Tag Archives: Birthright

Jew of the Week: Gershom Sizomu

First Jew in Uganda’s Parliament

Gershom Sizomu (b. 1972) was born in Uganda in a village of the Abayudaya, a group of Ugandans who had converted to Judaism a century ago under the leadership of (former Jew of the WeekSemei Kakungulu. Unfortunately, in recent decades many rabbis, including the Israeli Rabbinate, did not accept their conversion, especially because many Abayudaya were forcibly converted to Christianity, while others went into hiding during the violent regime of Idi Amin. Sizomu invited a group of American Conservative rabbis to do a formal conversion in 2003. Some 300 Abayudaya converted, though many more refused to participate in the ceremony since they considered themselves fully Jewish already. Sizomu affirmed that it was only a formality, stating “We’re already Jewish.” He said in the ceremony “I was born Jewish, and I’d like to stay Jewish.” Following this, Sizomu headed to the US to study at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the American Jewish University in Los Angeles. After five years, he was ordained a Conservative Rabbi. Upon his return to Africa, Sizomu converted another 250 people from Uganda, Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa. In 2016, Sizomu ran in the Ugandan parliamentary elections and won a seat, beating seven other candidates. This makes him the first rabbi (and the first Jew!) in Uganda’s parliament. He has been working diligently to reduce government waste, alleviate poverty, and improve the country’s water and electrical networks. Sizomu is still the spiritual leader of 2000 Abayudaya Jews, and oversees seven synagogues, two Jewish schools, and a mikveh. Last year, he organized the first Birthright trip for a group of 40 Abayudaya youths. While the Jewish Agency for Israel has officially recognized the Abayudaya, the Israeli Interior Ministry still hasn’t. Sizomu is currently working towards changing that, and is very hopeful. He has said: “We are not Jewish for purposes of immigration. We are Jewish because that is who we are, and we will never change that…” and that “If the Arab world declared war on Israel, we would fight and die to protect it.”

Words of the Week

He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.
– Friedrich Nietzsche

Jew of the Week: Les Wexner

Les Wexner

Les Wexner

Leslie H. Wexner (b. 1937) was born in Ohio to Russian-Jewish immigrants. He dropped out of law school to help his parents, who opened a small clothing shop after struggling for many years in low-level jobs in the garment industry. At 26, he loaned $5000 and opened his own sportswear store for young women, called ‘The Limited’. The store was a hit, pulling in $160,000 in sales in its first year. Just 6 years later, the company went public. Wexner has been its CEO since then, making him the all time longest-serving CEO of a Fortune 500 company. Over that time, he has taken his company to new heights, starting a number of new businesses, and acquiring others, including Victoria’s Secret, La Senza, Pink, Bath & Body Works, and Abercrombie & Fitch. He now oversees 3000 locations around the world, and his net worth is estimated at around $6 billion. A sizable portion of this wealth goes to charitable causes. Wexner has donated millions to the United Way, Hillel, Birthright, and Ohio State University. He has given over $160 million to the Columbus Foundation, and pledged $100 million for medical and cancer research. His own Wexner Foundation provides funding for Jewish leadership programs, master’s degrees in rabbinics and Jewish studies, Jewish day schools in the US and universities in Israel, as well as sponsoring Israelis studying at Harvard. For his extensive philanthropic work and business acumen, Wexner has won numerous awards and honourary degrees.

Shavuot Begins Tonight!

Words of the Week

Sometimes people don’t want to hear the truth because they don’t want their illusions destroyed.
– Friedrich Nietzsche

Jew of the Week: Edgar Bronfman Sr.

Edgar Bronfman Sr.

Edgar Bronfman Sr.

Edgar Miles Bronfman (1929-2013) was born in Montreal to the Bronfman family (of Seagram fame), the eldest son of Samuel Bronfman and brother of Birthright co-founder Charles Bronfman. He was raised in a religious, kosher home, graduated from McGill University, and in 1957 took over the company’s American subsidiary. He greatly expanded its American business, and broadened the company internationally, too. When film-production company MGM bought into Seagram, Bronfman briefly served as MGM’s chairman. Having participated in the World Jewish Congress for several years, in 1981 he was officially elected as its new president, and used his skills to make the organization among the most important and influential in the Jewish world. Bronfman led many delegations to Moscow in a successful campaign to free Soviet Jews. He also exposed the hidden Nazi past of some notable figures, and brought greater compensation for Holocaust victims, particularly from Swiss banks. In 1982, he became the first leader of a Jewish organization to speak before the United Nations. He stepped down as president in 2007, and focused more of his efforts on philanthropy. He took on Bill & Melinda Gates’ Giving Pledge, a promise to donate the majority of one’s wealth to charity. Among many other awards, Edgar Bronfman Sr. received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Bill Clinton, and a French Legion of Honour. He also published several books, including The Bronfman Haggadah. Sadly, Bronfman past away on December 21st.

Words of the Week

When a day passes one should know what he has accomplished and what remains yet to be done… In general, one should always see to it that tomorrow should be much better than today.”
The Lubavitcher Rebbe (Hayom Yom, Iyar 1)