Heston reads at Jewish center, despite objections

LOS ANGELES, Dec. 5 (JTA) — Actor and anti-gun control lobbyist Charlton Heston has gone ahead with a controversial reading at a Jewish museum in Los Angeles.

But some donors to the Skirball Cultural Center boycotted the Dec. 2 event, which was attended by a near-capacity crowd of 200 people, to protest Heston’s views on guns.

Dr. Uri Herscher, the president of the museum — which is celebrating an expansion — defended the selection of Heston by saying that his institution was open to divergent views.

Heston, 75, is perhaps best remembered for his movie role as Moses in “The Ten Commandments,” but recently he has been in the news mainly as an outspoken opponent of gun control laws as president of the National Rifle Association.

The announcement of the Dec. 2 event was quickly condemned by the Progressive Jewish Alliance of Los Angeles.

In a letter to the Los Angeles Jewish Journal, the alliance’s president, Patsy Ostroy, charged that because of the August shootings by a white supremacist at a local Jewish community center, the invitation to Heston represented “the height of insensitivity to the victims and their families.”

Similar criticism was leveled by the group Women Against Gun Violence, which, also citing the shooting rampage at the JCC, said it was inappropriate for a Jewish institution like the Skirball to host the actor.

The Skirball center was allegedly one of the targets considered by Buford O’Neal Furrow Jr., charged in the August shooting, but was passed by because of tight security.

Herscher noted that the reading had been proposed by Heston more than a year ago, as a memorial tribute to a close Jewish friend, Dr. Louis Jolyon West, founder and chair of the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute.

In addition, Herscher cited aspects of Heston’s life that are not generally known, such as his actions as an early civil rights advocate and as a strong opponent of Hollywood’s blacklist of suspected communists during the McCarthy era in the 1950s.

No mention was made of Heston’s NRA activities. The actor recited poems from Robert Frost and Alfred Lord Tennyson, selections from Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” and a biblical passage about Moses.

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