Tag Archives: Shtetl

Jew of the Week: Shimon Peres

A young Shimon Peres with his wife Sonia

A young Shimon Peres with his wife Sonia

Szymon Perski (1923-2016) was born in the shtetl of Vishnyeva (then part of Poland, now in Belarus) to a wealthy Russian-Jewish family. He was the great-great-grandson of the famed Rabbi Chaim Volozhin, and was greatly influenced by his own grandfather, Rabbi Zvi Meltzer. At the young age of 11, Perski’s family moved to Tel Aviv and Hebraized their last name to Peres. (Their entire extended family back in Vishnyeva would later perish in the Holocaust). After finishing his schooling, young Shimon went to live on a kibbutz working as a dairy farmer and shepherd before co-founding his own kibbutz. He was soon elected secretary of a Labor Zionist youth organization. From there, he joined the Mapai party, whose leader David Ben-Gurion took a personal interest in him. At 21, Peres was imprisoned for two weeks by the British for leading an “illegal” expedition into the Negev to scout a new place for Jewish settlement. In 1947, now married, Peres was appointed to the Haganah and put in charge of recruitment and weapons purchases. The following year, he took charge of Israel’s nascent navy. In the 50’s, while part of Israel’s delegation to the US, he studied at NYU and Harvard. At 29, he became the head of Israel’s Ministry of Defence – the youngest person to ever hold the position. He was praised for building strong military alliances with other countries (particularly France, who awarded him their highest distinction, the Legion of Honor), and securing large amounts of modern weapons that propelled Israel into a regional powerhouse. He also helped establish the crucial Dimona nuclear reactor. In 1959, Peres was elected to the Knesset. At one time or another, he served as Minister of Immigrant Absorption, Minister of Transportation, Minister of Defence, Foreign Minister, Minister of Finance, and Information Minister. In 1984, Peres was elected Israel’s prime minister, and in 2007, Israel’s president. Among his other major achievements are the 1976 Entebbe rescue operation (which he pushed through the Cabinet), the 1994 peace treaty with Jordan, and his Peres Center for Peace, which has trained over 250 Arab doctors and brought life-saving treatment to thousands of Arab children. Peres was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994 for his work with the Oslo Accords, was knighted by Queen Elizabeth in 2008, presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012 by Barack Obama, and with the US Congressional Gold Medal in 2014. He was also the author of 11 books. Sadly, following a debilitating stroke, the last of Israel’s founding fathers passed away in his sleep early Wednesday. Dignitaries from around the world are flying in to pay their respects, including past and present heads of state of Germany, France, Canada, Australia, Mexico, and the US – many of whom Peres had guided and advised. President Obama has ordered flags in America to fly at half mast. Despite his age, Peres worked tirelessly until the very last days of his life. He had once said, “Optimists and pessimists die the same way. They just live differently. I prefer to live as an optimist.”

Words of the Week

It’s better to be controversial for the right reasons than to be popular for the wrong reasons.
– Shimon Peres

Jew of the Week: Tribich Lincoln

The Unbelievable Story of a Jew Who Almost Became the Dalai Lama

Lincoln as "Chao Kung"

Lincoln as “Chao Kung”

Trebitsch Ignácz (1879-1943) was born in the shtetl of Paks, in Hungary. The family moved to Budapest when he was a child, and after finishing school, he enrolled in an acting academy. By this point, Ignácz had left his Orthodox Jewish roots, and would often get in trouble with the police. At 18, he ventured to London and made friends with Christian missionaries. Ignácz converted two years later and was off to a seminary in Germany where he became a reverend. He was sent on missionary duty to Montreal, but didn’t last very long there, and returned to England. He changed his name to Ignatius Timothy Tribich Lincoln, or I.T.T. Lincoln, and got his British citizenship in 1909. He met the Archbishop of Canterbury (the head of the Church of England) who appointed Lincoln to be a parish priest in Kent. There, he met the millionaire politician Seebohm Rowntree, who made Lincoln his personal secretary. Somehow, Lincoln managed to get on a Liberal Party ticket and was elected to the British Parliament in 1910 in an upset victory over the favoured incumbent. However, MPs were not paid at the time, and Lincoln was soon bankrupt. He moved to Romania and started an oil business. When the business failed, he moved back to London and applied to become a British spy. The British rejected him, so he went to the Germans and was hired as a double agent. Lincoln traveled to the US, but then the Germans didn’t want him either, so he revealed his story to a magazine, and then had a book written about him. The book was popular enough that the British government was embarrassed by the whole thing, and had him extradited for fraud. Lincoln spent three years in prison. After this, he returned to Germany and rose through the ranks of various right-wing parties, at one point even meeting Hitler. Later on, he sold government secrets and was deported for treason. Lincoln now headed to China. After working for a number of Chinese warlords, Lincoln apparently had a revelation and converted to Buddhism. He became a monk and quickly rose to the high rank of abbot by 1931, at which point he founded his own Buddhist monastery under his new name, Chao Kung. In 1937, he became a spy for Japan, but at the same time seemed to assist Japan’s enemy, China. During World War II, Lincoln reconnected with the Nazis and offered to raise Buddhist support for them. When the 13th Dalai Lama passed away, Lincoln proclaimed himself the new Dalai Lama! Despite strong support from the Japanese, the Tibetans rejected his claim. Lincoln passed away in Shanghai not too long after. While some think he was a crazy adventurer who dangerously played both sides of every conflict to even the odds, others think he was a smooth-talking con artist who was simply exploring the limits of his acting abilities – and perhaps even surprised himself at how far he could go. It seems his only redeeming quality came at the end of his life: Lincoln protested the Holocaust and wrote a strongly-worded letter to Hitler to end the terror. Hitler requested that the Japanese have Lincoln poisoned, and this was likely the cause of his sudden death in 1943.

Words of the Week

People think of education as something they can finish.
– Isaac Asimov