Tag Archives: Hebrew

Jew of the Week: Mark Zuckerberg

Mark Elliot Zuckerberg¬†(b. 1984) was born in White Plains, New York to a Jewish family with German, Austrian, and Polish ancestry. He excelled in high school, won multiple awards, and by the time he was ready to go to college, knew Hebrew, French, Latin, and Greek. Zuckerberg was first taught programming by his father, and later had a private tutor, who called him a “prodigy”. In his youth, he created an instant messaging app for his father’s dentistry (a year before AOL’s Instant Messenger came out), as well as a music player that learned its user’s listening preferences. Not surprisingly, Zuckerberg went to Harvard to study computer science and psychology. He was a member of the Jewish fraternity AEPi. During this time, he made a number of programs, including one to coordinate with friends to choose the same classes, and another to rank people’s appearance (called Facemash) which was so popular it quickly crashed Harvard’s servers. In early 2004, Zuckerberg launched “Thefacebook”, and soon dropped out of school to work on it. After recruiting some friends, he moved his team to Silicon Valley. It wasn’t long before he had offers to buy out Facebook, which was now sweeping college campuses across the country. Zuckerberg refused, not wanting to have people’s information controlled by “media corporations owned by conglomerates”. The company went public in 2012, valued at a record-setting $104 billion. Today, Facebook boasts 2 billion active users, and nearly $30 billion in revenue. The company also owns Instagram, WhatsApp, and Oculus. Meanwhile, Zuckerberg has become a noted philanthropist. He donated over $100 million in 2010, before becoming America’s biggest charity donor in 2013 when, in a single act, he donated Facebook shares worth nearly $1 billion, making it the largest charitable gift ever. He has since pledged to donate 99% of his wealth. One of his main projects is to bring internet access to the billions of people that still do not have it. Zuckerberg has been ranked first in a list of the “Top 100 most influential people of the Information Age”. In recent years, he has taken a greater interest in both politics and religion. Last December, someone asked “Aren’t you an atheist?” to which he responded: “No. I was raised Jewish and then I went through a period where I questioned things, but now I believe religion is very important.” In May, he gave a commencement speech at Harvard (which finally awarded him an honourary degree years after he dropped out) and concluded with a traditional Hebrew Mi Sheberach blessing, stating that he always recited it when faced with challenges. Zuckerberg is still the CEO of Facebook, with a salary of $1. There have been rumours that he is planning to run for president in 2020.

Words of the Week

Just as wisdom is not something you can feel with your hands, Godliness is not something you can grasp with your mind.
– Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi

Jew of the Week: Isaac Aboab da Fonseca

America’s First Rabbi

Rabbi Isaac Aboab da Fonseca, the first rabbi to set foot in America

Rabbi Isaac Aboab da Fonseca, the first rabbi to set foot in America

Isaac Aboab da Fonseca (1605-1693) was born in Portugal to a family of Conversos, or “Marranos” – Jews who had been forced to convert to Christianity during the Inquisition. Despite the conversion, their persecution persisted, and Conversos often¬†continued to practice Judaism in secret. In 1581, the Dutch Republic separated from the Spanish Empire, triggering a large migration of Sephardic Jews to the area. By 1603, Dutch law officially made it legal for Judaism to be practiced openly. In 1612, da Fonseca’s family moved to Amsterdam, where they could finally practice Judaism once again. Da Fonseca went to study under the tutelage of the great doctor, poet, mathematician, and rabbi Isaac Uziel, who had opened a new Talmudic academy a few years earlier. Da Fonseca showed his genius early on, and was made a rabbi by the age of eighteen. Some twenty years later, he was invited to serve as the chief rabbi of the Dutch colony of Pernambuco in Brazil. This colony had a population of about 600 Sephardic Jews that fled the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisition. Da Fonseca’s arrival in 1642 likely made him the first rabbi to set foot in the Americas. During his thirteen years there, the colony established a proper synagogue, mikveh, and yeshiva – perhaps the very first in the New World – and the Jewish population grew to as many as 5000. During this time, he also wrote what is thought to be the first Hebrew text produced in America. Unfortunately, a Jesuit priest convinced the Portuguese to reconquer the colony and destroy its Jews who “have their open synagogues there, to the scandal of Christianity”. The Jews took up arms alongside the small Dutch army, and resisted the Portuguese forces for nine years. The Portuguese ultimately prevailed, but the Dutch would not surrender until the Portuguese agreed to let the Jews go. The majority sailed back to Amsterdam with da Fonseca. (One of these ships was attacked by pirates, lost its way, and ended up in the nascent colony of New Amsterdam. These first Jews in North America helped establish what would later become New York City.) Back in Amsterdam, da Fonseca soon became the city’s chief rabbi. He was on the panel that excommunicated the famous philosopher Benedict (Baruch) Spinoza. In his old age, Rabbi da Fonseca became known as a great mystic and Kabbalist. He passed away at 88 years of age. In 2007, the Jerusalem Institute published a book of his writings and teachings.

Words of the Week

If you want to change the world, change yourself.
– Jack Ma