Category Archives: Business & Finance

Jews in the World of Business and Finance

Jew of the Week: David Wolffsohn

The Man Who Created the Flag of Israel

David Wolffsohn (1856-1914) was born to a poor, religious Jewish family in the Lithuanian-Polish town of Darbenai (then part of Russia). His father was a Torah scholar and teacher, and Wolffsohn, too, was learning in yeshiva with the same goal in mind. In his teens, he was sent to live with relatives in Germany to avoid being conscripted to the Russian army. There, he met the rabbi, philosopher, and early Zionist leader Isaac Rülf, and became his devoted disciple. Meanwhile, Wolffsohn took up secular studies and went on to apprentice at a trading company. In 1877, he started his own flouring business, and was soon one of the most prominent Jewish businessmen in Europe. Henceforth, he dedicated his life to realizing that ancient dream of his people’s return to Israel. He played a key role within the Hovevei Zion movement, and in 1894 was a cofounder of the Society for the Promotion and Support of Jewish Agriculture in Syria and Palestine. When Herzl’s The Jewish State was published two years later, Wolffsohn immediately journeyed to Vienna to meet him. The two became very close and traveled the Holy Land together, setting the foundations for what would become the State of Israel. Not surprisingly, when the World Zionist Congress was founded, Herzl was made its president and Wolffsohn its vice-president. Upon Herzl’s death shortly after, Wolffsohn succeeded him. As president, he was instrumental in reinvigorating Jewish life in the Holy Land (among other things, it was under his tenure that the city of Tel-Aviv was founded). However, Wolffsohn is most famous for being the one who created the flag of modern Israel. Back in 1896, Herzl had written: “We have no flag, and we need one. If we desire to lead many men, we must raise a symbol above their heads. I would suggest a white flag, with seven golden stars…” Herzl’s proposal was good, but his flag gained little support. Wolffsohn responded to Herzl thus: “We have a flag—and it is blue and white. The talit with which we wrap ourselves when we pray: that is our symbol. Let us take this talit from its bag and unroll it before the eyes of Israel and the eyes of all nations…” Wolffsohn designed a simple flag with blue talit-like stripes and a star of David in the centre. The flag caught on quickly, and the rest is history.

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Words of the Week

What is the meaning of human life, or, for that matter, of the life of any creature? To know an answer to this question means to be religious. You ask: Does it make any sense, then, to pose this question? I answer: The man who regards his own life and that of his fellow creatures as meaningless is not merely unhappy but hardly fit for life…
– Albert Einstein

The traditional design of the talit inspired the modern flag of Israel.

Jew of the Week: André Citroën

The Man Who Made the Citroën Car and Helped Win World War I

As a child, André Citroën was inspired by the Eiffel Tower. He lived to see his name displayed on it. This early “billboard” marketing technique is still a Guinness World Record for largest advertising sign.

André-Gustave Citroën (1878-1935) was born in Paris to a Dutch-Jewish father and Polish-Jewish mother. The last name “Citroën” comes from his grandfather, who sold fruit for a living in the Netherlands and was known as Limoenman, so his son made the family last name Citroen, which means “lemon”. As a child, Citroën was inspired by the Eiffel Tower and by the works of Jules Verne and dreamed of becoming an engineer. After graduating with an engineering degree, Citroën went on a trip to Poland to see his mother’s birthplace. There, he saw a carpenter working with a gear that had a “fish bone” structure. Citroën realized that such gears could be used in automobiles to make them quieter and more efficient. He bought the patent from the carpenter, then tweaked the designs until he came up with the automotive double helical gear. The Mors auto company successfully integrated these gears to make better cars, and by 1906 Citroën was the company’s director. With the outbreak of World War I, factories were being converted to produce weapons, and Citroën soon became world-renowned for increasing factory productivity. He took charge of fellow car-maker Renault’s large plant, now having its 35,000 employees making armaments. Citroën’s work played a key role in ensuring the Allies were well-armed and helping them win the war. Following the war, Citroën founded his own Citroën automobile company in 1919. Within just a dozen years, it became the world’s fourth largest car manufacturer. The company was most famous for its executive Traction Avant model, which pioneered a number of revolutionary features including independent suspensions on all four wheels and front-wheel drive. Investing so much money into research and development ultimately drove the company to bankruptcy and it was bought out by its tire maker Michelin. Citroën died the following year from cancer. He was buried in Paris’ famous Montparnasse Cemetery, with a traditional Jewish ceremony presided by Paris’ chief rabbi. A number of streets and parks in the city are named after him, and in 1998 Citroën was inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame. Meanwhile, his company retained his original vision, and continued to pioneer many new technologies (like modern disc brakes, self-leveling suspensions, and swiveling headlights), becoming one of the most iconic car brands in the world.

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Words of the Week

If someone says,“I have worked hard, and I have not been successful,” don’t believe him. If someone says,“I have not worked hard and I have been successful,” don’t believe him. If someone says,“I have worked hard and I have been successful,” believe him!
– Talmud (Megillah 6b)

The double helical gear inspired the Citroën logo.