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February 01, 1985 - Image 80

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1985-02-01

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Friday, February 1, 1985



Local News Editor

Bo b McKe own


Theodore Bikel
divides his time
between performing and telling
Jews they should become
more actively involved
in Jewish affairs.

Theodore Bikel calls himself an
active Jew rather than a reactive Jew.
As he appears at United Jewish Ap-
peal functions, he encourages other
Jews to follow his lead.
The singer-composer-actor was in
Detroit last week to entertain for the
kickoff of the Allied Jewish Campaign
at Adat Shalom Synagogue. In an
interview with The Jewish News, he
talked about being a Jew and an
Defining himself as more of a cul-
tural Jew than an observant one —
"My father liked his customs and
rights and I've inherited exactly that
trait" — Bikel can be counted among
the leading proponents of Jewish
He is a senior vice president of the
American Jewish Congress, took part
in a symposium on the preservation of
Yiddish in America, has narrated
films for the Technion-Israel Institute
of Technology and the Hebrew Uni-
versity of Jerusalem and appears
throughout the country on behalf of
UJA and other Jewish concerns.
He doesn't do the actual fund rais-
ing, but instead appeals to what he
calls "people's .Jewish sensibilities."
"I'm good at persuading them that
Jewish causes are in dire need of sup-
port, totally unrelated to external
threats. I don't allow anti-Semites to
define my Jewishness or anyone else's.
So one shouldn't have to wait for a
holocaust or impending holocaust or
threat of annihilation of Israel before
one's Jewish muscle moves. And I'm
good at doing that."
His travels have taken the
Vienna-born actor-singer all over the
world and as a Jewish entertainer he
has been the target of anti-Semitism.
But, he says it goes with the territory.
"Part of one's existence as a Jew is
to encounter anti-Semitism, which, by
the way, I don't like to use as a defini-
tion of my Jewishness, because mine is
active, not reactive."
Jewish causes are not his only so-
cial concerns. In the '60s he was active
in the civil rights movement. Just re-
cently, he was arrested outside the
South African Embassy in Washing-
ton protesting the South African gov-
ernment's apartheid policy. He says he
joined these movements because he
"felt that it was a Jewish commitment
He illustrated his remark with an

allusion to his youth in Europe. There,
he said, Jews were dragged into the
streets and beaten while "well-
meaning" non-Jews stood on the
sidelines, not participating in the
beatings but not calling for a halt to
them, either.
"I wasn't going to be in the posi-
tion of those nice people who have the .
luxury to say, 'It's not my fight.' There-
fore, it is my fight."
His social consciousness is evident
within the confines of his concerts.
Aiming at humor, his explanation of
last week's program for the Allied
Jewish Campaign was marked by his
sharp wit:
"I sing a lot of Jewish songs to
non-Jews and a lot of non-Jewish
songs to Jews on the simple- theory
that the non-Jews are entitled to a
glimpse of the Jewish world and the
Jews are entitled to a glimpse of the
He brings his Jewish audience a'
glimpse of the world in the variety of
languages -- about 21 — in which he
performs. He speaks English, French,
German, Yiddish, Hebrew and can
"get by in Spanish and Russian."
In addition to his folksinging ex-
pertise — he has recorded more than
20 albums and has concertized all over
the world — the 60-year-old Bikel also
includes acting among his talents.
After leaving Vienna for Israel in his
teens, he joined the Habimah Theater
at age 19 and later co-founded the Is-
rael Chamber Theater. He was
graduated from the Royal Academy of
Dramatic Art in London and appeared
in several West End plays there.
He has 35 films to his credit, in-
cluding The Defiant Ones, for which he
received an Academy Award nomina-
tion, The African Queen, The Enemy
Below, My Fair Lady and The Rus-
sians Are Coming, The Russians Are
Coming. On stage he has appeared in
The Sound of Music, Fiddler on the
Roof, Zorba, The Inspector General
and The Three Penny Opera.
On television, Bikel has had
numerous guest roles, and recently
appeared on Cover Up, Hotel and Glit-
He seems to get a lot of roles play-
ing Russians and was critical of Hol-
lywood for type-casting him.
"People are very short-sighted
upon offering roles that you've done

Continued on Page 39

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