I had the privilege of hearing Saul Blinkoff speak over Rosh Hashana at Aish San Diego. Blinkoff is not only a great speaker, but he also knows how to captivate an audience.
Originally from New York, Blinkoff is an orthodox Jew living in Los Angeles with his wife Marion and four adorable children. He is a film director and spoke about how he became observant and moved to Hollywood. Blinkoff made it very clear that one of his rabbis taught him: “We are not human beings, but rather human becomings.” In other words, we constantly evolve; being stagnant is not a good thing. He knew that if he wanted to succeed in life, he had to work hard for it.
As a kid, Blinkoff was interested in making movies. He admired Steven Spielberg and figured “if one of Hollywood’s greatest directors is Jewish then I can do it too!” He used to have his brother, sister, and neighborhood kids help him out by acting out their parts, while he “directed” films. He would practice for hours upon hours, perfecting his drawings. His ultimate goal was to work for Disney. His mother took him on a trip to Orlando, Fla., and after much research, found the steps to his dream. He was enrolled in the Columbus College of Art and Design, where Disney recruits.
One day, a renowned representative from Disney came to speak to the 750 students enrolled in the program. He told them that out of all of them only four would make it, and Blinkoff thought: “Gee, I wonder who the other three will be.” He befriended another student named Andy and together they worked very hard to perfect their sketches. While other students lounged around, these two gentlemen worked day and night so they could send their work to Disney and get accepted to its prestigious internship program. Blinkoff was rejected but kept working at it and kept sending his drawings to Disney. He was happy even when he was rejected because he at least saw his name on Disney stationary, and that was something. Finally, Andy, already working at Disney, called Blinkoff and told him that Disney built a new wing for interns and Blinkoff’s name made the list.
Blinkoff’s first project was drawing the leaves for a scene in Pocahontas, and eventually, he helped create other famous movies such as The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Mulan and Tarzan. After taking a bit of a break, Blinkoff traveled to Israel. He was still not 100 percent sure how he fit into Judaism. The trip was inspiring and it made him want to discover more about what Judaism has to offer. He was offered a job in New York and went back there to fulfill the role. He became involved with the frum crowd and eventually became fully shomer mitzvot. He and his wife Marion became orthodox and then had an orthodox wedding in New York.
The couple decided to move to L.A. where he, by chance, met Rabbi Shalom Denbo. Rabbi Denbo would have Blinkoff come to his house and together they would study Mesilat Yesharim till the wee hours of the morning. Today, Blinkoff teaches Mesilat Yesharim to others and is president of his shul in the Pico-Robertson area of L.A.
People constantly ask him how he balances Judaism with working in Hollywood and Blinkoff said he never experienced anti-Semitism. Many times, those who are curious ask him about his kippa or Hebrew letters and he educates them. People are more interested in it than hateful. His children are following his footsteps, and some do voiceover work for movies and shows. However, they still live normal, frum lives. Blinkoff is very proud of his work and his life and happily says: “The coolest part of my job is that I wear my kippah at work and strive to be a Kiddush Hashem.”