A Close Encounter with Steven Spielberg


When he was 20 years old, Steven Spielberg bluffed his way into Universal Pictures studios by dressing up in a business suit and carrying an empty briefcase past an unsuspecting guard. He settled into an abandoned office and spent the summer with the directors and writers. Not one to overlook important details, the determined young man bought some plastic letters and added his name to the building directory: Steven Spielberg, Room 23C.

Today, Spielberg is the undisputed king of Hollywood- five of his movies are on the American Film Institute list of the 100 best films of all time, and he has earned more than $2 billion during his career. These days, though, his office is considerably more luxurious than the four bare walls that he commandeered during the summer of '67. But he still pays attention to important details; Spielberg put a mezuzah on the doorway this time. Because it's widely known that the Jewish religion wasn't important to Spielberg during his early years, BABAGANEWZ wanted to discover why he rewrote the script of his life to include a significant role for Judaism. We found the answers in interviews that Spielberg has given over the years.

Q: When you were in high school- at about the same time that you were getting interested in making films- you turned away from Judaism. Why?

A: I felt like I was the only Jew in high school. I just simply wanted to deny being Jewish. Because I was not a member of a Jewish Community Center, because there weren't many Jews in the schools I went to, I felt very alien. I was ashamed because I was living on a street where at Christmas, we were the only house with nothing but a porch light on. I so much wanted to be assimilated.

Q: When did you decide to return to Judaism?

A: When my first son, Max, was born, it greatly affected me. A spirit began to ignite in me, and I became a Jewish dad at the moment of birth and circumcision. I remembered the very warm and familiar way my parents and grandparents taught me during all those years of Hebrew school when I was a child. I really made a decision at that point that I wanted to raise my children as Jews. And I had to re-immerse myself so that I could help them fulfill their destinies and make their own choices as they get older. I had been so ashamed of being a Jew, and now I'm filled with pride.

Q: You purchased the rights to Schindler's List in 1982, but didn't make the Holocaust movie until 1993. Why did you wait more than 10 years?

A: I had a fear of doing Schindler's List that made me delay it year after year. I wasn't old enough to make this movie in 1982. I had to have a family first. I had to figure out what my place was in the world.

Q: What was it like when you traveled throughout Poland to film Schindler's List?

A: I got hit in the face with my personal life. My upbringing. My Jewishness. The stories my grandparents told me. And Jewish life came pouring back into my heart. I went there the first time to research a movie and wound up researching my own Judaism.

Q: In 1994 you created the Shoah Foundation to preserve the testimony of Holocaust survivors. And later, you donated the profits from your Oscar-winning film, Schindler's List, to create the Righteous Persons Foundation, which gives millions of dollars to the Jewish community. What made you do that?

A: Among all the things that I've done professionally, these are the two things I'm most proud of... I'm committed to Holocaust education, but I also wanted to strengthen the Jewish community as it is today, to engage Jewish youth, to support the arts, to promote tolerance and to strengthen the commitment to social justice.

Tagline Trivia
Match these taglines to the correct Spielberg blockbuster!

1. “Don’t go in the water!” a. Raiders of the Lost Ark
2. “An adventure 65 million years in the making.” b. E.T.
3. “The creators of Jaws and Star Wars now bring you the ultimate hero in the ultimate adventure.” c. Catch Me If You Can
4. “He is afraid. He is alone. He is three million light years from home.” d. Jaws
5. “The true story of a real fake.” e. Jurassic Park


*Answers: 1. d, 2. e, 3. a, 4. b, 5. c