3 November 2011   The Jewish News

'I admire Angie. She
has such a big heart'


It was the Jewish golf club where his father worked as a caddy that changed Jon Voight's life forever.There, as a young boy, he saw how anti-Semitism had forced members to form their own club, and how they supported his father to become a golf professional by the age of 18. Now the actor, who shot to international fame in Midnight Cowboy more than 40 years ago - and father to stunning Angelina Jolie - has taken Judaism and Israel into his daily life, and has a quest to speak out for the Jewish people.
In a rare interview from his offices in Los Angeles, he told me of his close friendships with men he describes as heroes of our time, like the great Elie Weisel, and Benjamin Netanyahu.
Jon, who has received an Academy Award and three Golden Globes, said: "I count my blessings that I can stand with people I admire so deeply, heroes of our time like Elie Weisel and Benjamin Netanyahu, and have their respect. To me that's a great joy. Elie, who went into Russia to deal with Russian Jewry when it was very dangerous, and has written such important literature on the Holocaust, is a guy who has made a difference, and knowing him and being considered his friend is an honour.
"Also Prime Minister Netanyahu is a great man, a war hero and the guide of a wonderful nation. You couldn't have a better person sitting in the top seat than him. He lost his brother in Entebbe and knows the price of all this violence." Jon was brought up a Catholic in Westchester County, New York. His father, Elmer Voight, was a golf professional at a Jewish Country Club there and he says: "From the very early days of my life I understood what anti-Semitism was because the Jews were not able to join other clubs and had to start their own. Thankfully they had the freedom in the US to do that.
"The Jews have given us the perfect tools for living and I say this from all the work I've done on spiritual matters. They've given the world the teachings of the great Torah, which if followed bring us to peace, love, courage, and wisdom. I have also come to understand the preciousness of Israel.
"To me anti-Semitism is a disease of the mind. We see Arabs and Palestinians teaching hatred to their children and watch this horror as they pass out candy and celebrate when they kill innocent Israelis. Meanwhile the US Government and others throughout the world feed this anti-Semitism by supporting the Palestinians. Anti-Semitism is raising its head again in our time so people who understand have to stand up."


Jon has managed to influence people to join up with a good team, helping to promote his ideas. Now 72, it is only in the past few years that he has come round to using his celebrity status to put forward his ideology.
"If I say something other people might be thinking but no one wants to say, then I'm giving them strength and hope, he said "When the truth enters a room, evil flees. I have a few years left, and in the latter part of my life I want to do as much as I can to express what I know is the truth. In my lifetime I've seen what happened to the Jewish people and there is a Jewish pledge: never again. In order to accomplish that we have to be very vigilant and do battle against ignorance and the teaching of hatred we see in the forces against Israel.
"I used to be very shy of taking responsibility for my celebrity, but I've learned celebrity can be used wisely to do good things.
"Angie(Jolie) has done the same - she has a very big heart. She's done what she feels is right and I admire that aspect of my daughter enormously. Perhaps she has inherited some of that from me but we're also individuals and I'm glad for what she's accomplished."
He adds: "Our attitudes to Jewish people seem to be a litmus test throughout history. To my mind, people who understand the extraordinary aspects of Israel and contributions of the Jewish people give the world hope."
Jon, a highly idealistic and emotional man, also described how he woke up one morning and made the dramatic change that led him to having a family again. After years of being estranged from his daughter, Angelina, Jon confesses that something small and unexpected enabled him to grow and change enough to allow her back into his life.
Now his greatest pleasure, and the time he is most himself, is being with his six grandchildren, three of them adopted from Cambodia, Vietnam and Ethiopia.
Jon explains how he felt he had paid dearly for the mistakes he made and has tried to amend his ways. "I changed in a moment, " he said frankly. " I suddenly saw things differently and everything shifted. It gave me back my daughter and my family. That one moment changed my whole life. I've learned a lot about making a shift so I know people can change and grow, and it's not just about me and Angie, it's about other things in my life too.
"No one knows when those moments will happen. I had no idea it would happen to me. You can be influenced by one thing and then suddenly see the light, something shifts and you see the picture differently. After all those years of being stuck I changed that morning. I have no idea why and I never knew it would suddenly happen then.
"There were influences growing next me which I didn't see for a long time and then suddenly I opened my eyes and there it was. I saw more clearly and made a change, and then there were all sorts of new beginnings in my life.
"That's what happened to me and I'm feeling that I'm learning continuously and I've grown enormously since I made the shift. I have my daughter back and my six wonderful grandchildren. Being reunited with Angie is, of course, very precious to me, no doubt about that. I adore those six kids, they are my great love, the loves of my life. I love children altogether but these are my grandchildren and it makes me so emotional and grateful. I am really, really in love with them. I would do anything for them.
"I am a pretty soft and sensitive man, I have always cared about people from the time I was young boy and I'd say that's one of my gifts and one I gave to my daughter and son. Now I have grandchildren in my life and I'm so much more myself when I am with them.
"When my daughter sees me with them she says she sees another energy in me which takes over. I'm always laughing and completely happy when I'm with them. It makes Angie so happy too."
Read Sharon Feinstein's blog on Jon Voight at www.sharonfeinstein.co.uk/blog