Segundo Zerubbabel Tzidkiya Villaneuva (1927-2008) was born in a small village in the Andes Mountains of Peru to a Catholic family. When he was 21, his father was murdered and Villaneuva discovered a Bible while going through his father’s things. He started reading the Bible and going to church regularly. However, as he went deeper into his studies, he found no good answers to his questions. He was puzzled by Christian observance of the Sabbath on Sunday instead of Saturday, as the Torah clearly commands. Villaneuva soon became a Seventh-Day Adventist. But the problems and inconsistencies persisted. He learned Hebrew and began reading Scripture in the original language. He then discovered that Christians had mistranslated the Torah to suit their needs, and twisted what the Tanakh really said about the concept of Mashiach, the messiah. After many years, Villaneuva decided to convert to Judaism. He started his own congregation with a group of like-minded individuals, called Bnei Moshe. The movement grew to some 500 individuals, many of whom also found out that they actually had Jewish ancestors—Sephardic Jews who were forcibly converted to Christianity during the Inquisition (called Anusim or Conversos). It took many years, but in August of 1989 a delegation of Israeli rabbis came to Peru and converted Villaneuva and 160 others. Villanueva took on the Hebrew name “Zerubbabel Tzidkiya”. The following year, he made aliyah with a large group of Bnei Moshe. This motivated two more groups of Peruvians to convert to Judaism and make aliyah, including the Bnei Abraham and the Inca Jews. Villaneuva’s story inspired countless others in Latin America to convert to Judaism or explore their Sephardic Jewish ancestry. It is estimated that there are now some 60 communities in 14 countries across Latin America that have returned to Judaism. Villaneuva passed away in Israel and was buried on the Mount of Olives. He has been called “The Prophet of the Andes”.
The Jews are a peculiar people: things permitted to other nations are forbidden to the Jews. Other nations drive out thousands, even millions of people, and… no one says a word about refugees. But in the case of Israel, the displaced Arabs have become eternal refugees… Other nations, when victorious on the battlefield, dictate peace terms. But when Israel is victorious, it must sue for peace. – Eric Hoffer
Benjamin Nathan Cardozo (1870-1938) was born in New York City to a traditional Sephardic Jewish family that immigrated to America before the Revolution. The family grew wealthy and influential over the decades, and Cardozo’s father was a New York Supreme Court judge while his uncle (who he was named after) had been vice president of the New York Stock Exchange. His cousin was (former Jew of the Week) Emma Lazarus. Cardozo went into law like his father, studying at Columbia and passing the bar in 1891. After more than two decades of practicing law, the widely beloved Cardozo got elected to the New York Supreme Court. He continued as judge in various positions and on different courts until being appointed to the US Supreme Court in 1932. The New York Times wrote of this that “seldom, if ever, in the history of the Court has an appointment been so universally commended.” It was one of the few cases in American history that a Democrat judge was appointed by a Republican president. (President Hoover originally did not want Cardozo since there was “already a Jew” on the court, Louis Brandeis.) Cardozo went on to be hugely influential in the development of American law. His collected lectures given at Yale University are still standard reading for judges today. He was also a cofounder of the American Law Institute, to “promote the clarification and simplification of the law and its better adaptation to social needs, to secure the better administration of justice, and to encourage and carry on scholarly and scientific legal work.” Totally absorbed in his work, Cardozo never married or had children. He is regarded as one of the greatest Supreme Court justices in American history. Yeshiva University’s Cardozo School of Law is named after him.
Words of the Week
… any talk of driving the Jews into the Mediterranean, as we have heard over the last few weeks or the last several years, is not only unrealistic talk, but it is suicidal talk for the whole world and I think also it is terribly immoral. We must see what Israel has done for the world. It is a marvelous demonstration of what people together in unity and with determination, rugged determination, can do in transforming almost a desert into an oasis. – Martin Luther King, Jr.
Sara “Surika” Braverman (1918-2013) was born in Romania. She joined Hashomer Hatzair, the Zionist youth movement, when she was just 9 years old. She made aliyah at 20 and co-founded Kibbutz Shamir in the Galilee. She served with the pre-IDF Haganah, and then joined its elite special forces unit, the Palmach. During World War II, she agreed to join a group of soldiers to form a “Jewish commando” unit that would parachute into Nazi-occupied Europe with the British Special Operations Executive (SOE). The mission was to go undercover and assist in underground operations while rescuing Allied pilots and helping Jews escape. Out of 240 that volunteered, 110 were taken for training in Egypt, and 33 were ultimately selected, including Braverman.
Another inductee was Hanna Szenes (1921-1944), originally from Hungary. Her parents noted her bright mind early on, and put her in a prestigious private school. However, Jewish students had to pay triple the tuition, and Szenes nearly dropped out because she couldn’t afford it. (The school later reduced her tuition as she was a gifted student.) Such discrimination led her to become a passionate Zionist. Upon graduation, she made aliyah and studied at the Nahalal Girls’ Agricultural School. Szenes soon joined a kibbutz, as well as the Haganah. In 1943, she joined the British Women’s Auxiliary Air Force and became a paratrooper. She was then recruited by the SOE and met Sara Braverman. In March of 1944, they were air-dropped in Yugoslavia. Their mission to go into Hungary was called off, but Szenes went anyway with part of the group. They were captured and tortured. Szenes refused to give up any information, and was ultimately executed by firing squad. Her remains were returned to Israel in 1950, and her diary and inspiring poems (in both Hebrew and Hungarian) were posthumously published and became hugely popular. Meanwhile, Braverman had stayed behind and joined Josip Tito’s underground partisans. When her mission ended, she was smuggled out through Italy and returned home. At the start of Israel’s War of Independence, Braverman founded the IDF Women’s Corps at the request of Chief of Staff Yaakov Dori. She recruited 32 other women and the group trained together in Tel Aviv. She went on to promote IDF service among Israeli women for decades to come, and is today known as the “IDF’s First Lady”.