Steven Spielberg, a man of many talents, revealed a new one when he delivered his own commentary on the meaning of Chanukah Wednesday night.
After accepting the Anti-Defamation League’s highest award, the director of “Schindler’s List” startled the 1,100 dinner guests by going well beyond the customary thank-yous in his thoughtful midrash (commentary or interpretation) on the holiday.
Noting that Chanukah lacked the lengthy storylines of a Purim megillah and Passover haggadah, or the dramatic impact of a Red Sea parting, Spielberg asserted that fabled movie director Cecil B. DeMille never considered making a film titled “The Greatest Chanukah Story Ever Told.”
But, Spielberg added, it was through the very smallness of the Chanukah miracle—a small cruise of oil lasting for eight days—“that God manifested His power and His love.”
In our time, filled with electronic gadgetry and constant distractions, it is easy to overlook small miracles or to acknowledge “how much of our world is still mired in the past,” he said. Indeed, the old evils of bigotry, prejudice and anti-Semitism have found new homes in cyberspace.
The response to the evils is education. “Intolerance is not encoded in our DNA,” he said. “What is encoded is our curiosity and the ability to learn quickly.
“We Jews have always had a passion for great stories and I myself have been galvanized by Jewish history, especially when speaking out against intolerance.”
In conferring America’s Democratic Legacy Award, previously received by five U.S. presidents, ADL national director Abraham Foxman lauded the honoree both for his films and for establishing the Shoah Visual History Foundation, which has videotaped the testimony of 52, 000 survivors.
“Steven has put up the mirror of conscience to the world…he has given us the gift of memory,” Foxman said.
The evening at the Beverly Hilton Hotel raised more than $2 million to support ADL’s fight against bigotry, prejudice and anti-Semitism, and was well attended by Hollywood power players and celebrities, who contributed some lighter moments.
Veteran producer Sid Sheinberg, who gave Spielberg his start, recalled that he and everyone else had advised Spielberg against making the movie “Munich,” which dramatized the Mossad pursuit of the terrorists who had murdered Israel’s athletes at the 1972 Olympics.
“I told Steve,” Sheinberg said, “Why do you want to walk around as a rich Jew with a target on your back?”
Actor Kirk Douglas, whom the audience serenaded on his 93rd birthday the same day, first pronounced the blessings, in Hebrew, over the wine and bread.
He then “revealed” that Spielberg got the money for his expensive productions through his mother’s kosher “Milky Way” restaurant.
Singer Adam Lambert of “American Idol” fame, opened the evening with an emotional rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” followed by Israel’s Noa Dori with “Hatikvah.” Actress Drew Barrymore gave the opening and closing remarks.