Jew of the Week: Sophie Wilmes

Belgium’s First Female Prime Minister

Sophie Wilmes (Credit: Damien Caumiant)

Sophie Wilmes (b. 1975) was born in Brussels, Belgium. Her father was an economist and professor, and both of her parents were involved in Belgian politics. Several members from her mother’s side of the family perished in the Holocaust. Wilmes studied communications and finance, then worked for the European Commission of the EU as a financial officer. In 2000, she became a municipal councillor in Brussels. After 14 years in local politics, she moved up to provincial governance, then got elected to the Belgian parliament. In 2015, she became Belgium’s Minister of Budget. She oversaw the country’s National Lottery, and later also its Science Policy. In 2019, Belgium’s coalition government fell apart, and Wilmes was appointed to be the “caretaker” prime minister during a transition to a new government. This made her the first female, and first Jewish, prime minister of Belgium. When the pandemic struck in the midst of her transitional term, the parliament gave her full ministerial powers to deal with the calamity. Nonetheless, she handed over the premiership one year later, as planned, when a new coalition government was formed. Wilmes is now Belgium’s deputy prime minister, and the country’s new foreign minister. She is married to an Australian businessman and former football player. The couple has four children. Wilmes writes that her primary focus is maintaining a free society, being a transparent civil servant, and doing her utmost to “improve everyone’s day-to-day lives”.

Words of the Week

Zionism is one of the greatest movements of the present time. All lovers of Democracy cannot help but support whole-heartedly and welcome with enthusiasm the movement to restore your wonderful and historic nation, which has contributed so much to the civilization of the world and which rightfully deserve an honorable place in the family of nations.
Dr. Sun Yat-Sen, “Father of the Chinese Nation”

Jew of the Week: Larry King

King of Interviews

Lawrence Harvey Zeiger (1933-2021) was born in Brooklyn to Orthodox Jewish immigrants from Belarus. His father died when he was just a child, leaving the family impoverished. Young Larry was fascinated by radio and always wished to become a broadcaster. In Miami, he found a job cleaning at a radio station and, when the station’s broadcaster suddenly left the show, Larry was given a chance to take his place. The manager said “Zeiger” was not a good stage name, so Larry quickly chose “King” (based on an ad he had just seen for King’s Wholesale Liquor store). He got the job to radio DJ for three hours every morning, earning $50 a week. King soon started doing interviews, too, and would occasionally have a celebrity who was in town to do a show. He was then hired as a commentator for the NFL’s Miami Dolphins. It was in 1978 when The Larry King Show aired its first episode (on radio). It would be broadcast live every weekday at midnight, starting with a one-hour interview and followed by several hours of discussion. By 1985, King was a household name and was hired by CNN to star in a television version of his interview show. CNN’s Larry King Live went on to set a Guinness World Record as the “longest-running TV show hosted by the same person on the same network”. Many iconic moments took place in his studio, including the Perot-Gore debate of 1993 (which became CNN’s most-watched segment ever), and the joint interview of Rabin and Arafat in 1995. Famous people loved to come on his show because he asked simple questions and made his interviewees feel at ease. He famously avoided reading up on his guests, preferring not to know much about them. King retired in 2010 after 25 years and a whopping 6000 episodes. Over that same time period, he was a regular columnist for USA Today. King went on to do several more popular shows on other networks, including Larry King Now and Politicking with Larry King. Over the years, he made countless appearances in sit-coms, commercials, movies, cartoons, and even the WWE. All in all, King conducted some 60,000 interviews over his career. He won two Peabody Awards for excellence in broadcasting and was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame. After suffering a heart attack in 1987, King started the Larry King Cardiac Foundation which has donated millions to pay for life-saving heart surgeries for people who cannot afford them. He also helped raise millions for Israel and for Chabad. He generally identified as a “Jewish agnostic” and said several years ago: “I love being Jewish, am proud of my Jewishness, and I love Israel.” Sadly, Larry King passed away earlier this year.

Words of the Week

Everyone loves the truth, but not everyone tells the truth.
– Yiddish proverb

Jew of the Week: Daniel

The Secret Hero of Purim

‘Daniel Interpreting the Writing on the Wall’ by Gustav Doré

Daniel (c. 6th-5th century BCE) was born in Jerusalem to a noble family of scribes and scholars. In the third year of King Yehoyachin’s reign, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon subdued the Kingdom of Judah and made it a tributary of the Babylonian Empire. Nebuchadnezzar took a number of noble Jewish families with him back to Babylon, including young Daniel. Together with his friends Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, Daniel was raised in the royal palace and trained by the Babylonian wise men. The four were given new names: Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, and Beltshazzar. However, the Jewish youths held on to their faith, and refused to eat the non-kosher food of the Babylonians. God blessed them to be wiser than all the greatest sages of Babylon. Daniel grew up to become one of the trusted advisors of Nebuchadnezzar and his successors. Daniel also served as an important leader of the exiled Jewish community in Babylon. His prophecies were later collected by the Knesset HaGedolah (“the Men of the Great Assembly”) and make up the Biblical Book of Daniel. In one famous episode, we read how envious ministers in King Darius’ court passed a law to forbid praying to any deity except the king. They then accused Daniel of praying to his God—which he did and did not deny. Daniel was punished by being thrown into a lions’ den, from which he was miraculously saved. The envious ministers were themselves consumed by the lions. King Darius and his court were then convinced of the existence and supremacy of God: “I make a decree, that in all the dominion of my kingdom men tremble and fear before the God of Daniel; for He is the living God, and steadfast forever, and His kingdom is that which shall not be destroyed…” (Daniel 6:27) The Talmud points out that Daniel is the same person referred to as Hatach in the Book of Esther. It was he who took care of Esther in the royal palace and communicated between her and Mordechai. And so, Daniel was also the secret hero of the Purim story!

Words of the Week

Purim and Chanukah are both about antisemitism. There is one obvious difference between them: Haman, of the Purim story, wanted to kill Jews. Antiochus, of the Chanukah story, wanted to kill Judaism. It was the difference between Nazi Germany and Soviet Communism.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks 

Tomb of Daniel in Shush (Susa), Iran.