Sept. 15, 2006
Give Israel all that we've got
Dreyfuss: we must share intellectual debate as well as funds.
KATHARINE HAMER EDITOR
As Diaspora Jews, our responsibility to Israel is more than just
monetary, according to Richard Dreyfuss.
Speaking at the launch of the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver's
2006 Combined Jewish Appeal campaign at Schara Tzedeck Synagogue
Sept. 7, the star of such films as Jaws, Close Encounters
of the Third Kind and The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz
said that Israelis "need our clarity and creativity and imagination
just as much as they need our money."
Though secular, Dreyfuss is passionately committed to Judaism and
said he maintains a strong sense of Jewish identity. He told the
audience he had many thoughts on being Jewish, about Israel and
about peace adding that he had a keenly developed sense of
history and ethics, of right and wrong, as a result of his Jewish
Dreyfuss relayed stories about attending a Jewish school as a youngster.
"I got to play Theodore Herzl, with a full beard, and Haman,
the killer of the Jews, when I was nine," he said, adding that
he continued attending day school long after his parents expected
him to, "because of the ocean of fascinating and mysterious
things I learned. It really did offer me glimpses of heroism and
dignity among the Jews that I could claim as my own.
"The truth is, I never met a Christian or a Republican or a
black man until I was 15," he said, "so it didn't make
sense to me to be anything other than proud of being Jewish."
Dreyfuss admitted that he has always been political "My
last name is Dreyfuss," he said drily, "it comes with
a certain caché" and conceded that he was sometimes
"confused between progressive politics and Judaism.
"I am a passionate Jewish agnostic," he said, "who
has always believed that we are the Chosen People, so go figure.
I do believe that the Jews are chosen to illuminate the human condition.
We are mankind's victories and
we are mankind's defeats. Our ethics and contributions are mankind's
When faced with the difficulty of sharing an unpopular opinion,
the actor said, "I thought of my teachers and I thought of
Hillel and I couldn't not speak."
What Dreyfuss said he hoped for was a peaceful resolution to the
conflict in the Middle East. He is actively involved in the peace
movement through such organizations as Americans for Peace Now and
called during his speech last Thursday for "a complexity of
opinion" around Mideast peace issues.
"I believe from the bottom of my heart that peace is the right
thing," he said. "[Yitzhak] Rabin was killed for it. People
have lost their lives for it. Peace is harder than war. It demands
more energy, more creativity, more clarity. All of us will fail
if we fail to create a peace.
"I yearn for common sense; for courage and the fact of family.
I want my Jewish values to help the Jewish world, which is in peril."
During a brief interview with the Independent, Dreyfuss said
he has often been criticized by fellow Jews for his outspoken stance
on Middle East issues. "I was spit on, kicked and punched by
400 Jews" at a rally in the United States, he said. "Being
called a traitor, being told I'm not a good American or I'm not
a good Jew - that really kills my sense of humor."
The actor, who appeared quite emotional at the conclusion of his
speech, admitted it had been difficult for him to make his comments
at an Orthodox shul.
"It was tough, actually," he said. "I was admiring
myself. Jews in Canada really outfierce Jews in America. It's a
little like walking into a lion's den."
Several other speakers took the podium over the course of the evening,
which also included a presentation on the recent JCC Maccabi Games
and a video message from Jewish Agency director Ze'ev Bielski, who
noted that the Vancouver Jewish community was the first to extend
a helping hand to Israelis struggling through the conflict with
The goal of this year's CJA campaign was to raise $6.8 million.
More than three million dollars has already been raised for the
Israel Emergency Campaign launched six weeks ago along with
$3.8 million to the regular campaign, marking a 14.8 per cent increase
over last year. The funds contribute to aid, social programs and
community-building projects both in Israel and here at home.
To donate to the campaign, call 604-257-5100 or visit www.jfgv.com.