Frank Sinatra Would Have Turned 96 Today
Celebrating the Man, his Birthday, and his Contributions to Jewish Life Today
And what a party it would have been.
Undoubtedly, Frank, a.k.a. “The Chairman of the Board” and “Ol’ Blue Eyes” would have celebrated in classic Sinatraesque style with a fedora, a cigarette, a glass of scotch, and plenty of good-looking, long-legged “dames.”
The man knew how to live.
And, as much as Frances Albert Sinatra was recognized as one of Hollywood’s most enigmatic and famous Italian Catholics, he was also a strong supporter of worldwide Jewry.
Oy, such a punim!
As a matter of fact, he even wore a small mezuzah around his neck as a pendant. It was a gift from a Jewish neighbor when Frank was just a young boy in his native Hoboken, New Jersey.
Who knew (nu)?
In 1947, one year before Israel was declared as a state, Sinatra – who died in 1998 at the age of 82 - sang at an “Action of Palestine” rally.
In 1966, Sinatra appeared in the film Cast a Giant Shadow opposite his good friend and celebrated Hebrew, Kirk Douglas. He played an American Colonel in the Israeli Air Force. The role was based on the real life experiences of Mickey Marcus, a Jewish American Colonel who fought – and died – in Israel’s War of independence. Sinatra donated his salary for the part to the soon-to-be-renamed Frank Sinatra Youth Center for Arab and Israeli Children in Nazareth. The centre was formed to promote co-existence through programs for Arab and Israeli children.
Over the course of the 1970s, Sinatra donated well over $1 million to the American Friends of Hebrew University. In 1978, he again visited Israel in order to receive the National Scopus Award and to dedicate the Frank Sinatra International Student Center at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University. Like the youth centre in Nazareth, Hebrew U’s new student centre became a place where Israeli, Arab, and foreign students were safe to meet. Tragically, the centre was bombed by a Hamas-controlled terrorist group in July 2002, killing nine people.
Sinatra also made generous contributions to the making of the Holocaust film Genocide, and became a member of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Board of Trustees. He made several appearances for the Simon Wiesenthal Center, an organization dedicated to preserving the memory of the Holocaust.
According to Robbyn Swan, the author of “Sinatra: The Life (Knopf), Sinatra’s compassion toward the Jews began when he was a young man in Hoboken.
Italian Americans “were treated as badly in their own way and in their own time and place” as the Jews, blacks and the Irish, Swan said. “As a boy, Sinatra “would walk those little streets” in Hoboken and “hear people say things like, ‘Get the wop. Get the kike.’ Because of his temperament, those became fighting words. He really got the idea that ‘these people are like me.’ He never deviated from that.”
According to “The Life,” Sinatra backed up his words with actions, once even responding to an antisemtic remark at a party by “simply punching the offender.”
And, as one would suspect with a larger than life personality like Sinatra, he did it “his way” well into his later years when he should have been avoiding confrontation and stress.
“As late as 1979, Sinatra raged over the fact that a Palm Springs cemetery official declared that he could not arrange the burial of a deceased Jewish friend over the Thanksgiving holiday,” Swan wrote in an email to The Forward. “Though in his mid-60s, Sinatra declared that he was going to punch the offending official, [adding], ‘and if he’s too old, I’ll punch his son in the nose!’”
Thanks for everything, Frances, and happy birthday.