Category Archives: Writers & Thinkers

Jews in the Wonderful World of Literature, Thought, and Scholarship

Jew of the Week: Daniel Kahneman

In Memory of a Nobel Prize-Winning Researcher

Daniel Kahneman (1934-2024) was born in Tel-Aviv to Lithuanian Jews who made aliyah from France. His uncle, Rabbi Yosef Shlomo Kahaneman, was the head of the famed Ponevezh Yeshiva. Kahneman spent much of his youth in Paris—including during the Holocaust years under the Vichy regime—before returning to Israel in 1948. He studied psychology and mathematics at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University, and later became a psychologist for the IDF, where he developed the standard recruitment interview. Kahneman then moved to the United States to study at UC Berkeley, and earned a Ph.D in psychology in 1961. He returned to Jerusalem to teach at Hebrew University, and was also a visiting professor at the University of Michigan and at Harvard. He researched a variety of fascinating subjects in cognitive psychology, including attention, judgement, memory, biases, happiness, and decision-making. His key conclusion was that people are actually not rational decision-makers, and tend to make counterproductive choices based on biases and preconceived notions. His classic 1998 paper on the “focusing illusion” demonstrates how people tend to overestimate a single factor when predicting happiness. For instance, although studies showed that people across America had relatively the same levels of happiness, people would believe Californians are happier because they overestimated the effects of nice weather. Kahneman is perhaps most famous for his work in integrating psychology with economics, or “behavioural economics”, earning him the 2002 Nobel Prize in Economics. Over the course of his career, Kahneman also taught at Princeton, UC Berkeley, and the University of British Columbia. He wrote several bestselling books and was awarded numerous prizes and honorary degrees. Sadly, Kahneman passed away last week. He has been hailed as one of the most important thinkers of the 20th century.

Words of the Week

Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.
– Marie Curie


From the Archives: In Memory of Joe Liberman

Jew of the Week: Zelda Mishkovsky

Israel’s Hasidic National Poet

Shaina Zelda Schneersohn (1914-1984) was born in what is now Ukraine, then part of the Russian Empire, to a religious family of Chabad Hasidim. She was a first cousin of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. An only child, she made aliyah with her parents when she was 12. The family settled in Jerusalem, where Zelda went on to study at the city’s Bezalel Academy of Arts in the hopes of being a professional painter. She ultimately became a teacher and taught at school in Tel-Aviv, Haifa, and Jerusalem. (One of her students was renowned writer Amos Oz). Meanwhile, she wrote poems and essays for local newspapers, and slowly gained a large following of fans. After marrying Hayim Mishkovsky, Zelda became a full-time writer and poet. She published her first collections of poems in 1967, blending themes from both Israel and Russia, infused with religious symbols and mystical concepts from Kabbalah and Hasidism, often mixing Modern Hebrew with Biblical Hebrew and Yiddish. The poems were hugely popular across Israel’s social, political, and religious spectrum. She went on to publish five more collections of poetry over the next two decades, each reaching bestseller status. She became affectionately known in Israel simply as “Zelda”, going on to win the Brenner Prize in 1971, and the Bialik Prize in 1978. Her poem “Each Person Has a Name” is publicly recited in Israel on Holocaust Remembrance Day (which also happens to be her yahrzeit). Like her cousin the Lubavitcher Rebbe (with whom she kept a regular correspondence), Zelda never had children, but had many devoted students and foster daughters that she took into her home. She is recognized today as one of Israel’s greatest poets.

Purim Begins This Saturday Night – Chag Sameach!

Secrets of Purim

3 Quran Verses Every Jew Must Know

Words of the Week

We are immersed in an evolving, ongoing conflict: an Information World War in which state actors, terrorists, and ideological extremists leverage the social infrastructure underpinning everyday life to sow discord and erode shared reality.
– Renée DiResta

Jew of the Week: Robert L. May

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

Robert Lewis May (1905-1976) was born in Long Island, New York to a Jewish family, devoted members of the “Ethical Culture Society” which grew out of Reform Judaism. He studied psychology in Dartmouth College and was particularly drawn to the work of Alfred Adler, who suggested that the main drive of all human beings is to overcome inferiority and attain some sort of perfection. May went on to work as a copywriter and marketer for a number of department stores. The family lost everything during the Great Depression, and May’s wife was also battling cancer at the same time. In 1939, May’s boss at Montgomery Ward asked him to write some new promotional material for Christmas shoppers featuring a loveable animal character. May went to the zoo with his four-year-old daughter to get ideas, and eventually came up with Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, combining elements of the Ugly Duckling with his own difficult childhood as a Jewish kid, and the psychology of Alfred Adler. Although his wife tragically died as he was working on the book, he continued the project in her memory. The book became an instant classic and over 5 million copies were distributed over the next several years. In 1948, May reached out to his composer brother-in-law (former Jew of the Week) Johnny Marks to write music for a song adaptation. ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer’ was a hit, and is now the second most popular Christmas song of all time (after ‘White Christmas’). May went on to start a full-time Rudolph business, which he ran until 1958, before returning to work as a copywriter for Montgomery Ward. May wrote other children’s books, too, featuring characters like Benny the Bunny and Winking Willie. Meanwhile, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer went off to spawn numerous sequels, film adaptations, toys, and over 100 other products, and remains one of the most beloved Christmas characters today.

Will Mashiach Come This Year?

Words of the Week

In the 1930s, antisemites declared, ‘Jews to Palestine’. Today they shout, ‘Jews out of Palestine’… They don’t want us to be there; they don’t want us to be here; they don’t want us to be.
– Amos Oz