By Noa Amouyal, Jerusalem Post
For two-time Academy Award winner Michael Douglas, this has been the year in which he rediscovered his secular Jewish values. “For my entire life, I believed I was not Jewish,” Douglas revealed, explaining that he was repeatedly told that being the son of a Christian mother and Jewish father excluded him from being a member of the tribe.
“I’m a secular Jew, I’m not formally religious, but I wanted to be part of this tribe. I love its values. This year has been about rediscovering Jewish values that I cherish,” Douglas said to a booming round of applause at The Jerusalem Post’s conference in New York on Sunday.
It’s been a whirlwind of a year for Douglas, since he was named the second Genesis Prize Laureate. From speaking at a three-campus tour across the United States with Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky to delivering a surprise Yom Kippur speech at Temple Shaaray Tefila in Bedford, N.Y., Douglas has certainly done a lot for the faith for someone who grew up thinking he wasn’t Jewish. “This has been an extraordinary year,” Douglas marveled during a sit-down interview with former Post Editor-in-Chief Steve Linde.
His son Dylan’s interest in the Jewish faith and his work with the Genesis Prize Foundation (GPF) to promote a more inclusive Judaism that embraces interfaith families has resonated with the Hollywood actor. To that end, Douglas, GPF and the Jewish Funders Network have worked hard to promote that cause.
In conjunction with Douglas’s speech today, JFN announced the benefactors of its matching grants program. 28 recipients were selected to coincide with Douglas’s theme of Avenues to Jewish Engagement for Intermarried Couples and their Families, with funding for these projects totaling $3.3 million.
“Today the Jewish world opened its doors a little wider,” Andrés Spokoiny, President & CEO of JFN said in a statement released before he addressed the conference as well. “And the impact goes beyond these grants. The gifts being matched, as well as the whole range of amazing projects that were submitted, represent new donors and newly increased levels of giving that this area has never seen before.”
The funding originally stemmed from the $1 million prize Douglas received from GPF, which was re-gifted to Hillel International and to this matching grant initiative run by JNF. Philanthropist Roman Abramovich donated an additional $1 million as well, as part of the matching grant initiative.
“In the spirit of Abraham’s tent, and lifting the flaps, I’m hopeful. I hope it brings Jews in the states and outside of Israel closer to together,” Douglas told Linde.
Douglas’s son Dylan, is not the only member of the Douglas clan to be enamored with the faith. Douglas’s father, legendary film actor Kirk Douglas, also experienced an awakening of sorts after a grizzly helicopter crash more than 20 years ago made the actor, now 99, embrace his Jewish roots.
“It gives me such nachas to see Dylan wearing the same prayer shrug that my father wore,” a smiling Douglas told the crowd.
Linde did manage to catch the usually unflappable actor off guard with a question about the US Presidential election.
With the aplomb of a guy who knows how to craftily deflect an unwanted question in front of a crowd Douglas said of the election, “It certainly turned out different than what everyone anticipated!”
“I’m historically a Democrat,” he began cautiously. “I’ve supported the Clinton’s for a long time. Saying that, I know Donald Trump. I play golf with him. But like a lot of situations, if you don’t talk politics and religion you can get along with anyone,” he chuckled.