Tag Archives: Anti-Semitism

Jew of the Week: Gene Wilder

Gene Wilder

Gene Wilder

Jerome Silberman (1933-2016) was born in Milwaukee, the son of Russian-Jewish parents. When he was eight years old, his mother fell ill and the doctor told him to try to make her laugh. This is when his passion for acting began. At 13, he started taking professional acting lessons, and his mother soon sent him to a school in Hollywood. As the only Jewish kid, he was often bullied and abused, and had to leave the school shortly after. Back in Milwaukee, he performed in his first official play (Romeo & Juliet) at 15. Silberman went on study theatre at the University of Iowa, where he became a lifelong member of the Jewish fraternity AEPi. After college, he went to acting school in England. There, he also studied fencing and became a fencing champion. Upon returning to the US, Silberman was drafted to the army and served as a medic. After this, he went back to acting school (in New York) and supported himself by working as a limo driver and fencing instructor. After three more years of study, he started getting professional acting jobs. During this time, he adopted the stage name Gene Wilder. It wasn’t long before Wilder appeared in a number of hit Broadway plays. In 1967, he got a leading role in The Producers. The movie became a comedy classic, and Wilder was nominated for an Oscar. After some more successes, Wilder was cast as Willy Wonka in the adaptation of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, perhaps his most famous role. Wilder went on to star in many more popular films, including multiple collaborations with fellow comedy legends Richard Pryor and Mel Brooks. All together, he appeared in 23 films, 9 television shows, and 5 Broadway plays. He inspired a generation of comedians, actors, and pastry chefs. Wilder also wrote 6 books. Sadly, the beloved actor passed away earlier this week. His film Blazing Saddles – which some consider the funniest movie of all time – will be playing in many theaters this weekend as a tribute.

Words of the Week

Most tragedy is misunderstood comedy. God is a great humorist working with a rather glum audience.
– Garrison Keillor

Jew of the Week: Jan Koum

WhatsApp

Jan Koum, creator of WhatsApp

Jan Koum, creator of WhatsApp

Jan Koum (b. 1976) was born in Kiev, Ukraine. When he was 16 years old he moved to California with his mother, having experienced enough anti-Semitism and political turnovers. (His father intended to join them eventually, but passed away several years later before he could do so.) The two survived on food stamps and a subsidized two-bedroom apartment. Koum swept floors at a supermarket to make ends meet. At 18, he started learning programming by himself from a set of used books before enrolling at San Jose University. Soon, he got a job working with computers at Ernst & Young, one of the world’s Big Four auditing companies. By 21, Koum had dropped out of school and was hired by Yahoo to work in its infrastructure engineering. After nine years with the company, Koum quit to do some travelling with fellow employee Brian Acton. Upon returning from their trip, the two applied to work for Facebook, but were turned down. Instead, Koum started thinking about a new iPhone messaging app, inspired by how difficult and expensive it was for him to keep in touch with family in Russia and Ukraine (as well as memories of how his parents avoided using a phone in the Soviet Union for fear of being listened to). The following month, he incorporated WhatsApp Inc. Brian Acton later worked together with Koum to make his vision a reality, together with friend Alex Fishman. WhatsApp became hugely popular very quickly, and became the world’s most popular messaging app. In 2014, Koum’s friend Mark Zuckerberg bought out WhatsApp for $19 billion. This thrust Koum onto Forbes list of the world’s richest people. With his net worth now close to $9 billion, he is among the Top 10 richest US immigrants. Meanwhile, WhatsApp expanded to offer voice calls and document-sharing, became completely free (with no advertising), and now has over 1 billion users worldwide. Yesterday, they launched a new form of encryption, making WhatsApp among the most secure forms of communication available to the public. Koum continues to work on WhatsApp, and on the board of Facebook, and has donated hundreds of millions of dollars to charity. He is also a founding member of San Francisco’s JFE – Jews for Entrepreneurship – an organization that provides opportunities for young Jewish entrepreneurs in the high tech sector.

Words of the Week

From religion comes a man’s purpose; from science, his power to achieve it. Sometimes people ask if religion and science are not opposed to one another. They are: in the sense that the thumb and fingers of my hand are opposed to one another. It is an opposition by means of which anything can be grasped.
Sir William Bragg, Nobel Prize-winning physicist

Jew of the Week: Irwin Cotler

Irwin Cotler

Irwin Cotler

Irwin Cotler (b. 1940) was born in Montreal and studied law at McGill University. After continuing his education at Yale, he returned to McGill as a law professor, and directed its Human Rights Program for over 25 years. As an expert on international and human rights law, Cotler served as a counsel for famous political prisoners like Nelson Mandela, Maher Arar, and Natan Sharansky. He has advised the Middle East peace process, and was involved in the Camp David Accords that brought peace between Israel and Egypt. In the 1980s, he served as President of the Canadian Jewish Congress, while also working to combat apartheid in South Africa. In 1999, he was elected as a Canadian Member of Parliament with a landslide victory that gave him 92% of the vote, described as “the most stunning electoral victory in this century.” Between 2003 and 2006, he served as Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, and has been lauded for his work in ensuring human rights and citizen privacy, particularly in the face of increasingly restrictive anti-terrorism legislation. He has worked against discrimination, anti-Semitism, and racism, appointing two women to the Supreme Court (making Canada’s the most gender-representative in the world), and appointing the first aboriginals and visible minorities to appellate courts. He issued the first national initiative against racism, worked to bring justice to victims of the Rwanda massacres, and even to indict former Iranian President Ahmadinejad for inciting genocide. Cotler reverted more wrongful convictions than any other minister in history. Having been re-elected as MP no less than 5 times, Cotler recently announced that he will not seek further re-election, and is ready to retire, though he intends to remain very active in social justice and peace activism. Awarded ten honourary degrees and the Order of Canada, Irwin Cotler is described as a key global player “in the struggle for justice, peace and human rights.”

Words of the Week

And God said: “. . . Abraham shall be a great people . . . Because I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him that they shall keep the way of God, to do righteousness and justice.”
– Genesis 18:17–19