When a Yiddish Theater Starlet Surprised U.S. Troops in Korea for Hanukkah


In 1951, Yiddish theater star Molly Picon, together with Jacob Kalich, her husband and fellow entertainer, and Cardinal Francis Joseph Spellman, the Vicar General of the United States Armed Forces, headed to Korea with a USO Christmas troupe. But as soon as Picon and Kalich stepped off the plane, a U.S. Army Chaplain ran up and asked if they could join 400 “boys” for Hanukkah.

“Of course after flying 48 hours, we didn’t say no,” Kalich recalled in their 1971 interview for the William E. Wiener Oral History Library, held at the New York Public Library. “We started to give them a concert and…those boys were thrilled.”

Afterwards, conversing with one soldier, they offered to call his mother. Delighted by the gesture he told his buddies, who in turn told their friends. At the end of the evening, Picon and Kalich left the hall with over 400 slips of paper, scrawled with names, addresses, and phone numbers.

After returning to the United States, they called every one of them. A Detroit mother cross examined them. “How does he look? Is he eating properly?” Lena Sieler of Brooklyn, wrote Picon: “I just want to let you know what a wonderful thing it is that you are doing — for this God should be good to you.”

“For about two or three years after that,” Picon noted, “wherever we played boys would come up and say, ‘You called my mother, you called my aunt.’”

At Miami’s Olympic Theatre, one Korean veteran offered more than a simple “thank you.” Standing by the stage entrance, Kalich was startled to see two military police marching directly toward him. One officer asked for Molly. “So, I ask him what is it?” Kalich recalled. “He says, because when she came back she called my sister long distance…We want to pay her back.”

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