Kirk Douglas celebrates 103rd birthday, found meaning in Judaism after ’91 crash

After a helicopter crash in 1991, Douglas set out to search for spiritual meaning and seek to understand what it meant to be a Jew.

By World Israel News Staff

On Monday, legendary Jewish actor Kirk Douglas celebrated his 103rd birthday.

Kirk Douglas was born on December 9, 1916, in Amsterdam, New York., beginning life as Issur Danielovich. His parents were illiterate immigrants from Belorussia. Because the mills and factories of Amsterdam excluded Jews, his father earned his living as the town’s junk dealer.

Dirt poor, Douglas moved to New York City as a teenager, initially having to depend on his friend — a young model named Lauren Bacall — for her uncle’s winter coat. After playing supporting roles as villains, everything changed when young Douglas starred and received an Academy Award nomination for his role as the heroic boxer in the 1949 movie Champion.

Douglas left his mark on Hollywood for his iconic performances in movies like 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea (1954), Paths of Glory (1957), Spartacus (1960), and Lonely Are The Brave (1962).

In 1996, Douglas was given an honorary Oscar to mark his 50 years in the movie business.

In his 1988 autobiography Climbing the Mountain: My Search for Meaning, Douglas shares his quest for spirituality and Jewish identity.

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He said that it all began after a helicopter crash in 1991 that left him severely injured and two others dead. While in his hospital bed, the actor couldn’t shake a question that kept haunting him: Why had two young men, who haven’t lived out their lives, died, while he at age 74 survived?

Rather than dismiss it as a stroke of luck, Douglas set out to search for spiritual meaning and seek to understand what it meant to be a Jew.

Douglas hired a rabbi to teach him the Bible and found the Jewish faith deeply satisfying. He also said that it enriched his relationship with his children and taught him to listen to others.