Tag Archives: Arabic

Jew of the Week: Harold Grinspoon

The Philanthropist Behind PJ Library

Harold Grinspoon (Credit: Robert Charles Photography)

Harold Grinspoon (b. 1929) was born and raised in Newton, Massachusetts to a family of Jewish-Russian immigrants. He had a difficult childhood, struggling with dyslexia and rampant anti-Semitism, poverty, and losing his father at 19. While a student at Marlboro College, he had his first business idea: Putting together some meagre savings, he bought an old laundry machine and put it in the college dorm, charging 25 cents per load. Meanwhile, he worked on an ice cream truck and soon left school to manage a whole fleet of them. After serving in the Navy, Grinspoon bought his first property in 1959. He renovated it and rented out one of the units, and from there steadily built his real estate development business. He founded Aspen Square Management, now one of America’s top-50 private developers, with 15,000 apartments across 16 states. When diagnosed with cancer at age 59, Grinspoon realized he wanted to do something more meaningful with his life. He was particularly troubled by Jewish assimilation and intermarriage. Together with his wife, he founded the Harold Grinspoon Foundation to fund a variety of Jewish causes, and has since donated over $200 million. At one Passover seder, Grinspoon saw how excited his grandkids were to read Jewish books, and came up with the idea of sending a free Jewish book once a month to every Jewish home. Thus, in 2005 he launched PJ Library. Today, PJ Library operates around the world, delivering nearly 1 million free books each month to kids in some 30 countries. PJ Library also delivers popular Arabic-language books to Arab Israeli children. (It’s the largest Arabic book program in the world!) Meanwhile, PJ Library runs weekend and after-school programs, along with over 3000 events a year. The Harold Grinspoon Foundation funds other Jewish programs, too, including Jewish camps and day schools. In 2015, Grinspoon signed The Giving Pledge to donate more than half of his wealth. Grinspoon and his PJ Library have won a number of prestigious awards, including one from the Library of Congress. Grinspoon has been called “the most important Jewish philanthropist you’ve never heard of”. He is also an avid artist and sculptor, and is still very active at 92 years old. Sign up to PJ Library here!

Words of the Week

We are indignant when we are fooled by others but live comfortably with our unconscious desire for self-deceit.
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

Jew of the Week: Avraham bar Chiya haNasi

The Rabbi Who Discovered the Quadratic Formula

Avraham bar Chiya (c. 1070-1145) was born in Barcelona to a Sephardic Jewish family. It appears that his family was persecuted by its Christian rulers, so they fled to the neighbouring Arab kingdom of Zaragoza. Bar Chiya came from a long line of rabbis, and was also extensively trained in science, math, and astronomy. Famed for his wisdom, he became the court astronomer of Al-Musta’in II. Eventually, he was appointed minister of police and given the title sahib al-shurtah, “city governor”. This is why he was known in the Jewish community as HaNasi, “the prince” or “the president”. Al-Musta’in II was unable to defend his domain from the Christians, who soon took over. Bar Chiya moved to southern France for a while and lived in Narbonne and Provence. There he composed some of the most important scientific texts of the Medieval era. He translated a number of Arabic works into Latin, opening their study for Europeans, and played a key role in introducing the Hindu numerals we use today (by way of Arabia) to Europe, and thus to the rest of the world. Bar Chiya also synthesized ancient Greek wisdom with contemporary Arabic knowledge, and published new discoveries in number theory, arithmetic, geometry, optics, astronomy, and music theory. His Treatise on Measurement and Calculation inspired later greats like Plato of Tivoli and the world-famous Fibonacci. Meanwhile, Bar Chiya also served as the chief rabbi of the Jewish communities he presided over, and composed two important Jewish commentaries and texts. He is credited with being the first person to write a scientific book in Hebrew, and played an instrumental role in the development of the Hebrew language. His disciples included both Jews and non-Jews, among them the great Rabbi Abraham ibn Ezra, and the Flemish astronomer Rudolf of Bruges. The first historical appearance of the quadratic equation (with a complete solution of x2 – ax + b = c) appears in one of Bar Chiya’s works! He is also referenced in many philosophical works as “Abraham Judaeus”. All in all, his impact on the development of science, mathematics, and human history is unparalleled.

Jew of the Week Turns 10 Years Old Today!

What I Learned from 10 Years of Writing Jew of the Week

Words of the Week

The mind of man plans his way, but God directs his steps.
King Solomon (Proverbs 16:9)

Jew of the Week: Yuval Ne’eman

Quantum Physicist and IDF Commander

Yuval Ne’eman

Yuval Ne’eman (1925-2006) was born in Tel-Aviv. His grandfather Aba Ne’eman had made aliyah to Yaffo from Lithuania as an eighteen year old, and was later among the first 66 families which settled and co-founded the city of Tel-Aviv. His grandfather also set up the city’s first electrical generator, and built some of its first factories. This may be what inspired Yuval to study mechanical engineering. He enrolled at Technion at age 15. At the same time, he joined the Haganah, and would fight valiantly in Israel’s Independence War, rising to the rank of commander of the Givati Brigade. Having spent several years living in Egypt with his parents as a child, Ne’eman spoke Arabic fluently and served as a liaison to Israel’s Mizrachi Jews, helping to settle them in the new country. In the mid-1950s, Ne’eman played a key role in the IDF’s operational command, developed its reverse mobilization system, and wrote Israel’s first defense doctrine. Meanwhile, he joined Israel’s Nuclear Energy Commission and oversaw the development of Israel’s nuclear capabilities. While serving as IDF attaché in London, he earned his PhD in physics. The following year he published his classification system for hadrons, laying the foundation for the quark model of quantum physics (proposed by recent Jews of the Week Murray Gell-Mann and George Zweig). Ne’eman returned to Israel in 1961 to direct the Soreq Nuclear Research Centre, one of the most important R&D facilities in Israel. He retired from the IDF with the rank of colonel, and founded Tel Aviv University’s School of Physics and Astronomy in 1965. Ne’eman directed it for the next seven years, then became president of he whole university. After this, he directed its Sackler Institute of Advanced Studies for nearly two decades. Ne’eman also co-directed the Center for Particle Theory at the University of Texas in Austin. A big believer in space exploration, he founded the Israel Space Agency in 1983 and chaired it until his death. He was chief scientist of Israel’s Defense Ministry in the 1970s, which opened the door for him to enter politics. Ne’eman founded the right-wing Tehiya party in response to Israel’s peace treaty with Egypt. He was elected to the Knesset in 1981 and became the country’s first Minister of Science and Technology. He continued to serve in the Knesset for over a decade. Among his many awards are the Israel Prize, the Wigner Medal, and the Albert Einstein Prize. He was also a member of the National Academy of Sciences. Ne’eman wrote a layman’s book on quantum physics called The Particle Hunters, which has been described as “the best guide to quantum physics at present available.”

Words of the Week

… Most of my people think as I do, but they’re afraid to say so… we suffer because of our Arab brothers, but we are also dependent on them. It’s a bizarre situation because the Arab countries don’t really care what happens to the Palestinian people. The only assistance that we have ever received from any country was from the ‘Zionist enemy.’
Muhammad Zahrab, Palestinian Arab scholar