Jew of the Week: Claudia Sheinbaum

Mayor of Mexico City

Claudia Sheinbaum Pardo (b. 1962) was born in Mexico City to a family of Jewish immigrants. Her father is an Ashkenazi Jew of Lithuanian heritage, while her mother is a Sephardic Jew from Bulgaria. Both of her parents were respected scientists, and Sheinbaum followed in their footsteps. She studied physics and went on to earn a Ph.D in energy engineering. She did research at a US Department of Energy lab in California. In 1995, Sheinbaum became a professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. A few years later, she won the prize for “young researcher in engineering and technological innovation”. Sheinbaum soon became a leading expert on climate change and the environment. She has published over 100 scientific papers and two books. In 2000, she was appointed Mexico City’s Secretary of the Environment, and served in the role for the next six years. Following this, she joined the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and did important work for the organization that helped it win the Nobel Peace Prize. In 2015, Sheinbaum became the mayor of Tlalpan, one of Mexico City’s 16 boroughs. Soon after, she was nominated for mayor of all of Mexico City, and won a six-year term in 2018, easily beating out six other candidates in a landslide. Sheinbaum became the city’s first-ever Jewish mayor, and its first elected female mayor, too. Since then, she has been praised for her work in managing North America’s largest city. She has made significant strides in cleaning it up and reducing waste, fighting corruption, modernizing the transportation system, and upgrading sanitation. She has also been commended for her handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Earlier this year, she was nominated for the World Mayor prize, awarded biennially to the best city leaders on the globe. Some are already predicting her to be a strong candidate for the 2024 Mexican presidential election. Sheinbaum was included in the BBC’s 100 Women, and was recently ranked among the world’s 50 Most Influential Jews.

Words of the Week

When I find the road narrow, and can see no other way of teaching a well-established truth except by pleasing one intelligent man and displeasing ten thousand fools, I prefer to address myself to the one man, and to take no notice of the condemnation of the multitude.
– Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon (1138-1204), “Maimonides”, Guide for the Perplexed

Jew of the Week: Mort Sahl

Father of Stand-Up Comedy

Morton Lyon Sahl (1927-2021) was born in Montreal to an immigrant Jewish family, and grew up in Los Angeles where his father unsuccessfully sought to become a Hollywood writer. As a 15-year old during World War II, Sahl dropped out of high school and joined the US Army by lying about his age. Though the trick didn’t work, Sahl did eventually join the US Air Force. After leaving the military, he earned a degree in urban planning but dropped out of his Master’s program to become an actor and writer. For several years, he struggled to find a gig as a comedian (NBC told him he would never be one!) In the meantime, he worked various odd jobs to make a living, including selling used cars. Eventually, he managed to get hired at the hungry i club in San Francisco for $75 a week. His stand-up show was an instant hit and by the end of the year, he was performing for packed audiences and making $3000 a week. Sahl then travelled extensively to play at various major venues, introducing the art of stand-up (then still new and relatively unknown) to audiences across the country. Instead of being formal and in a suit, reading out a rehearsed performance, Sahl would go on stage in casual dress and a cool attitude, improvising much of the material. He was the first to poke fun at real issues instead of just “reciting punch lines”. For these reasons, Sahl is often called the “father of stand-up comedy”. In 1960, he was featured on the cover of TIME and described as “the best of the New Comedians”. One of Sahl’s biggest fans was President Kennedy, who had Sahl write jokes for him. This was despite the fact that Sahl was primarily a political satirist, and regularly roasted the government (he was once described as “the only real political philosopher” in comedy). He attacked the mainstream media as “spoon-feeding” the public and creating an “ignorance that may sink this country”. After his friend Kennedy’s assassination, Sahl obsessed over finding the perpetrators, and his “dangerous” political messages led to him being blacklisted by nightclubs. Because of this, he was soon mostly forgotten. Sahl was noted for his clean, profanity-free comedy, and his sober image, staying away from cigarettes, drugs, and alcohol. He appeared in over a dozen films and TV shows, and was also the first comedian to record an album, opening the door for countless others to do the same. He was the first comedian to win a Grammy, too. Sahl has been ranked among the greatest comedians of all time by Comedy Central. He inspired an entire generation of future comedians, including Woody Allen, George Carlin, Jon Stewart, Bill Cosby, and Robin Williams. Sadly, Mort Sahl passed away last month.

Chanukah Begins This Sunday Night – Chag Sameach!

Chanukah: From Oppression to Freedom (Video)

Death of Hellenism, Then and Now

Words of the Week

…This generation [of Jews] is making up for it by assimilating and becoming nothing. You know, vanilla ice cream. What I’m trying to say is, if I’m Jewish, then they are a fraud. And if they are Jewish, I don’t want to be that.
– Mort Sahl

Jew of the Week: Moshe Safdie

Visionary Architect

Moshe Safdie (b. 1938) was born in Haifa to a Mizrachi Jewish family originally from Syria. He grew up on a kibbutz where he was a beekeeper and goatherd. When he was 15, the family moved to Montreal, Canada. Safdie went on to study architecture at McGill University. For his thesis, he came up with the idea of 3D, prefabricated modular units. Safdie quickly made a name for himself as a young architect and, at just 23, was invited to design Habitat 67 during Montreal’s World Expo. In 1970, Safdie opened a branch of his firm in Jerusalem to focus on restoring the Old City and building up the new city post-reunification. He designed the famous Porat Yosef Yeshiva (originally the vision of the great Ben Ish Chai), the beautiful Mamilla Center, as well as Yad Vashem, and Ben Gurion International Airport. Safdie achieved international renown, and went on to design some of the most iconic buildings in the world (see below). This includes the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore, the National Gallery of Canada, and the world’s longest “horizontal skyscraper” in China. Meanwhile, Safdie has taught at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, and directed it for a number of years. He has also published a dozen books, and has been featured in six films. Today, Safdie Architects has offices in Boston, Jerusalem, Toronto, Shanghai, and Singapore. Safdie is still deeply involved, and maintains a research fellowship at his firm to develop new architectural ideas and futuristic projects. He has won countless awards, including the Order of Canada, the Wolf Prize in Architecture, and multiple honorary doctorates. The Moshe Safdie Archive at McGill University is among the largest architectural collections in the world, with over 140,000 drawings, 100,000 photos, and over 2000 sketches.

*November is Mizrachi Heritage Month.*

Moshe Safdie at TED: How to Reinvent the Apartment Building

Words of the Week

Woe to mankind! For they see, but do not know what they see; they stand, but do not know upon what they stand.
Rabbi Yose (Talmud, Chagigah 12b)

Some of Moshe Safdie’s best-known projects, clockwise from top left: Porat Yosef Yeshiva in Jerusalem’s Old City, Kauffman Center in Kansas City, National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, Habitat 67 in Montreal, Jewel Changqi Airport in Singapore, and Marina Bay Sands in Singapore.