Learn more about the acclaimed Jewish playwright and director, who received the National Medal of Arts from President Obama last week.
Moisés Kaufman, known for writing and/or directing such plays as The Laramie Project, Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde, and I Am My Own Wife, today will receive the National Medal of Arts from President Obama at the White House. The medal recognizes outstanding contributions to the excellence, growth, support, and availability of the arts in the United States. Kaufman is in good company; among this year’s other recipients are film director Mel Brooks, author Sandra Cisneros, actor Morgan Freeman, composer Philip Glass, and actress-singer Audra McDonald. (See the full list here.) Kaufman has had a long and varied career, and some facts about his life and work may surprise even devoted fans.
Kaufman’s father, Simon, was a Romanian Jew who survived the Holocaust. As a boy, Simon earned money by making and selling the yellow Stars of David that the Nazi regime forced Jews to wear. “He spent most of the war alternately hiding in a small room and selling Stars of David,” Moisés Kaufman recalled in the book A Memory, a Monologue, a Rant, and a Prayer, edited by Eve Ensler. After World War II was over, Simon made his way to Caracas, Venezuela. There he worked in a delicatessen and eventually bought one, and he married Margarita Weinberg, a Venezuelan-born woman of Ukrainian descent. Moisés was born in Caracas in 1963. His parents brought him up in the Orthodox branch of Judaism, and he attended a yeshiva — a Jewish religious school — which made Moisés quite the outsider in the heavily Catholic nation, as did his realization at age 11 that he was gay.