Read in Yiddish
When news spread that legendary American actor Kirk Douglas, né Issur Danielovitch, had passed away at the age of 103, the Folksbiene dug into its archives and posted this touching moment from their 2002 gala, when the star was presented with a lifetime achievement award.
Douglas was raised in poverty alongside his six sisters in Amsterdam, New York. In the old country his father had been a horse trader, but in Amsterdam his parents collected rags and trash to resell in a horse-drawn wagon. Douglas only spoke Yiddish until he started school.
Wanting to escape his immigrant background and Americanize, Douglas changed his name before entering the Navy during World War Two. Later in life, and especially after surviving a helicopter crash that killed two of his fellow passengers, he re-embraced his Jewish roots and wrote a book about his spiritual journey.
In 1996 he suffered a severe stroke which limited his ability to speak but he continued acting well into his ninth decade. In this clip he relates a funny anecdote about why he was unable to get a job acting in the Yiddish theater and sings a few lines of the song “Mayn Yidishe Meydele” (My Jewish Girl). Despite the choppiness in his voice, his Litvak Yiddish accent comes across clearly.
Jordan Kutzik is the deputy editor of the Yiddish Forward. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kirk Douglas Sings a Yiddish Song