Tag Archives: Lithuanian Jews

Jew of the Week: Hermann Schapira

Founder of the Jewish National Fund

Zvi Hermann Hirsch Schapira (1840-1898) was born to a religious Russian-Jewish family in a small Lithuanian village. He studied to become a rabbi and at age 24 was appointed to his first post. However, he soon decided to pursue his passion for the sciences and ended up studying at a Berlin academy. Three years later, he settled in Odessa and worked for several years as a merchant. In 1878, Schapira moved to Heidelburg and spent another four years studying math and physics, during which time he earned his doctorate. He became a math professor at the University of Heidelburg, and published several important papers. Throughout this time, he continued studying Jewish literature, and contributed to three Hebrew periodicals. By 1884, Shapira was a vocal Zionist, and suggested the establishment of a Jewish National Fund which would buy land in Israel and help settle Jews there. He formally proposed the idea to the First Zionist Congress in 1897, where he also suggested the establishment of a Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Tragically, Schapira died the following year from pneumonia. The Jewish National Fund would finally be launched three years later, and it would take another two decades before the Hebrew University would open its doors. The JNF would go on to become one of the most important organizations in Israel’s history, and instrumental in the nascent state’s success. It purchased over 50% of Israel’s landmass, developed over 250,000 acres of its land, planted some 260 million trees, built nearly 200 dams and reservoirs, and established over 1000 parks. The JNF also played a key role in the founding of Tel Aviv in 1909, and in running Israel’s first postal service. It still owns about 13% of Israel’s land, and in the past decade alone, helped Israel expand its water capacity by 7%. The JNF is perhaps most famous for its Tu b’Shevat tree-planting drive, which over a million Jews participate in every year.

Tu b’Shevat is this Saturday. Chag sameach!

Words of the Week

When God created the first man, He showed him all the trees of the Garden of Eden, and said to him: “See My works, how beautiful and praiseworthy they are. And everything that I created, I created it for you. Be careful not to spoil or destroy My world, for if you do, there will be nobody after you to repair it.”
– Midrash Kohelet Rabbah 7:13

Jew of the Week: Bob Dylan

First Musician to Win a Nobel Prize

Bob Dylan in 1963

Bob Dylan in 1963

Robert Allen Shabbatai Zisl Zimmerman (b. 1941) was born in Minnesota, the grandchild of Ukrainian- and Lithuanian-Jewish immigrants. Listening to the radio as a child, Zimmerman fell in love with music. In high school, he formed a number of bands, mostly doing covers of Elvis Presley. While studying at the University of Minnesota, Zimmerman regularly performed at clubs and coffeehouses near the campus, introducing himself as “Bob Dylan” (after the poet, Dylan Thomas). He soon dropped out of school and moved to New York City. It only took about a year for him to get signed by Columbia Records. Though his first album didn’t do very well, and he was nearly dropped from the record label, Dylan’s second album fared much better. With this album, Dylan showed that he was not only a musician and songwriter, but a talented poet as well. The Beatles described his music as “incredibly original and wonderful”. By 1963, Dylan was tremendously popular, and had become an important part of the civil rights movement, too. He went on to produce an unbelievable 37 albums (so far), selling 120 million copies. His “Like a Rolling Stone” was listed as the greatest song of all time on multiple occasions, and his hand-written lyrics for this song recently sold at an auction for a record $2 million. His 2009 album made him the oldest artist ever to debut at number one on the Billboard 200 chart. Since 1988, Dylan has been on a “Never Ending Tour”, consistently performing around 100 concerts every year, and continuing to perform regularly to this day. Dylan also wrote a novel, published six books of his drawings and paintings, as well as a bestselling autobiography that was nominated for the National Book Award. He has won twelve Grammy Awards, an Oscar, a Golden Globe, and a Presidential Medal of Freedom. Last week, it was announced that he received the Nobel Prize for Literature – the first musician to do so. It has been said that Dylan inspired countless musicians “from Mick Jagger to Eminem”, while President Obama once admitted that “There is not a bigger giant in the history of American music.” TIME Magazine placed him on the list of the 100 Most Important People of the 20th century. Many have argued that Dylan’s lyrics should be studied in schools, and indeed, courses on Bob Dylan are now offered at a number of universities around the world.

Chag Sukkot Sameach!

Words of the Week

Most people worry about their own bellies, and other people’s souls, when we all ought to be worried about our own souls, and other people’s bellies.
– Rabbi Israel Salanter

Bob Dylan at his son Jesse's bar mitzvah at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, 1983

Bob Dylan at his son Jesse’s bar mitzvah at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, 1983