Stirring tribute for Steven Spielberg

Bestowed with Anti-Defamation League's highest honor

BEVERLY HILLS -- The Anti-Defamation League bestowed its highest honor on Steven Spielberg during a dinner at the Beverly Hilton that mixed stirring music, appreciative laughter and warm moments with calls to remember the past, confront bigotry and embrace humanity.

In presenting the America's Democratic Legacy Award on Wednesday, ADL national director Abraham Foxman praised Spielberg's ability as a storyteller, his philanthropy and his creation of the USC Shoah Foundation, which has recorded the testimonies of more than 52,000 Holocaust survivors and created a curriculum that has reached 1.5 million students.

"Steven, we honor you for your exceptional contributions to the well-being and security of the Jewish people," he said. "Your masterpiece, 'Schindler's List,' literally changed the way we teach about Jewish history and the Holocaust, and it arrived at exactly the time when we started to see a startling rise in Holocaust denial."

During a thoughtful acceptance, Spielberg spoke of the importance of pausing amid the distractions of the digital age to face such enduring evils as xenophobia, bigotry, racism and anti-Semitism that have found a new home in cyberspace.

"I don't believe that intolerance is encoded in the DNA of humankind," Spielberg said. "Bigotry is an acquired condition that can only be eradicated through education, experience and through mindfulness."

The proceedings, which raised more than $2 million for the ADL, kicked off with Adam Lambert singing an a capella version of "The Star-Spangled Banner" and Noa Dori performing the Israeli anthem.

"My kids will remember that I met Adam Lambert tonight," Spielberg joked.

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Drew Barrymore, whom Spielberg directed in "E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial," offered opening remarks, telling the director, "You have guided all of us in knowing what kind of people we should be in this world."

Two of the event's co-chairs -- longtime Spielberg attorney Bruce Ramer and Sid Sheinberg, the studio head who first recognized Spielberg's talents -- added their congratulations.

Kirk Douglas offered special praise for Spielberg's mother, Leah Adler, teasing that her successful restaurant the Milky Way is the source of the filmmaker's wealth. Douglas also led the motzi prayer over the bread and stood back as the room serenaded him with "Happy Birthday" to mark his 93rd birthday.

Richard Dreyfuss, star of "Jaws" and "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," said of Spielberg's work: "He is not tied down to any genre. Others are monochromatic, and he is still our rainbow."

Previous winners of the Democratic Legacy Award have ranged from U.S. presidents (from Harry Truman through Lyndon Johnson and including Ronald Reagan) to Hollywood moguls (Darryl Zanuck and Dore Schary).