Tag Archives: American Jews

Jew of the Week: James White Jr.

The Inmate Who Transformed Thousands of Lives

James “Sneaky” White Jr.

James A. “Sneaky” White, Jr. (b. 1939) was born in London, England. He was adopted by a Jewish couple from Connecticut as a child, and never knew his biological parents. White grew up in a kosher home, and regularly went to the synagogue. He studied at Texas A&M, then enlisted in the US military where he served for the next decade and rose to the rank of sergeant. White did a tour in Cuba in 1965, followed by four tours in Vietnam as a marine and helicopter pilot. He earned over twenty medals, including three silver stars and a Distinguished Flying Cross for “uncommon courage, bold initiative and selfless devotion to duty at great personal risk.” Once, he ran across a field studded with land mines and emerged unharmed, for which he was given the nickname “Sneaky”. As with many Vietnam veterans, White returned to the US disabled and broke. He made a living working various jobs. In 1975 he met Nancy, the love of his life, and they married several years later. Nancy’s abusive ex-husband threatened the newlyweds, then sexually assaulted a step-daughter. In a fit of rage, White shot and killed the man. He turned himself in to police immediately. Despite suffering from PTSD, White was sentenced to life in prison without parole. He decided to make the most out of his incarceration. White took college courses, subscribed to as many magazines as he could, started studying Torah, became deeply religious, and even published a book. He wanted to help other war veterans who struggled like he did and co-founded a veterans’ support group, as well as a chapter of Alcoholics Anonymous. After reading about recidivism rates, White decided to start a program to get inmates educated and keep them out of prison. Through his program, over 1500 of his fellow inmates went on to get college degrees. White ran a charity, too (from prison!) and raised over $350,000 for numerous causes. He recently donated his long hair for charity as well. White personally saved the lives of at least two inmates and one guard. He became an inspiration to countless people, and even gave a TEDx talk in 2014 (see here). Over the years, many have tried to get him pardoned and released. The campaign finally succeeded earlier this year when California’s governor intervened, and White was freed on January 21st after some 40 years in prison. In his own words: “I just want people to know that even in prison we can do mitzvahs and do something good for society. Just because a person commits a crime, it doesn’t mean that he or she is no longer a worthy person.”

Words of the Week

You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you.
– Walt Disney

Jew of the Week: Raquel Montoya-Lewis

The First Native American Jew on a Supreme Court

Raquel Montoya-Lewis at her swearing-in ceremony

Raquel Montoya-Lewis (b. 1968) was born in Spain to a Jewish mother from Australia and a Native American father from New Mexico. Because her father worked for the US Air Force, the family travelled a lot when she was young. Yet, they always returned to the Pueblo of Isleta reservation which was their home. Her mother made sure to instill Jewish values and traditions, too. Montoya-Lewis went on to study at the University of New Mexico, and then at the University of Washington School of Law. To gain a deeper understanding of how laws affect societies, she also got a Master’s degree in social work. Although she sought to become a law professor, Montoya-Lewis was invited to preside over a number of trials in Native American communities. Eventually, she became the chief judge of the Lummi nation, Upper Skagit Indian Tribe, and the Nooksack Indian tribe, among others. Meanwhile, she taught law at Western Washington University. In 2015 Montoya-Lewis was appointed to the Superior Court of Whatcom County. After being recognized for her exceptional work, she was recommended for Washington State’s Supreme Court. Last month, Montoya-Lewis was officially sworn in. That makes her the first ever Native American tribal member (and first Native American Jew, of course) to hold such a position, and only the second Native in American history to be a state supreme court judge. At her swearing-in ceremony, she invited both a rabbi and a Native American leader to speak. Montoya-Lewis herself said: “I was raised to remember that I come from those who survived. My ancestors on both sides of my family survived genocide, survived institutional boarding schools, survived attempts to eradicate their cultures, and yet as my father reminded me often, ‘we survived’… I am here because of their resilience, their courage, their intelligence, and their deep commitment to what is just.”

Words of the Week

The fact that religions through the ages have spoken in images, parables, and paradoxes means simply that there are no other ways of grasping the reality to which they refer… But that does not mean that it is not a genuine reality. And splitting this reality into an objective and a subjective side won’t get us very far.

  – Niels Bohr, Nobel Prize-winning physicist

Jew of the Week: Alan Veingrad

The Super Bowl Champion Who Keeps Kosher

Alan Stuart Shlomo Veingrad (b. 1963) was born in Brooklyn and grew up in New Jersey and Miami. He went to Hebrew school as a child, then to Miami Sunset High School where he was captain of the football team. Veingrad was also an All-American track and field athlete. He went to what is now Texas A&M University on a sports scholarship. In 1984, he was voted the Lone Star Offensive Lineman of the Year. Despite working out round-the-clock and gaining over 100 pounds he was still considered too small for the NFL and went undrafted in 1985. Still, he was able to sign with the Tampa Buy Buccaneers as an undrafted free agent. The following year he signed with the Green Bay Packers and played on the starting line up as a right offensive tackle. In 1991 he signed with the Dallas Cowboys and was instrumental in helping the team win Super Bowl XXVII in 1993. After earning his championship, Veingrad retired from professional football. Since then, he has worked in real estate and finance, as a motivational speaker, and an AIPAC advocate for Israel. One Friday, his cousin invited him for Shabbat dinner, which lit a spark inside him. Veingrad then went to a Torah class to learn more, and soon found new meaning in life. He eventually became fully Torah-observant, and has since been called the “only Orthodox Jew to wear a Super Bowl ring”. He has traveled around the world to share his story, and also made an excellent series of 1-minute Jewish motivational videos, called Shlomo’s Playbook. Veingrad was inducted into the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 2010 and was the NYPD’s Person of the Year in 2012.

Words of the Week

The creation of a Palestinian state is only a means for continuing our struggle against the state of Israel for our Arab unity. In reality today there is no difference between Jordanians, Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese. Only for political and tactical reasons do we speak today about the existence of a Palestinian people, since Arab national interests demand that we posit the existence of a distinct Palestinian people to oppose Zionism…
Zuheir Muhsin, member of the PLO Executive Council, in a March 31, 1977 interview with Dutch newspaper “Trouw”.