Author Archives: Jew of the Week

Jew of the Week: Amedeo Modigliani

Greatest Painter of All Time?

Amedeo Modigliani (1884-1920) was born to an influential Sephardic Jewish family in Livorno, Italy. As a child, he was often sick and was home-schooled by his mother, his favourite hobby being painting. After nearly dying of typhus, and then tuberculosis, his mother took him on a cross-Italy tour, with an important stop in Florence to see its great artworks. She then signed him up for lessons with master painter Guglielmo Micheli. Modigliani spent several years at Micheli’s school, and proved himself as a creative and original artist. Micheli nicknamed him “superman”, not only for his artistic ability but because Modigliani liked to study and quote the philosophical works of Nietzsche. After some time learning art in Venice, Modigliani settled in Paris in 1906 and lived in the Montmartre commune for poor artists. He was entirely devoted to his art, producing as much as one hundred works per day! Unfortunately, “Modi” (as he was now known) descended into heavy drug and alcohol use, partly to deal with his chronic pains and illnesses. In 1909, he took up sculpting. (In 2010, his Tete carving became the third most expensive sculpture ever sold, going for over $70 million at auction.) He returned to painting in 1914. When World War I broke out, Modi enlisted in the army but was soon kicked out due to poor health. That same year, he had a relationship with renowned British painter Nina Hamnett. He had met her at a café and famously introduced himself simply as “Modigliani, painter and Jew”. He had several other high-profile relationships, including with Russian poet Anna Akhmatova and English writer Beatrice Hastings. He eventually settled down and got married. Modi was famous for being unconventional and uncategorizable as an artist, and for his many rich portraits. His Nu couché nude painting sold for over $170 million in 2015, among the most expensive paintings ever sold, while Nu couché (sur le côté gauche) set a Sotheby’s record in 2018, selling for $157 million. As a result of his illnesses and addictions, Modi died at the young age of 35. The following day, his grieving wife, pregnant with their second child, jumped out a window and committed suicide. Many believe that had Modi lived longer, he would have become the undisputed greatest painter of all time. There are thought to be more fakes of Modigliani’s works today than of any other artist. Two movies have already been made about him, and currently Johnny Depp and Al Pacino are working on a new biopic about his life.

Words of the Week

I only look for the good qualities in every Jew. That way I come to love him.
Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk (1787-1859), the Kotzker Rebbe

Jew of the Week: Max Born

Germany’s Greatest Physicist

Max Born (1882-1970) was born in Breslau (now Wroclaw, Poland) to a German-Jewish family. He first studied at the University of Breslau, then switched to the University of Gottingen where he met renowned mathematician (and former Jew of the Week) Hermann Minkowski, who became one of his mentors. After earning his Ph.D, Born continued his studies at Cambridge. He soon returned to Gottingen to work with Minkowski on unifying electrodynamics with Albert Einstein’s relativity. Over the next few years, Born published 27 important papers that made him a superstar in the world of physics and math. During this time, he met his wife and was pressured to convert to Lutheranism to marry her. He refused. However, in 1914 he received a letter from Max Planck inviting him to become a professor of theoretical physics at the University of Berlin—and to accept this position he would have to become a Christian, since professorships were still barred to Jews. Born ended up “converting” nominally for this reason. With the outbreak of World War I, Born joined a military research unit. During the war, he became best friends with Albert Einstein (who once described Born as the greatest physicist in all of Germany), and also briefly worked with Fritz Haber in discovering the Born-Haber cycle. Born would return to Gottingen, where Werner Heisenberg was one of his main students. Together, they did important work in advancing quantum mechanics. In 1932, Heisenberg won a Nobel Prize for his discoveries in quantum physics, but he protested that Born didn’t receive the prize with him. Another two of Born’s students went on to win Nobel Prizes in physics before he did. (It was only in 1954, two years after retirement, that Born received a Nobel Prize of his own!) Another of his Ph.D students was J. Robert Oppenheimer, later the “father of the atomic bomb”. When the Nazis came to power in 1933, Born was suspended from his job because he was a Jew. He moved to Cambridge temporarily and there wrote a bestselling physics book, as well as a textbook that became the standard for physics students for many decades to come. He then became professor of natural philosophy at the University of Edinburgh. Meanwhile, Born and his wife helped Jewish refugees escape Germany and settle in the UK. After retiring at the age of 70, Born returned to Germany and lived out the rest of his life there. One of his grandchildren is actress and singer Olivia Newton-John, who passed away last week.

Words of the Week

The difference between science and Torah is in the fundamental concept that science does not demand any behaviour. One can be the greatest scientist in the world and behave like the most degraded human, like the Nazis, who achieved the greatest scientific findings while manifesting the most degenerate behaviour…
– Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe

Jew of the Week: Eran Zahavi

Israel’s (and China’s) Greatest Footballer

Eran Zahavi (Photo Credit: Nir Keidar)

Eran Zahavi (b. 1987) was born in Rishon LeZion, Israel, to a French-Jewish father and Israeli mother. He began playing soccer with the Hapoel Tel Aviv club when he was just 6 years old. After completing his IDF service, he started to play for Hapoel Tel Aviv’s senior team. In the 2009-10 season, he helped lead the team to an Israel State Cup, and an Israeli Premier League championship, scoring the winning goal in the 92nd minute of the final. Two years later, he signed a five-year deal with Italian club Palermo, but transferred to Maccabi Tel Aviv half way through the contract. He became the captain during the 2015-16 season, and set an Israeli record scoring 35 goals in 36 games. The following year, he signed with Guangzhou R&F in the Chinese Super League. Zahavi quickly became a top scorer, and was nicknamed “King of Yuexiushan”. Rival team Shandong Luneng Taishan F.C. wanted him badly and offered $20 million for a trade—the most ever for an Israeli football player. In 2017, he was China’s MVP and won a Golden Boot Award. Two years later, he set a new Chinese Super League scoring record. In 2020, Zahavi returned to Europe, signing with Dutch team PSV Eindhoven. He tied the team record for goals that season. At the same time, during the 2020 Euro qualifiers, he was second only to Harry Kane in goals (and tied with Cristiano Ronaldo). In a game against Slovakia, Israel’s team was down 2-0 before Zahavi scored a hat-trick within 20 minutes, giving Israel the 3-2 win. After a couple of unfortunate incidents and attacks on his home in Amsterdam, Zahavi decided to return to Israel. A few weeks ago, he re-signed with Maccabi Tel Aviv for two years. Zahavi was Israeli Footballer of the Year twice, and is the national team’s all-time scoring leader.

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Words of the Week

This phase of existence is finite. Some people live 20 years, some people live 100 years – what’s the difference, really, from the perspective of that which transcends the infinite and the eternal? It’s equally insignificant. What is significant is what you actually do with the time that you do have.
Dr. Vladimir Zev Zelenko, ob”m