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Orthodox Union Searches for New Director; Happy Birthday Kirk Douglas!

December 14, 2006 | 7:00 pm

Orthodox Union Searches for New Director

The Orthodox Union appointed a search committee to begin to identify candidates for the position of executive director, OU President Steve Savitsky said Monday. The job is currently held by Rabbi Tzvi H. Weinreb, whose term runs out in June 2008.

However, Savitsky said he "can't comment on the process. It's confidential."

He said he hopes the two-man team will have recommendations for the board by February.

Insiders who preferred not to be named said candidates are Rabbi Hershel Billet of Young Israel of Woodmere on Long Island, Rabbi Hillel Davis of Yeshiva University and Rabbi Steven Weil of Beth Jacob in Los Angeles. Weil denied a report in the Jewish Press that he had already been named for the job, saying, "The whole story was false. I haven't been approached, and since I haven't heard about the details and specifics, I can't comment."

-- Amy Klein, Religion Editor

Happy Birthday Kirk Douglas!

Issur Danielovitch celebrated his 90th birthday on Dec. 9, hardly a show-stopping announcement except that this son of poor, illiterate Russian immigrants changed his name to Isadore (Izzy) Demsky as a college wrestler, and still later, when he arrived in Hollywood, to Kirk Douglas. The birthday celebration at L'Orangerie on La Cienega Boulevard was a private affair of sorts, with close to 100 family members and close friends in attendance, according to spokeswoman Annabelle Stevens.

They included Kirk's wife Anne, who marked their 50th wedding anniversary two years ago by converting to Judaism.

"It was about time he married a nice Jewish girl," she remarked at the time.

Also on hand were the nonagenarian's three sons and their families, including actor-producer Michael Douglas and his wife, Catherine Zeta-Jones, all of whom serenaded the patriarch with lyrics set to "Fiddler on the Roof" tunes.

Among the congratulants were Nancy Reagan, wife of the late president, Merv Griffin, Don Rickles and David Niven Jr.

Douglas made 87 movies, among them such favorites as "Champion," "The Bad and the Beautiful," "Lust for Life," "Paths of Glory" and "Spartacus."

In "Cast a Giant Shadow," one of three films he made in Israel, Douglas portrayed U.S. Col. Mickey Marcus, who lost his life fighting in Israel's War of Independence.

As befits his more mature years, Douglas issued a manifesto on his 90th birthday to the youngsters of Generation Y, introducing himself as having survived "World War II, a helicopter crash, a stroke and two new knees."

He urged the new generation "to rebel, to speak up, write, vote and care about people...(because) the world is in a mess" (his punctuation).

Douglas continued, "You are the group facing many problems: abject poverty, global warming, genocide, AIDS and suicide bombers.... We have done very little to solve these problems. Now we leave it to you. You have to fix it, because the situation is intolerable.

"When I blow out my candles -- 90!... it will take a long time, but I'll be thinking of you." He will expand on these thoughts in his ninth book, "Let's Face It: 90 Years of Living, Loving and Learning," to be published in March.

With years and life-changing experiences, Douglas has returned with full intensity to a Jewish heritage he never abandoned but rarely practiced. The wake-up call came in 1991, when the helicopter in which he was riding crashed, killing two young companions and leaving the actor with a severely compressed spine.

A few years later, Douglas suffered a debilitating stroke, which left him literally speechless, an actor's worst nightmare. He painfully taught himself to speak again.

While wrestling with these afflictions, and even contemplating suicide, "I came to believe that I had been spared because I had not yet come to terms with my Judaism; that I had never come to terms with what it means to be Jewish," Douglas told this writer at his Beverly Hills home some time ago.

He embarked on an intense course of Torah study with Orthodox and Conservative rabbis, wrote two autobiographies and a children's book on the Holocaust, and is supporting numerous Israeli, Jewish, educational and medical causes.

Yet, even in his more hedonistic days, when he frequently starred as a Nordic-looking action hero slaying legions of Romans and Vikings, Douglas always knew he was a Jew.

As he recounted during his second bar mitzvah at age 83, "I always fasted on Yom Kippur. I still worked [on the movie set], but I fasted. And let me tell you, it's not easy to make love to Ava Gardner on an empty stomach."

-- Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Jewish Internship Program

For years, CSUN junior Karen Klein dreamed of pursuing a career in radio journalism. But after a summer internship with The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, the 20-year-old granddaughter of four Holocaust survivors now wants to work in the Jewish community.

Klein is one of 28 local college students who have participated in the New Linkages Internship Program, a 10-month-old Jewish Vocational Service (JVS) initiative that places young Jewish undergraduates in eight-week internships with the Anti-Defamation League, the Bureau of Jewish Education, Los Angeles Hillel Council and other local Jewish organizations.

During the fall and spring semesters, students work for a minimum of 16 hours and receive a stipend of $200. Over the summer, interns log in 80 hours and receive $500. JVS publicizes the program through its own Web site and by enlisting executives at Jewish agencies to spread the word.

In addition to gaining hands-on work experience, participants also receive a dose of Judaism through the New Linkages program, which requires them to attend three two-hour sessions on Jewish values and Jewish history taught by area rabbis.

The goal of the internship "is to give students a more meaningful connection to Jewish life," said Michal Temkin, New Linkages coordinator and a career counselor at JVS.

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