Mar. 14, 2015
Last summer our family went to Southern Europe on holiday. During our stay at a hotel, our son Dylan went to the swimming pool. A short time later he came running back to the room, upset. A man at the pool had started hurling insults at him.
My first instinct was to ask, “Were you misbehaving?”
“No,” Dylan told me through his tears.
I stared at him. And suddenly I had an awful realization of what might have caused the man’s outrage: Dylan was wearing a Star of David.
After calming him down, I went to the pool and asked the attendants to point out the man who had yelled at him. We talked. It was not a pleasant discussion. Afterward, I sat down with my son and said: “Dylan, you just had your first taste of anti-Semitism.”
My father, Kirk Douglas, born Issur Danielovitch, is Jewish. My mother, Diana, is not. I had no formal religious upbringing from either of them, and the two kids I have with Catherine Zeta-Jones are like me, growing up with one parent who is Jewish and one who is not.
Several years ago Dylan, through his friends, developed a deep connection to Judaism, and when he started going to Hebrew school and studying for his bar mitzvah, I began to reconnect with the religion of my father.
While some Jews believe that not having a Jewish mother makes me not Jewish, I have learned the hard way that those who hate do not make such fine distinctions.
Dylan’s experience reminded me of my first encounter with anti-Semitism, in high school. A friend saw someone Jewish walk by, and with no provocation he confidently told me: “Michael, all Jews cheat in business.”
“What are you talking about?” I said.
“Michael, come on,” he replied. “Everyone knows that.”
With little knowledge of what it meant to be a Jew, I found myself passionately defending the Jewish people. Now, half a century later, I have to defend my son. Anti-Semitism, I’ve seen, is like a disease that goes dormant, flaring up with the next political trigger.