Jew of the Week: Larry Tanenbaum

Owner of the Toronto Raptors and Maple Leafs

Lawrence M. Tanenbaum (b. 1945) was born in Toronto, the grandson of religious Polish-Jewish immigrants. His father was a real estate tycoon and the founder and owner of York Steel Construction. Tanenbaum studied economics at Cornell University, where he managed the school’s hockey team. Upon graduating, he became the general manager of Kilmer Van Nostrand, a construction company that his father had recently bought out. Tanenbaum expanded the company rapidly. Among their many projects across the Americas are the Toronto, Atlanta, Miami, and Calgary train and subway networks. After a merger with another company in 1984, Tanenbaum became the CEO of Canada’s largest road paving company. Meanwhile, he created two new subdivisions for Kilmer: its Developments wing which is a leading Canadian real estate firm, and Kilmer Sports, for which Tanenbaum is most famous. Kilmer Sports has a 25% share of Maple Leafs Sports & Entertainment Ltd., and Tanenbaum is the chairman of both the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey team and the Toronto Raptors basketball team. The former is among the most valuable sports clubs in the world, while the latter won the NBA Championship last week for the first time in its history. In fact, Tanenbaum played an instrumental role in bringing a professional basketball team to Toronto. Although he lobbied the NBA for years, the contract was ultimately awarded to another businessman. Undeterred, Tanenbaum vowed to buy it out, and did so in 1998 with the team having struggled tremendously in its first years. Tanenbaum quickly turned its fortunes around (together with Vince Carter, who was drafted that same year.) Tanenbaum is a big sports fan himself, and goes to as many Leafs and Raptors games as he can. MLSE also owns the Toronto Argonauts, Toronto FC, and two more teams, making it Canada’s largest sports company, and one of the largest in the world. Last year, Tanenbaum (with a partner) bought the rights to bottle and distribute Coca-Cola in Canada. Tanenbaum and his family are huge philanthropists, donating countless millions to schools, hospitals, and charities. Among his largest donations are $60 million to Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital, $20 million to Montreal’s Neurological Institute and Hospital, $5 million to the University of Toronto, and $50 million to the UJA. He is a co-founder of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs. Tanenbaum was awarded the Order of Canada in 2007. He plans to take the Toronto Raptors on an all-expenses paid trip to Israel as a victory present.

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Words of the Week

Five thousand years of continuous history of the Jewish people have built an ethic. And the ethic has been built around family, the importance of learning and good behaviour. You build on those tenets. You never stop learning, whether that’s reading the Bible, the Talmud, the New Yorker or Engineering News Record. And ethical behaviour is about conducting your relationships on an ethical basis. You’re honest with people.

– Larry Tanenbaum

Jews of the Week: Murray Gell-Mann and George Zweig

Discovering the Quark

Murray Gell-Mann

Murray Gell-Mann (1929-2019) was born in Manhattan to Austrian-Jewish immigrants from what is now Ukraine. Passionate about math and science from childhood, he graduated high school at the top of his class years ahead, and began studying at Yale when he was 14 on a full scholarship. He had his PhD from MIT by 22. He did research at multiple universities before moving to Caltech in 1955, where he became the youngest professor in the school’s history, and taught there until retirement. In 1958, together with Richard Feynman, he made a huge discovery with regards to the weak nuclear force (one of the four fundamental forces of nature). He went on to make many more important discoveries in the field of quantum physics. He is most famous for proposing the quark model – revolutionizing the world of sub-atomic particles – and for coining the term “quark”. Gell-Mann won a Nobel Prize in 1969 for his work. He is also credited with defending and popularizing string theory. In the 1960s, Gell-Mann was a co-founder of the Jason Division which advised the US military and helped to develop anti-ballistic missiles. He was a science adviser for presidents Nixon and Clinton, and was an editor of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. Later in life, he delved into “complexity science”, tackling some of the most challenging problems in nature (especially biology). He even co-founded the Santa Fe Institute for researching this kind of complex science. Gell-Mann wrote a best-selling science book called The Quark and the Jaguar, and inspired the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect (see below). Sadly, Gell-Mann passed away last month.

George Zweig

Gell-Mann was not alone in his proposal of the quark model. The same model was devised independently by George Zweig (b. 1937), who was born in Moscow to German-Jewish parents fleeing Nazi Germany. The family moved to the US in 1938 and settled in Detroit. Zweig earned a bachelor’s in math in 1959, and a PhD from Caltech in 1964 (a graduate student of Richard Feynman). He then went to work at the world-famous CERN, where he developed the quark model. (He called quarks “aces”, but Gell-Mann’s name stuck.) Zweig continued to do important work in quantum physics for some time before switching to neurobiology. He helped uncover how the cochlea in the ear transduces sounds into nerve impulses, and how the brain maps sounds, and made other key discoveries with regards to the amazing complexity of the ear. He also invented a device called a signiscope. Zweig was a professor at Caltech for over three decades. Nominated for a Nobel Prize, he has yet to win one, though he has won multiple other prestigious science prizes.

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Words of the Week

The Gell-Mann Amnesia effect is as follows: You open the newspaper to an article on some subject you know well… You read the article and see the journalist has absolutely no understanding of either the facts or the issues… you read with exasperation or amusement the multiple errors in a story, and then turn the page to national or international affairs, and read as if the rest of the newspaper was somehow more accurate about Palestine than the baloney you just read.
– Michael Crichton