Obama hails Spielberg’s ‘boundless imagination’

27 Nov 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

17 awarded Medal of Freedom, including Streisand, Spielberg.

JTA – Four of the seventeen people awarded the United States’ highest civilian honor on Tuesday were Jews: Streisand, violin virtuoso Yitzhak Perlman, film director Steven Spielberg and composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim. President Obama recognized 17 Americans with the nation’s highest civilian award on Tuesday, including the first African American woman elected to Congress and one of the greatest catchers in baseball history.

The director, who has won three Oscars and whose films have grossed more than $9 billion in ticket sales, has celebrated his own ability to naviguate between various genres, from blockbusters like “Jurassic” park to historic dramas like “Schindler’s list.” “Film has always been the greatest way for me to unburden myself of my demons and to therefore cast my demons on you,” he said earlier this month while presenting his Cold War thriller “Bridge of Spies” in Berlin. Obama presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom to filmmaker Steven Spielberg, musicians Gloria and Emilio Estefan, singer James Taylor, composer Stephen Sondheim, violinist Itzhak Perlman and actress Barbra Streisand, who won an Academy award for her performance in the classic film musical, Funny Girl. But the president only alluded to the deeply Jewish story of how posthumous honoree Shirley Chisholm — the first black congresswoman, who died in 2005 — helped introduce food stamps in the United States. Among other entertainment stars honored were music producer Emilio Estefan and pop star Gloria Estefan, a Cuban American couple seen as trailblazers for being Spanish-language stars who successfully crossed over to the English-language market. This change of heart came about because a Crown Heights constituent, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Lubavitcher rebbe, heard she was frustrated and asked for a meeting.

Posthumous recipients included Japanese-American civil rights leader Minoru Yasui, who challenged the constitutionality of a military curfew order during World War II on the grounds of racial discrimination and spent months in solitary confinement during the legal battle, and Indian tribal advocate Billy Frank Jr., who led “fish-ins”— similar to sit-ins— during the tribal “fish wars” of the 1960s and 1970s. Find a creative way to do it.” On Chisholm’s first working day in Congress, she met freshman Republican senator from Kansas and future presidential candidate Robert Dole, who happened to mention his own constituent dilemma: What to do with the surpluses his state’s farmers were producing. —Bonnie Carroll, a veterans advocate, who founded the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) to support families and loved ones of military heroes killed during their service.

Obama couldn’t resist departing from script with Streisand, who has been one of his major backers and may have helped turn Florida for him in 2012 with a direct appeal to the state’s Jewish voters. Streisand in turn couldn’t resist mugging, cracking up Spielberg, who was sitting alongside her. (And baseball legend and fellow honoree Willie Mays stood up for Streisand!) “Born in Brooklyn to a middle-class Jewish family — I didn’t know you were Jewish, Barbra — Barbra Streisand attended her first Broadway show at age 14 and remembers thinking, ‘I could go up on that stage and play any role without any trouble at all.’ That’s what’s called chutzpah. And it helps when you’ve got amazing talent, all of which made her a global sensation — one whose voice has been described as “liquid diamonds,” and whose fans have considered bronzing her used coffee cups. —William Ruckelshaus, a former chief of the Environmental Protection Agency, who shaped the guiding principles of the agency, including a nationwide ban on the pesticide DDT and an agreement with the automobile industry to require catalytic converters to reduce automobile pollution. I’m getting all ‘verklempt’ just thinking about it.” There were Jewish references too in the eulogy of Spielberg, noting his role in creating the Shoah Foundation, lending “a voice to survivors of genocide around the world.” And of course, Perlman’s Israeli origins were mentioned.

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