience that he wanted to share with others by dedicating a theater to the Aish Center. Kirk thought it made a lot of sense that if he dedicated the theater, then Steven Spielberg could dedicate the building hosting the theater. The Douglas- Spielberg team. It sounded good to me.
So Kirk invited Steven Spielberg to his home to meet with me, Rabbi Weinberg and Rabbi Braverman – with whom Kirk was learning and had a close relationship. We all went to Kirk’s house. It was a great day! Then as we talked through the details, we got a call from Steven Spielberg’s office that he came down with the flu and could not come over to Kirk’s house. And the next day he had to go overseas to film Saving Private Ryan – he was terribly sorry.
Yes, God has his ways, and it seems like God had a different plan.
Saving Private Ryan proved to be a smashing success, Kirk Douglas dedicated the theater and the Dan-Hytman family from Toronto had the merit to dedicate the building.
As the saying goes: “Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.”