Not long ago the Jewish people celebrated Rosh Hashana, the new year, 5770. Wow! That's a long time. I am not very religious, but it reminded me of an incident that happened when I was filming the movie, "In Harm's Way". I played a naval officer, a bitter flier under John Wayne's command. After raping Jill Harworth, the girlfriend of Wayne's son, played by Brandon de Wilde, I sacrificed myself on an air mission.
The most exciting thing about the production was that we got to shoot on the USS St. Paul, a cruiser, as it sailed from Seattle to Hawaii. And there was Otto Preminger, the director, treating the personnel like his own personal crew, the boat like a prop, yelling to the captain, in his German accent, "Push the boat the other vey, so ve get the sunlight!"
I shared a bunk with one of the officers, Josh Nelson, who I was surprised to learn was Jewish. I never think of naval officers as being Jewish, maybe because I didn't know any others when I was one. I asked Josh if many of the crew were Jewish.
He said, "A few."
I said, "Do you ever hold religious services?"
"I tried to, but it's hard to get them interested enough."
"Suppose I conduct the religious service?"
"would you? Could you?"
"Yes," I said, "Why don't you tell your friends that tomorrow, Friday night, I'll conduct the service."
That Friday evening, we were all dining at the captain's table - John Wayne, Burgess Meredith, and of course Otto Preminger - when over the loudspeakers:
NOW HEAR THIS MEN, AT 20:00 THERE WILL BE FRIDAY EVENING JEWISH RELIGIOUS SERVICE CONDUCTED BY KIRK DOUGLAS.
Well, this caused a little ripple. Heads everywhere bobbed. And I, very dignified and nonchalant, stood up and said, "Would you excuse me, Captain? I have to officiate at this service." John Wayne and Burgess Meredith, curious, came over later. Otto Preminger, a Jew, didn't. In a borrowed yarmulke and prayer shawl, I conducted the Friday evening service, remembering the old Hebrew prayers that I learned when I was a poor boy living in Amsterdam, when the people in my synagogue wanted little Issur to become a rabbi, and I didn't know how to tell them I wanted to be an actor. That night on the USS St. Paul was the fulfillment of my debt to them.
I don't think it matters what religion you follow as long as your faith tells you to care for others.
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