Jew of the Week: Doron Almog

The Commando Heading the Jewish Agency

Almog in 1982

Doron Avrotzky Almog (b. 1951) was born in Rishon LeZion, Israel. He went to a military boarding school and eventually joined the Paratroopers Brigade. He became an officer in 1971, and served as a company commander during the Yom Kippur War, in which his brother Eran lost his life. In 1976, Almog was one of the company leaders of Operation Thunderbolt to save Israeli hostages in Entebbe. In fact, he was the first commando to disembark at the Entebbe airport runway, and led the way to capture the control tower. Almog fought in the 1982 Lebanon War, too, and later commanded Operation Moses to airlift over 7000 Ethiopian Jews to Israel. In 2000, now with the rank of major general, he was appointed to head the IDF Southern Command. Almog had a son with severe disabilities who died young, and a daughter born with a heart defect that ended her life after just a month. Sadly, a devastating suicide bombing in a Haifa restaurant in 2003 took the lives of five more of his family members, and left another severely injured. These horrible tragedies motivated Almog to devote the rest of his life to helping people with disabilities. He retired from the military that same year, and founded the village of Aleh Negev (also called Nahalat Eran, both after his son and fallen brother), a 40-acre rehabilitation and living centre for people with severe disabilities. Today, the village cares for 150 residents, and provides services for another 12,000 patients across Israel. Almog was awarded the Israel Prize in 2016 for lifetime achievement. Last week, he was appointed as the new head of the Jewish Agency. His most pressing task will be settling new Ukrainian and Ethiopian refugees in Israel. In his first speech, he said his mission would be “To reach the heart of every Jew on Earth. To instill pride in our Judaism and the State of Israel, the most important enterprise of the Jewish people since 1948. To instill pride in this one miracle called the State of Israel and its extraordinary achievements in science, technology, culture, agriculture, medicine, society, economy, army, aliyah, and more.”

Words of the Week

“They called me a wiseguy. I won ‘Italian of the Year’ twice in New York, and I’m Jewish, not Italian… I was denied in a country club once.”
James Caan (1940-2022)

Jew of the Week: Mordecai Sheftall

Highest-Ranking Jew in the Continental Army

Mordechai Sheftall (1735-1797) was born in the new colony of Savannah, Georgia to Jewish immigrants from England that had arrived two years earlier aboard a vessel carrying 36 Sephardic and 8 Ashkenazi Jews. The same year he was born, his parents cofounded North America’s third oldest synagogue, Kahal Kadosh Mickve Israel of Savannah (the first is Shearith Israel of New York, and the second the Touro Synagogue of Newport, Rhode Island). Seven years later, Spanish troops invaded Georgia, causing the Sephardic families to flee in fear of the Spanish Inquisition. Only the two Ashkenazi families remained, the Sheftalls being one of them. Mordechai Sheftall received a strong Jewish education from his father, who ordered a set of tefillin and Jewish books for his bar mitzvah from England. He even sent a letter when the precious shipment was delayed—which happens to be the earliest-known historical mention of a bar mitzvah in the Americas! At age 17, Sheftall went into the deerskin business and quickly made a small fortune, soon buying 50 acres of his own in Savannah. By the time he married at age 26, he operated a 2000-acre cattle ranch and a tanning facility. The Mickve Israel congregation ran services from a room in his house. Sheftall was also a philanthropist, and a major contributor to the Union Society and the Bethesda orphanage. In 1765, the British imposed the hugely unpopular Stamp Act. Like many colonists, Sheftall strongly opposed excessive British taxation, and became chairman of Savannah’s Parochial Committee of American patriots. When the Revolutionary War broke out, Sheftall immediately volunteered to fight, and in 1777 became the commissary-general of Georgia’s troops. He went on to attain the rank of colonel, making him the highest-ranking Jew in the Continental Army. Sheftall was captured during the First Battle of Savannah in 1778, yet continued to arrange major funds to the American cause from the prisoner-of-war ship he was being held in. The British would purposely give him pork, which he refused to eat, and even greased his cutlery with pork fat, which he refused to use. He was only freed in a prisoner exchange two years later. Having lost everything in the Revolutionary War, Sheftall moved to Philadelphia in 1781 to try a new business. During his brief time there, he also helped build Philadelphia’s historic Mikveh Israel synagogue. Sheftall returned to Savannah to work at its port as Georgia’s official Inspector of Tanned Leather. In 1790, he became president of Savannah’s Mickve Israel synagogue. That same year, George Washington wrote a letter to the congregation (the first ever by a president to a Jewish community) where he wrote: “May the same wonder-working Deity, who long since delivering the Hebrews from their Egyptian Oppressors planted them in the promised land – whose providential agency has lately been conspicuous in establishing these United States as an independent nation – still continue to water them with the dews of heaven…” Like fellow Revolutionary hero (and the very first Jew of the Week) Haym Solomon, the vital loans Sheftall provided to the nascent US government were never repaid. Sheftall was buried in Savannah’s first Jewish cemetery, which he had himself established years earlier.

Words of the Week

May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants, while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.
George Washington, first president of the United States, to the Touro Synagogue in 1790

Jew of the Week: Emmy Noether

Greatest Mathematician of All Time

Amalie Emmy Noether (1882-1935) was born in Bavaria, Germany to a wealthy Jewish family, the eldest daughter of renowned mathematician Max Noether. She enjoyed learning languages and eventually passed a test allowing her to teach English and French. Instead, she decided to further her studies at the University of Erlangen. Female students were not allowed, but Noether was given permission to audit lectures along with one other woman. In 1903, restrictions were eased and Noether passed the graduation exam, after which she enrolled at the University of Gottingen to study astronomy and mathematics. She returned to Erlangen and taught math for seven years—without pay! During this time, she published several ground-breaking papers. In 1915, Noether was invited back to Gottingen, and when an uproar arose about how men could be subjected to learn “at the feet of a woman”, the university responded: “We are a university, not a bathhouse.” In 1918, Noether silenced critics by proving what is now called Noether’s Theorem, which was said to be “one of the most important mathematical theorems ever proved in guiding the development of modern physics, possibly on a par with the Pythagorean theorem”. The following year, she was granted tenure, and then a professorship. Among her many revolutionary achievements, Noether is most famous for mathematical rings, chain conditions, and abstract algebra—which some say is her greatest contribution to math and science. Thanks to Noether and the brilliant minds she attracted and taught, the University of Gottingen became the pre-eminent math institution in the world. She supervised the work of a dozen graduate students who became world-famous mathematicians in their own right. Noether was famous for living simply and modestly, not caring at all about her appearance, talking quickly, and teaching freely with no lesson plans. In 1932, she received the prestigious Ackermann–Teubner Memorial Award for math. The following year, the Nazis came to power and she was fired from her position. Undeterred, Noether continued to teach from her apartment. Soon, the Rockefeller Foundation arranged for her a position in the United States, and Noether went on to teach at Bryn Mawr College, as well as at Princeton (alongside fellow Jewish refugee Albert Einstein). Tragically, Noether passed away suddenly after surgery to remove an ovarian tumour. She was eulogized as “the greatest woman mathematician who has ever lived; and the greatest woman scientist of any sort…” There are numerous awards, concepts, streets and schools named after her around the world (including a math institute at Bar-Ilan University in Israel), as well as a satellite, a crater on the moon, and even a distant planet.

Words of the Week

A day will come in which the masses will be so tolerant, that the intelligent people will be forbidden to think in order not to threaten the stupid.
– Fyodor Dostoevsky