Category Archives: Law, Politics & Military

Jews in the World of Law and Politics

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: Moses Cohen Henriques

The Jewish Pirate Who Conquered Brazil

Moses Cohen Henriques (b. 1595) was born to a family of Sephardic Jews who had been forcibly converted to Christianity. The family eventually made their way to Amsterdam and returned to their Jewish faith. Henriques joined the Dutch navy, and rose up through the ranks to be the right-hand man of famed Dutch admiral Piet Hein. Together, they defeated the Spanish fleet off the coast of Cuba in 1628. Following this, Henriques went to scout the Portuguese colony of Pernambuco, Brazil as a spy, to prepare for a Dutch invasion. He was part of that invasion in 1630, leading a contingent of 3000 men to successfully capture the colony. Henriques helped to turn the area into a Jewish refuge, bringing in America’s first rabbi, and establishing the first synagogue, mikveh, and yeshiva in the New World. When the Portuguese recaptured the colony in 1654 and restarted persecution of Jews, Henriques fled along with the rest of the Jewish community. To survive harsh times, he was forced to become a pirate, soon joining the infamous Henry Morgan. He became Sir Morgan’s trusted advisor. Henriques later ventured on his own, establishing a pirate island off the Brazilian coast. The Inquisition sought to capture him for years, unsuccessfully, and Henriques saw it as his mission to avenge the evil that the Spanish and Portuguese had done to the Jews. After the English conquered Jamaica, Henriques settled there and lived out the rest of his life on the island, helping to establish its Jewish community. When his old friend Henry Morgan became Jamaica’s governor, he gave Henriques a full pardon for piracy in 1681.

Illustration depicting the burning of Jews at the stake, from the Nuremberg Chronicle (1493)

Words of the Week

The Jews are our chief supplyers in Barbadoes, and would sell very cheap, and give one not seldom two years to pay, by which credit the poorer sort of planter did wonderfully improve their condition.
Sir Thomas Modyford (d. 1679), English governor of Barbados and Jamaica


*The biography above is adapted from Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean, by Ed Kritzler.

Jew of the Week: Claudia Sheinbaum

Mayor of Mexico City

Claudia Sheinbaum Pardo (b. 1962) was born in Mexico City to a family of Jewish immigrants. Her father is an Ashkenazi Jew of Lithuanian heritage, while her mother is a Sephardic Jew from Bulgaria. Both of her parents were respected scientists, and Sheinbaum followed in their footsteps. She studied physics and went on to earn a Ph.D in energy engineering. She did research at a US Department of Energy lab in California. In 1995, Sheinbaum became a professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. A few years later, she won the prize for “young researcher in engineering and technological innovation”. Sheinbaum soon became a leading expert on climate change and the environment. She has published over 100 scientific papers and two books. In 2000, she was appointed Mexico City’s Secretary of the Environment, and served in the role for the next six years. Following this, she joined the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and did important work for the organization that helped it win the Nobel Peace Prize. In 2015, Sheinbaum became the mayor of Tlalpan, one of Mexico City’s 16 boroughs. Soon after, she was nominated for mayor of all of Mexico City, and won a six-year term in 2018, easily beating out six other candidates in a landslide. Sheinbaum became the city’s first-ever Jewish mayor, and its first elected female mayor, too. Since then, she has been praised for her work in managing North America’s largest city. She has made significant strides in cleaning it up and reducing waste, fighting corruption, modernizing the transportation system, and upgrading sanitation. She has also been commended for her handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Earlier this year, she was nominated for the World Mayor prize, awarded biennially to the best city leaders on the globe. Some are already predicting her to be a strong candidate for the 2024 Mexican presidential election. Sheinbaum was included in the BBC’s 100 Women, and was recently ranked among the world’s 50 Most Influential Jews.

Words of the Week

When I find the road narrow, and can see no other way of teaching a well-established truth except by pleasing one intelligent man and displeasing ten thousand fools, I prefer to address myself to the one man, and to take no notice of the condemnation of the multitude.
– Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon (1138-1204), “Maimonides”, Guide for the Perplexed