Tag Archives: Poland

Jews of the Week: Nathan, Benzion and Yoni Netanyahu

Nathan Mileikowsky (1879-1935) was born in what is now Belarus to an Orthodox Jewish family descended from the great Vilna Gaon. When he was ten, he joined the famous Volozhin yeshiva and after eight years of diligent study was ordained as a rabbi. During this time he became drawn to Zionism and soon dedicated his time to the Zionist cause. He traveled across Europe, Russia, and later the United States to raise support for Zionism – becoming one of the world’s most popular Zionist speakers – as well as to raise money for the Jewish National Fund. In 1920, Mileikowsky made aliyah to Israel. He headed a school in Rosh Pina, promoted settlement of the Galilee, and wrote¬†articles for the Hebrew press – often under the pen name “Netanyahu”. He continued to tour globally, at one point giving over 700 lectures in under 9 months, and publishing some of these talks in a popular book. Towards the end of his life, Mileikowsky settled in Herzliya and established a farm.

Benzion Netanyahu

Benzion Netanyahu

His son, Benzion Mileikowsky (1910-2012), was born in Warsaw while Nathan was head of its Hebrew Gymnasium. Growing up in Israel, he adopted his father’s pen name “Netanyahu”. Benzion studied at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, taking on a more hard-line approach to Zionism. He became editor of a number of Zionist newspapers, and later the chief editor of the Encyclopaedia Hebraica. In 1940, Benzion moved to New York to build American support for the Jewish state, serving as executive director of an American Zionist group. Later on, he became a professor of Judaic studies and medieval history at Cornell University. Benzion published five books on Jewish history, and edited a number of others. His three sons are: Iddo, a doctor and author;¬†Benjamin, Israel’s current prime minister; and Yoni, the eldest son.

Last known photograph of Yoni Netanyahu

Last known photograph of Yoni Netanyahu

Yonatan “Yoni” Netanyahu (1946-1976) was born in New York, went to high school in Pennsylvania, and studied at Harvard. He first enlisted in the IDF in 1964, and fought in the Six-Day War, getting wounded while rescuing a soldier behind enemy lines. A few years later, he joined Israel’s special forces unit, Sayeret Matkal, and by 1972 became its deputy commander. For his heroic service during the 1973 Yom Kippur War he was awarded a distinguished medal. In 1976, now commander of Sayeret Matkal, Yoni led Operation Entebbe, successfully rescuing over 100 Israeli hostages held in Uganda. Sadly, Yoni was the mission’s sole casualty, and passed away during the flight back home. In 1980, his personal letters were published, and were described as a “remarkable work of literature”. Both a film and play have recently been made about his life.

Words of the Week

God treats a person the same way they treat their children.
– Rabbi Shlomo of Karlin

Jew of the Week: Fritz Haber

Fritz Haber

Fritz Haber

Fritz Haber (1868-1934) was born to a traditional Jewish-German family in what is today Poland. He studied chemistry in Berlin, receiving his doctorate in 1891 and then going to apply his expertise in his father’s successful dyes and pharmaceuticals business. The two didn’t work well together, though, and Haber returned to academia. (In order to obtain a higher position at a time when Jews were barred from such posts, Haber nominally converted to Christianity.) His research in organic chemistry, electrochemistry, dye technology, gasses, and textiles brought him a great deal of recognition. In 1898 he was made an associate professor, and by 1906 a full professor at Karlsruhe University, among the most prestigious schools in Germany. It was there that Haber made his biggest breakthrough. Together with Carl Bosch, he invented a process that would quickly and cheaply produce ammonia (the key component of fertilizer) from abundant atmospheric nitrogen. Until then, ammonia had to be mined from very limited reserves. Today, over 100 million tons of ammonia is made annually using the “Haber Process”, helping to feed half of the world’s population. Haber won the 1918 Nobel Prize for this work. Unfortunately, Haber also applied his know-how to less honourable endeavours. Aside from the fact that ammonia is a central ingredient of explosives, too, and the Haber Process helped to arm the German military, Haber headed the Ministry of War’s Chemistry Section during World War I, developing gasses for chemical warfare (as well as the gas masks to protect from them). To be fair, many of the world’s top chemists during this time period worked on chemical warfare to assist in their nation’s war effort. As Haber himself said, “During peace time a scientist belongs to the World, but during war time he belongs to his country.” His wife did not agree, and committed suicide after failing to convince him to abandon his project. After the war, Haber started a company that produced pesticides. Incredibly, their most famous product was Zyklon B, later used in the gas chambers of the Holocaust. Haber fled Germany when the Nazis came to power. He accepted a position in what would later be the Weizmann Institute in Israel, but passed away on the journey there. Few people have at once been able to cause both so much harm and so much good. While half of the world’s food production today depends on the Haber process, so do much of its explosives, and Haber is often called “the father of chemical warfare”. Haber’s work simultaneously brought death to millions of people, and life to millions more.

Words of the Week

When God desired to create man, Truth said: “He should not be created, for he is full of lies.” Kindness said: “He should be created, for he is full of kindness.”
– Midrash Rabbah, Bereshit 8:5