Category Archives: Arts & Entertainment

Jews in the World of Art & Entertainment

Jew of the Week: Billy Joel

Piano Man

William Martin Joel (b. 1949) was born in New York to an immigrant Jewish family with German and English heritage. Both of his parents were music enthusiasts, and compelled little Billy to start piano lessons at age 4. Often picked on as a teen, he decided to take up boxing and soon became an amateur champion. He only retired from boxing after seriously breaking his nose. To support his impoverished family, Joel played piano at a bar most nights. Because of this, he missed many exams and failed to graduate from high school. He decided to pursue a music career instead, inspired by the success of The Beatles. Joel first played for a number of bands, including the Echoes, the Emeralds, the Lost Souls, the Hassles, and Attila. He recorded his first solo album in 1970, but it did not do well. He went on tour and at one point opened for The Beach Boys. In 1972, Joel signed with Columbia Records and moved to LA. The first album was Piano Man, with its eponymous hit song making Joel famous. (“Piano Man” was later ranked among the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time by Rolling Stone.) His 1977 album The Stranger became Columbia Records’ all-time bestseller. In 1987, Joel performed in the Soviet Union, one of the first Americans to do so. All in all, Joel produced 13 albums, winning 5 Grammy Awards (out of 23 nominations) and selling over 160 million records worldwide. He is America’s fourth-best-selling solo artist. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999, and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He has also been awarded 7 honourary degrees. Aside from music, Joel is passionate about boating and runs the Long Island Boat Company as a side-business. Despite nearing his 73rd birthday, he is still performing.

Purim Begins Tonight! Chag Sameach!

The Purim Code That Prophesied the Nazi Nuremberg Trials

Purim-themed posts from the Jew of the Week archives: Esther, Mordechai, and Daniel

Words of the Week

I have frequently had cause to comment upon the extraordinary generosity and liberality of the American Jews in their charitable contributions. Indeed, their voluntary contributions exceed that of any other American group, and range from the stinted savings of the poorest workman to the full outpouring of those in more fortunate positions.
– President Herbert Hoover

Jews of the Week: Aura Herzog and Tova Berlinski

In Memory of Two Great Israeli Women

Aura Ambache (1924-2022) was born in Egypt to a Jewish family of Russian and Polish heritage, that had been expelled from Yafo by the Turks before World War I. Ambache went to French schools in Egypt before heading to South Africa for university studies in math and physics. The family moved back to Israel in 1946 and Ambache joined the Jewish Agency. The following year, she married Chaim Herzog, who would go on to become Israel’s sixth president. Both husband and wife fought in the War of Independence, with Mrs. Herzog serving as an intelligence officer with Unit 8200. She was seriously injured during an attack on the Jewish Agency building. In 1958, she helped organize the first Chidon Tanach, the International Bible Contest, and between 1959 and 1968 was the head of Israel’s Department of Culture. The following year, she founded the Council for a Beautiful Israel, an NGO which works to preserve the environment of the Holy Land and boost the standard of living in the country. Herzog also wrote a book called Secrets of Hospitality. Between 1983 and 1993, she was Israel’s First Lady. Sadly, Herzog passed away last week. Her son Isaac Herzog is the current President of Israel, while son Michael Herzog is Israel’s ambassador to the US.

Tova Gusta Wolf (1915-2022) was born in Oswiecim (Auschwitz), Poland to a Hasidic family, the oldest of six children. She was very active in the Beitar Zionist youth movement and during this time met her husband Eliyahu Berlinski. The young couple decided to make aliyah together in 1938, as soon as they married. (They had to sneak in past British authorities who had then restricted Jewish immigration to the Holy Land.) This prescient move saved their lives. Back in Poland, Tova’s entirely family (except for one sister) would perish in the Holocaust. While originally interested in acting and theatre, the loss of her family inspired her to grieve through painting. Berlinski went on to study at the renowned Bezalel Academy of Arts in Jerusalem, and spent time learning with the abstract expressionists in Paris. She won the Jerusalem Prize in 1963 and became one of Israel’s most famous painters. She has been described as the artist who “painted the pain of Auschwitz”. In 2000, she received the Mordechai Ish-Shalom Award for Lifetime Achievement. Sadly, Berlinski passed away earlier this week, aged 106. She had been painting until her last days.

Words of the Week

We need leaders not in love with money but in love with justice. Not in love with publicity but in love with humanity.
– Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Jew of the Week: Bob Shad

The Producer Who Discovered Janis Joplin

Bob Shad (Courtesy: Herman Leonard Photography)

Abraham Shadrinsky (1920-1985) was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. His parents were early Bolsheviks that were actively fighting the Czar, and his father was exiled before the Russian Revolution. Young Abee Shadrinsky soon became “Bobby Shad”. His passion was music and especially the popular jazz of the time. In the 1940s, when the music producers’ union went on strike, a totally inexperienced Shad took the opportunity to go to the Savoy Label and offered to produce some jazz. He spent much of the next forty years in the recording studio, producing over 800 albums. He founded the great Emercy jazz label for Mercury Records, as well as Sitting In, Time, Brent, and Mainstream Records. He recorded many of the jazz legends and was personally responsible for developing the careers of greats like Quincy Jones, Sarah Vaughan, Dinah Washington, and Clifford Brown. He recorded pop artists, too, including Patti Page, the Platters, and Vic Damone. Shad was an incredibly creative man who was able to foresee many of the trends in music, such as early stereo, high fidelity, avant-garde, and acid rock. In the sixties, it was Shad who first discovered Ted Nugent and Janis Joplin, recording and producing her first album with the Big Brother band. Joplin went on to become one of the top-selling musicians in American history, and was ranked among the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time by Rolling Stone. Despite the great success, Shad lived modestly and remained true to his love of music, devoting most of his career and financial resources to the world of jazz. Having grown up in an atheistic home, he was not religious. Nonetheless, he was a real Jew at heart and was deeply in dialogue with God, especially regarding the Holocaust. He would often recount how special the Jewish people were and, because he was a pilot and had a private twin engine plane, he even assisted in smuggling arms for Israel at one point! Altogether, Shad recorded thousands of songs, including some of the greatest hits of the 20th century (listen to some of his music here). He is the father of Hollywood screenwriter Samantha Shad, and grandfather of author and professor Robert Apatow, and comedy filmmaker Judd Apatow.*

Words of the Week

People think loving one’s fellow means to give him a pat on the back. Loving one’s fellow means that if a Jew on the other side of the world has a problem, you feel it.
Rabbi Yisroel Friedman, the Ruzhiner Rebbe (1796-1850)


*The above Jew of the Week was a guest submission by Robert (Avraham) Apatow, about his grandfather Bob Shad.