“I wanted to be Abbie Hoffman:” The inspiring, tragic story of this American original

Trial of the Chicago 7

Dan Buffa

If the Jewish community had a garden of MVP, or most valuable players, Abbie Hoffman would be among the group. 

Born in 1936 and raised in a middle-class Jewish household, Hoffman became a prominent political and social activist, speaking up for the rights of the less-fortunate, and championing the cause at the Democratic Convention in 1968, where he was charged with crossing state lines with the intent to start a riot. The case brought together seven notable activists in a legendary trial that involved a never-before-used law called Title X of the Civil Rights Act of 1968.

The charges were vacated and all eventually walked, but it became known as the rallying cry for social justice over government control.

If you haven’t seen Aaron Sorkin’s award-contending film on the event, “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” the Golden Globe-nominated film (and Netflix Original) is available-along with eight other Jewish-related films-on streaming services at this moment.   

50-year ago this week, the final verdict in the case was announced, and to commemorate the anniversary “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” will be available, for free, globally on Netflix’s YouTube Channel all weekend long.

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Sacha Baron Cohen, the actor who vividly portrayed Hoffman in the film, will surely be nominated, along with Sorkin’s film, for quite a few Academy Award nominations when they are announced next month. That’s right, the British actor who also made us laugh out loud last year with the sequel, “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm,” shined a powerful light on the Jewish community with his work as Hoffman, someone who burned bright yet couldn’t fade away into old age. 

At the age of 52, Hoffman took his own life with a “massive overdose” of the drug phenobarbital, which is used to treat all types of seizures. While this isn’t portrayed in the film, you do get the pre-credits excerpt detailing his demise. Proof that even the strongest minds are breakable, and that a public victory like the big trial can’t cloud the inner demons and constant misery one can face. Hoffman was the fuel that inspired thousands to make their voices heard, but in the end, he couldn’t quiet the voices in his head. 

Perhaps a screenwriter and/or director will decide to tell the Abbie Hoffman story in full one day. How a Jewish kid rose up to inspire people to push back against government oppression, teaching people that people serve the higher-ups, and not the other way around. How he did this all the while battling his own problems, rage, and sorrow. If you ask me, that’s pretty heroic. 

Just listen to Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin, a prominent writer in the Jewish community, who wrote this story about Hoffman in October when the film was first released:

“It is 1969-and I am 15 years old. I have a hero-a hero whose identity called my parents never-ending grief,” Salkin wrote. “Not Mickey Mantle. Not Mick Jagger. They would have preferred Mick Jagger. No I wanted to be Abbie Hoffman.” 

The story’s headline, “The hidden Jewishness of the Chicago 7,” detailed other people in the story who were either raised Jewish as kids or went to Hebrew school, including Jerry Rubin (wonderfully played by Jeremy Strong in the film), who was the product of a major reform synagogue in Cincinnati. Hoffman himself was a product of the Reform Temple Emanuel in Worchester. 

Judge Julius Hoffman, played by Oscar-hopeful Frank Langella, was Jewish as well, which sparked Abbie during the trial to crack a joke about the Judge forsaking him after informing the jury that they weren’t related. Wherever Abbie went, he moved people and woke them up. While he wasn’t a singer or baseball player, Hoffman found different ways to inspire people, showing the world that heroes don’t have to wear uniforms. 

And according to Rabbi Salkin, he still is today thanks to Sorkin’s powerful film. Go check it out, and have a nice weekend.