Tag Archives: Russian 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!

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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: Frank Gehry

“The Most Important Architect of Our Age”

gehryFrank Owen Ephraim Goldberg (b. 1929) was born in Toronto, the son of a Russian-Jewish father from New York, and a Polish-Jewish mother. As a child, he enjoyed constructing model buildings and cities with his grandmother, using scraps from his grandfather’s hardware store. After he finished high school, the family moved to California and he soon enrolled in architecture studies. It was there, because of ceaseless anti-Semitism, that he changed his last name to “Gehry”. Meanwhile, he worked as a truck driver, radio announcer, and served in the US Army before going to Harvard for graduate studies in design. Gehry got an architecture job back in Los Angeles and started wowing people with his unique designs. After a stint in Paris, he opened up his own practice. In 1989, he won the Pritzker Architecture Prize, bringing him even more fame. His Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain was described as “the greatest building of our time”. It inspired what is now called the Bilbao Effect – a “revitalization of cities through iconic, innovative architecture.” Since then, Gehry has become the world’s most influential and well-known architect, and is regularly involved with some of the most high profile projects around the globe. In addition to lecturing as Professor of Architecture at the University of Southern California, Gehry also designs museum sets and exhibitions, furniture, sculptures, and has created six lines of jewellery for Tiffany & Co. He also designed the World Cup of Hockey, and developed new architectural software. Gehry has won countless awards, including the Order of Canada, and last week received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Sydney Pollack made a documentary about Gehry’s work, and Vanity Fair described him as “the most important architect of our age.”

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Words of the Week

I never wanted to be the next Bruce Lee. I just wanted to be the first Jackie Chan.
– Jackie Chan

gehry-project