November 18, 1999
Jew and Hinjew
Self-help guru Chopra accepted Boteach's invitation to meet for an evening of "East Meets West" to discuss what Gary Rosenblatt, the publisher of the Jewish Week, which co-sponsored the event, described as "concepts important to all of us seeking meaning in our lives." Chopra discussed a mystical tradition that he said is shared by Hindus and Jews.
Calling himself a "Hinjew," the black-clad Chopra drew conceptual and linguistic parallels between Jewish biblical and mystical traditions and the Vedanta, philosophy based on the Hindu sacred text.
One theme common to Vedanta and Kabbalah, Chopra said, is an awareness of different realms of reality -- physical, intellectual/emotional and spiritual -- and the concept of an eternal domain of infinite power, known to Jewish mystics as the Ein Sof.
He even noted an etymological parallel between Brahma, the creator of the cosmos in Hinduism, and the Jewish patriarch Abraham.
Boteach started his energetic oratory by discussing the human quest for happiness, which he described as a state of "having external deeds match internal convictions."
Philosophy, he said, often divides the world into opposites: dark and light, form and substance, yin and yang. Mysticism sees a unifying source behind all being.
Both speakers were received enthusiastically by the multireligious audience of hip, leather-clad young adults and polished Upper East Side matrons, couples and singles. --By Julia Goldman, JTA
When It's 40 to Love,
The Whole World is Jewish
Hard on the heels of the blockbuster news that Pete Sampras, the world's top-ranked tennis player, is... uh... sort of Jewish, comes the revelation that German tennis great Boris Becker is the son of a Jewish mother.
Becker, a three-times Wimbledon champion, told Inside Tennis magazine that his mother, born Elvira Pisch in Czechoslovakia, had "slept in a tent for years" in a postwar displaced persons camp in Germany.
As reported in the London-based Jewish Chronicle, Becker said that "I have from my mother's side a Jewish background, from my father's side a very Catholic background... so, therefore, I'm a little bit of everything. That's probably why I am more open-minded than most people."
Becker lives with his African-American wife, Barbara, in Munich with their 5-year-old son, Noah Gabriel.
According to the interview, Pisch fled her German-occupied hometown when Soviet troops advanced on Czechoslovakia. It does not explain how she survived during the war under Nazi rule.
Earlier, the Jewish Chronicle ran an interview with Sampras, in which the American ace revealed that "Not too many people know that I'm Jewish."
The claim might not pass halachic inspection, but Sampras said that his father, Sherwin, also known as Sam, was Jewish. Sam, in turn, had a Jewish mother but a Greek father, hence the family name Sampras.
At his parents' behest, said Sampras, "I was raised as a Greek Orthodox and I went to a Greek Orthodox church." He added that he had never been inside a synagogue. -- Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor
A musicologist and Fulbright scholar named Alan Eder drew together a dozen or so talented friends -- Israeli singers with enchanting voices, Rastafarian drummers, West African dancers and a couple of cantors -- and put them in a recording studio in Valencia.
The result: "Reggae Chanukah," one of the finest Chanukah albums in recent memory. The new and reinvented traditional songs blend ska, reggae, samba, Hebrew folk and liturgical music with spoken word and rock in a wonderfully upbeat and spiritual style. If Eder's "Reggae Passover" of two years ago was a sort of experiment, Reggae Chanukah is the proof that the preeminent musical style of the Carribean can enliven and intensify the Jewish experience.
From the opening track, "Be All That You Can Be (Join the Maccabee Army)" to the final drum-laden groove, the music gets children and adults moving. Our advice: fire up a latke, crack open a Red Stripe, and hit it. We can't imagine what kind of magic was taking place in that Valencia recording studio, but we're sure, as the singer says, "A great miracle happened there, mon."
You can find "Reggae Chanukah" in some local music stores, on the web at www.reggaechanukah.com, or by calling (661) 297-0374. --Robert Eshman, Managing Editor
Once is Not Enough
Actor Kirk Douglas will celebrate his second bar mitzvah Dec. 9, on his 83rd birthday.
According to tradition, man's allotted lifespan is 70 years, so in his "second life" Douglas's bar mitzvah would be due 13 years later.
Douglas is currently traveling abroad, but his spokeswoman, Marcia Neuberger, said that the ceremony will be held in Los Angeles. Although he has been studying for many years with Orthodox Rabbi Nahum Braverman of Aish HaTorah, Braverman said he is not slated to officiate.
The actor, born Issur Danielovitch, the son of illiterate Russian-Jewish immigrants, celebrated his first bar mitzvah at the Sons of Israel synagogue in his home town of Amsterdam, in upstate New York.
He so impressed the congregation that it offered to subsidize him if he would enter a yeshiva and become a rabbi. He informed his would-be benefactors that he planned to become an actor.
In the following decades, as his star rose in Hollywood, Douglas married twice, both times to non-Jewish women, and generally ignored his faith.
A near brush with death in a 1991 helicopter crash revived his interest in Judaism and he embarked on a course of Torah studies.
Though still suffering from spinal injuries sustained during the plane crash, and his speech slowed by a stroke, Douglas has set out on a successful writing career. His output includes two well-received autobiographies, and, most recently, "The Broken Mirror," a Holocaust-themed story for children.
Due next month is another youth-oriented book, "Young Heroes of the Bible." To be released at the end of the year is a new movie, his 83rd, titled "Diamond," which explores the relationship between a grandfather, his son and his grandson.
Douglas has some post-bar mitzvah plans. In an interview with this reporter two years ago, he mused that he had few friends outside his family.
"That sometimes depresses me," he said. "People will ask, 'who is your best friend?' and I have to think. Somehow, I have been a loner all my life... I have friends, but my wife says I don't nourish them, and she is very right. After my second bar mitzvah, I will address myself to that problem." -- Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor