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Gotta Love the Voight

The more I read about Hollywood actor Jon Voight, the more I admire him.

First of all, here is yet another video of him explaining why he supports Israel.

The Jerusalem Post also published this interview with him that underscores his humanity and ability to distinguish good from evil.

Jon Voight ever decides to give up acting, he could easily sign on as a Nefesh B’Nefesh emissary.

Unlike many celebrities, who parachute in for quick, superficial jaunts through Israel, the 69-year-old Academy Award winner speaks of the country with the passion and knowledge of an insider.

And despite focusing his week-long visit on some of the grimmer realities of life here, Voight, who is not Jewish, remains fervent in his enthusiasm for what he terms a “miracle in progress.”

“My business is story telling, and this is such a great story. To think in my lifetime that the Jews have returned to their land is simply amazing,” said Voight last week, while fighting off a cold in the executive lounge of the David Citadel Hotel in Jerusalem.

“One of the most impressive things is that this barren land has returned to fullness of its description in the Bible – it really is the land of milk and honey,” he said.

Best known for his roles in Midnight Cowboy, Deliverance, Coming Home and the National Treasure series with Nicolas Cage, as well as being the father of actress Angelina Jolie, Voight was visiting the country as a guest of Chabad and their Children of Chernobyl program, for which he has acted as spokesman for 15 years.

He welcomed the organization’s 80th rescue mission of children from the area of the 1986 nuclear reactor disaster, brought terror victims to a Hapoel Jerusalem basketball game and hosted a barbecue for their families, visited scenes of Kassam rocket attacks in Sderot, and attend President Shimon Peres’s “Facing Tomorrow” conference.

Like many in the entertainment industry, Voight was a regular guest on Chabad’s annual telethons in the 1980s, along with the likes of Bob Dylan, Martin Sheen and Whoopi Goldberg. But it wasn’t until he travelled to the Soviet Union to star in the 1991 television film called Chernobyl: The Final Warning that his relationship with the organization blossomed.

“I saw the damage done, and when I got back home I knew I needed to find a way to help. Chabad was having a fund-raiser for the Chernobyl children and asked me to MC. Since then I’ve been helping out with these dinners where they raise the money for these flights to rescue kids from the Chernobyl area and bring them to hospitals here in Israel to provide treatment, change their environment and save their lives,” said Voight, recalling the previous day’s welcoming ceremony at Ben- Gurion Airport for the latest delegation of 36 kids.

“There were a couple of little girls – little toughies. It’s a four-hour flight, they’ve never been on an airplane before, they’re leaving their homes without their parents and when they got off the plane, they were just such tough little wise guys, little rascals… it was hysterical.”

Voight said he derived inspiration on his visit not only from helping the Chernobyl children but by meeting 50 terror victims and their families and by visiting residents of Sderot.

“It’s very moving to be with people who have courage. These are good people, who are struggling with this challenge that has altered their lives,” he said.

“In Sderot, we went to a home which had suffered a direct Kassam hit on Saturday morning through the bedroom of the family’s young sons. Windows were shattered, tables were broken, there were holes in the wall. You look at the devastation and you say, my God, this kid must have been obliterated,” he said, his voice gaining emotion.

“But the kid had just a couple scratches on him – it was a complete miracle. And his brother’s in the next room, same thing. Everything was damaged, except some tefillin, which wasn’t touched. It gives me chills to think about it.

“In the living room, there was a broken table, with flowers bought by the father for the mother for their anniversary strewn on the floor amid a broken vase. Someone said to her that it was a shame about the flowers, and she answered, ‘Those aren’t flowers, my children are flowers,'” recalled Voight, choking up and his eyes welling with tears. “What you’re seeing in Sderot – there’s nobody on the streets. It’s a normal community, but there’s nobody outside, no kids playing. It’s like a twilight zone, the people there are terrorized. That’s what terrorism is.”

Voight said that if he were Israeli, he would be staunchly against negotiating with Hamas, and compared the plight of Sderot to that of London in World War II.

