Author Archives: Jew of the Week

Jew of the Week: Jacques Spreiregen

The World’s Coolest Hats

Yakov Henryk Spreiregen (1894-1982) was born to a Jewish family in Warsaw. The family immigrated to France when he was a young man—where he changed his name to Jacques—and then to England to escape the First World War. Spreiregen found a job working for a hatmaker, but was soon called up to serve in the military. After returning to England following his service, he started importing military-style berets from France. He then began making his own hats from high-quality angora wool. In 1938, Spreiregen leased an old thread factory in northwest England and founded Kangol (a name he made up from “knitting angora wool”). The company initially struggled to turn a profit, and many of the first employees were his own family members. Eventually, the hats did become popular, and earned a reputation for quality and durability. During World War II, Spreiregen won a contract to outfit the British army with berets. By the end of the war, he was making a million hats a year! Kangol later outfitted the English Olympic team, and the crew of British Airways. The company went public in 1952. Two years later, Spreiregen started a new division to produce helmets and seat belts. Kangol went on to become the largest seat belt manufacturer in Europe. In 1964, Kangol made a deal with The Beatles to make their branded hats. Soon, Kangol hats were popular among American hip hop artists, too, and have since been sported by the likes of Grandmaster Flash, Madonna, Brad Pitt, and Princess Diana. The most famous wearer of Kangol hats is undoubtedly Samuel L. Jackson, who has said that it’s a family tradition going back to his grandfather. Spreiregen retired from the company in 1972. Just a few years later, it would officially become the world’s largest hatmaker. Because Americans would often ask for the “kangaroo” hats when shopping, Kangol made their logo a kangaroo in 1983, a year after Spreiregen passed away.

14 Facts You Should Know About the Book of Psalms

The Caesar Who Saved Judaism

Words of the Week

The real danger of antisemitism is not what others think of us, but what it makes us think of ourselves.
– Rabbi Manis Friedman

Jew of the Week: Milton Friedman

The Great Liberator

Milton Friedman (1912-2006) was born in Brooklyn to poor Jewish immigrants from what is today Ukraine (then part of Hungary). He graduated high school at just 15 and earned a big scholarship to Rutgers University. Initially wishing to be a mathematician, the Great Depression inspired Friedman to become an economist instead. After post-graduate studies at the University of Chicago, and a fellowship at Columbia University, Friedman headed to Washington to work as an economist for the government. To help pay for World War II, it was Friedman who introduced the payroll withholding tax system (“pay-as-you-earn”), where income taxes are deducted automatically from an employee’s paycheck. (Friedman later regretted it very much and said he wished it hadn’t been necessary.) He also spent much of the war working on weapons design and military statistics. He finally earned his Ph.D from Columbia after the war, following which he took a professorship at the University of Chicago, where he taught for the next 30 years. He wrote a popular weekly column for Newsweek, for which he won a prestigious award. His 1962 book Capitalism and Freedom was an international bestseller and made Friedman world-famous, while his A Monetary History of the United States became the standard textbook for understanding the Great Depression and the effects of monetary policy. Friedman argued passionately for a free-market economy and for the government to stay out of business. He proposed such important concepts as the permanent income hypothesis, the quantity theory of money, floating exchange rates, sequential sampling, and the natural rate of unemployment. He also argued for abolishing the Federal Reserve, whom he blamed for many economic ills. He was opposed to minimum wages and foresaw that they would actually lead to increases in unemployment. He is also credited with bringing an end to America’s military draft, transitioning the US military into an all-volunteer paid army. He believed conscription was unethical and prevented young men from choosing their own life path. Friedman later said abolishing the draft was his greatest and proudest accomplishment. Friedman won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1976. After retiring from the University of Chicago the following year, he continued to do research in San Francisco, and also worked on a popular ten-part TV show called Free to Choose (the companion text of which was the bestselling nonfiction book of 1980). Friedman was an economic advisor to Ronald Reagan, and was called the “guru” of the Reagan administration. In 1988, he won a National Medal of Science and a Presidential Medal of Freedom. Friedman stayed busy until his final days, and his last article for The Wall Street Journal was published a day after his death! He has been called “the Great Liberator” and has been compared to Adam Smith. The Milton Friedman Prize for Advancing Liberty is named after him. He is widely considered one of history’s most significant economists. Today was his yahrzeit.

The End of World War I and the Beginning of the Jewish State

Words of the Week

A society that aims for equality before liberty will end up with neither equality nor liberty.
Milton Friedman

Jews of the Week: Sarah of Yemen and Qasmuna bint Ismail

Great Arabic Poets

The single surviving poem of Sarah of Yemen

Sarah (fl. 6th-7th century) was born to the Jewish Banu Qurayza clan of the Arabian Peninsula, in the pre-Islamic era when much of the peninsula was inhabited by Jews. Her family originally hailed from what is today Yemen. They lived in Yathrib, the flourishing oasis of the Banu Qurayza Jews. In 622, Muhammad entered the city, and in 627 he annihilated the Banu Qurayza tribe (and renamed the city “Medina”, making it the first capital of the Islamic empire). Sarah was a poet, and one of her poems describing the devastation of Yathrib has survived. It was first printed in a 10th-century anthology of Arabic poems called Kitab al-Aghani. She wrote: “By my life, there is a people not long in Du Hurud; obliterated by the wind. Men of Qurayza destroyed by Khazraji swords and lances; We have lost, and our loss is so grave…” According to legend, she fought in the battle against Muhammad and was killed. (In a little-known quirk of history, Muhammad actually took two of the Jewish captives for himself as wives, and one of them is even considered a “mother of Islam”!) Incredibly, Sarah of Yemen may be history’s oldest and first known Arabic poet.

Another famous Jewish-Arab poet was Qasmuna bint Ismail (fl. 11th-12th century), who lived in Andalusia (today’s Spain). She was the child of a wealthy and well-educated Jew, who made sure his daughter was literate and taught her the art of poetry. Qasmuna is the only Sephardic Jewish female poet whose work has survived. Three of her poems were published in a 15th century anthology. In one of her poems she wrote: “Always grazing, here in this garden; I’m dark-eyed just like you, and lonely; We both live far from friends, forsaken; patiently bearing our fate’s decree.” In another she describes reaching the age of marriage and the struggle of finding the right partner: “I see an orchard, Where the time has come; For harvesting, But I do not see; A gardener reaching out a hand, Towards its fruits; Youth goes, vanishing; I wait alone, For somebody I do not wish to name.” She has also been referred to as “Qasmuna the Jewess” and “Xemone”.

The Guardian Angels of Israel

Back When Palestinians Insisted There’s No Such Thing as Palestine

Words of the Week

In Judaism the word for “education” (chinukh) is the same as for “consecration”. Is your child being consecrated for a life of beneficence for Israel and humanity?
Rabbi Dr. J.H. Hertz, former Chief Rabbi of Britain