After actor-singer Theodore Bikel died July 20 at age 91, several members of Atlanta’s Jewish arts community shared personal stories and memories of the stage and screen legend.
“The Atlanta Jewish Film Festival was deeply honored to host Theodore Bikel in February for one of his final public appearances. Even as age slowed him, his charm and sense of humor were undiminished. Audiences were enthralled by Theo’s remembrances of his versatile career and singular contributions to Jewish culture. The consummate performer, it was clear that he relished these interactions with admiring fans and was truly energized by them.”
— Kenny Blank, executive director, AJFF
“Theodore Bikel wasn’t just an artist, but an activist as well. Someone who was fiercely passionate about theater and music and Jewish life and culture and community … the very things that I am passionate about. And when he played his guitar and when he sang — whether it was for a theater full of hundreds of people or for six rapt Atlanta actors in a small theater green room — he did so with such joy for the art. And while I’m certainly not saying he was without ego, he performed for the love of the art. For the love of great music. For the love of beautiful language. For the joy that it brought to him and the joy that it clearly brought to others when he shared it with them. This is a special quality, and I believe it is what made him one of the greats. And I felt honored to be in a room with him and to be on the receiving end of that sharing, and, for a brief time, take part in that creative theater-making process with him.
— Mira Hirsch, founder, Jewish Theatre of the South
“I was of course very sad when I heard of his passing, but he lived a full and remarkably honorable life. I just remembered that first moment when he walked into the room in San Francisco in July of 2000 and was wearing a pin of a black Jewish star with a red AIDS awareness ribbon in it that was designed here in Atlanta by JF&CS. I recognized the pin and walked up to him and said, ‘I like your pin; I know where it’s from.’ He was gracious and helpful as well as an enthusiastic supporter of the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival’s growth. If he found out that Atlanta became the largest Jewish film festival, he would have been beyond delighted.”
— Judy Marx, founder and 2015 film selection co-chair, AJFF
“I was fortunate enough to moderate a Q&A with him last February during the film festival. He was here promoting his film ‘Theodore Bikel: In the Shoes of Sholom Aleichem.’ We were fortunate enough to be treated to a song. I am honored to say I was able to share the stage with him, however briefly. He was an eloquent, gentle man who gave many gifts to the American theater. He will be missed.”
— Brian Kimmel, director of arts and culture, Marcus Jewish Community Center