“Do I think that [Neville] Chamberlain should have talked to Adolf Hitler? It’s not different with the situation in Sderot. There were German barrages coming across into London terrorizing the London population. And that’s what’s going on in Sderot – they’re trying to demoralize that little town – that little town,” repeated Voight for emphasis.

Calling himself a former liberal Democrat, Voight recently endorsed Republican Sen. John McCain in the US presidential race. He added that he would prefer Sen. Hillary Clinton over Sen. Barack Obama, citing Obama as “dangerous.”

“He’s really extreme, but he’s always trying to say something to cover it. He’s like a Leftist from the ’60s. I was on the Left, that’s why I know who he is,” said Voight.

“He says he’ll talk to everybody [like Hamas and Iran], but it’s simpleminded candy he’s throwing to the extreme left wing. He’d be the biggest disaster for Israel – and all democracies – that I can think of.”

Being an outspoken conservative in liberal Hollywood isn’t necessarily the smartest career move for an actor. Voight admitted that political discrimination was prevalent in the entertainment industry but said he was hopeful that things were slowly changing.

“After all, if Washington is a two-party town, why can’t Hollywood be one too?” he joked.

Regarding his iconic 1969 role as naïve male hustler Joe Buck in the groundbreaking film Midnight Cowboy alongside Dustin Hoffman, Voight said he had no idea the film would have such long lasting resonance.

“You never know what’s going to happen. It was such an unusual movie. Like I told Dusty [Hoffman], it’s like Don Quixote and Sancho Panza – these guys are a couple and you’re always going to smile when you think of them,” he said.

“It’s about desperate characters trying to make their way, fumbling through life while making big mistakes. And yet there’s something endearing and universal about their struggle. We’re all like that in a way. We all make mistakes.”

One mistake that Voight didn’t make was accepting an offer in 1994 to make a cameo appearance on the hit comedy series Seinfeld – a 30-second appearance that was part of a legendary episode. Based on character George Costanza buying a used car because it was previously owned by “Jon Voight,” the show turned into a comical case of mistaken identity highlighted by Voight, playing himself, biting the character Kramer on the arm as he sticks it into Voight’s taxi.

“I thought it would be fun to do a Seinfeld walk-on, then I got the script and I see my name on every page. I thought it was great,” said Voight.

“But I couldn’t’ figure out how they came up with something like that, until one of the writers came on the set and and said, ‘Would you walk around the corner here and look at something for me? Was this your car?’

“He had bought a Chrysler Lebaron on the word that it was my car. Then he found out that it wasn’t me, but another Jon Voight, a dentist. The whole idea came about because of this event in his life.”

Kept alive by countless TV reruns, the episode also returned to Voight’s life through an unlikely channel that has remained a constant presence in his life – Chabad.

“I’m at the annual Chabad telethon, and it’s the same night as a party for Planet Hollywood with Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis. So, of course there were no celebrities on this poor little telethon, except for me. They asked me, ‘Can you get us some celebrities’?

“So, I agreed to go to the Planet Hollywood party and try to recruit some participants. I get in this limo which was donated to Chabad and say hello to the driver. ‘Hi, my name’s Jon Voight,’ and he says ‘I’m Jon Voight.’

It turns out he was the actor who played Jon Voight the dentist in the episode, and he was moonlighting as a driver.

“We drive up to the party and I tell him, ‘I’m not sure they’re going to let me in – I had a ticket but I don’t know where it is.’ “He said, ‘No problem, of course they’ll recognize you.’

“Outside, there’s a tough looking cop with his arms folded – he looks like one of those guys who’s not going to be moved too much and who would go by the book. But the driver rolls down the window, and the cop looks at him and says to him, ‘Jon Voight – how are you?’ and whisks us through,” concludes the real Voight with a guffaw.

After all those years and movies, Voight indeed remains a story teller.

About the author

Picture of David Lange

David Lange

A law school graduate, David Lange transitioned from work in the oil and hi-tech industries into fulltime Israel advocacy. He is a respected commentator and Middle East analyst who has often been cited by the mainstream media
Picture of David Lange

David Lange

A law school graduate, David Lange transitioned from work in the oil and hi-tech industries into fulltime Israel advocacy. He is a respected commentator and Middle East analyst who has often been cited by the mainstream media
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