Tag Archives: British Jews

Jew of the Week: Brian Epstein

The Fifth Beatle

Brian Samuel Epstein (1934-1967) was born in Liverpool, England to a Jewish family of Russian and Lithuanian heritage. His father had expanded the family furniture store to sell musical instruments, and it was here that Paul McCartney’s father bought a piano for his son. Brian Epstein was expected to go into the family business, too, but convinced his parents to allow him to go to acting school in London. He didn’t like it, and returned to Liverpool to run the family’s new NEMS music store. Epstein worked hard to make it the most successful music store in Northern England. He soon became familiar with a new local band, The Beatles (all of whom bought music at his store), and for his 21st birthday booked a party at The Cavern Club where they played. He immediately fell in love with the group, and considered managing them, even though his assistant thought they were “absolutely awful”. Nonetheless, Epstein returned regularly to the club over the next three weeks to watch the band, before proposing to become their manager. He drew up a five-year contract—technically for their parents since The Beatles were all under 21 and needed consent. Epstein got to work right away, transforming their image from a “scruffy crowd in leather” who cursed, drank, and smoked on stage, to wearing suits and presenting a “fresh” vibe. (John Lennon didn’t want to wear a suit but then said he would “wear a bloody balloon if somebody’s going to pay me.”) For nearly a year, the band made no money and Epstein paid for all of their expenses. Over that time, Epstein met with executives from Columbia Records, EMI, and several other big labels, all of whom rejected The Beatles. Eventually, Epstein threatened to stop selling EMI records at his stores, so EMI agreed to a cheap, “nothing to lose” recording contract through their smaller Parlophone label. The Beatles began recording in June of 1962, and the rest is history. Epstein guided the group and took care of them, kept them focused, set up the branding that launched “Beatlemania”, and ultimately made the Beatles the best-selling and most influential music band in history. In turn, the band loved and trusted their manager, and never even read the contracts he brought them to sign. (“We had complete faith in him when he was running us,” said Lennon.) Epstein was the best man at both Lennon’s and Ringo Starr’s weddings. (Contrary to popular belief, the latter is not Jewish.) Epstein worked round-the-clock, and soon became dependent on both stimulants and sedatives. In 1967, days after sitting shiva for his father, he took a large dose of sedatives which, though normal for him, mixed fatally with the large amount of alcohol he had drunk. His death was officially ruled an accident, and biographers have since refuted rumours of suicide. Whatever the case, The Beatles were devastated by the loss of their manager, and never recovered. The band soon fell apart. Paul McCartney would later describe Epstein as “The Fifth Beatle”. The Bee Gees wrote the song ‘In the Summer of His Years’ as a tribute to Epstein, who played a small but critical role in their success as well.

Words of the Week

If the Jew did not exist, the antisemite would invent him.
– Jean-Paul Sartre

Jews of the Week: Sybil, David Solomon, and James Meyer Sassoon

In honour of Jew of the Week’s 9th birthday this November, we will feature a month-long series on the Sassoon family, the “Rothschilds of the East”. This is the final Part 4. Read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

David Solomon Sassoon

David Solomon Sassoon (1880-1942), the grandson of patriarch David Sassoon, was born in Bombay, India. He was deeply religious, and spent much of his life travelling in search of ancient and rare Jewish manuscripts. By 1932, he had amassed an incredible collection of over 1200 unique texts. He described them in his two-volume tome, Ohel David. Today, these works are an indispensable tool for scholars of Judaism. Unfortunately, many of the manuscripts were auctioned off in recent decades to pay off the Sassoon estate’s tax debts to the British government. Many others are stored at the University of Toronto, and some at the British Library.

Sybil Rachel Sassoon, the Marchioness of Cholmondeley

Sybil Rachel Betty Cecile Sassoon, the Marchioness of Cholmondeley (1894-1989), daughter of Edward Sassoon, she wished to assist the war effort during World War II, and joined the Women’s Royal Navy Service. She went on to serve as Superintendent of the Women’s Royal Navy Service, and a Chief Staff Officer. In 1946, she was made a Commander of the British Empire (CBE) for her valiant service. Her great-grandson is actor Jack Huston.

Rachel Sassoon Beer (1858-1927), daughter of Sasson David Sassoon, married a wealthy German-English banker and converted to Christianity, for which her family disowned her. She started writing for The Observer, and eventually became its editor. (She later became editor of the Sunday Times, too.) It was Rachel who managed to secure a confession from Count Ferdinand Esterhazy that the “evidence” against Alfred Dreyfus was forged, and that Dreyfus was innocent. This led to Dreyfus’ release from prison. (And it was the Dreyfus Affair that was one of the key elements in inspiring Theodor Herzl.) Rachel left much of her wealth to her nephew, Siegfried Sassoon (1886-1967), a war hero and one of the most celebrated poets of World War I.

The Right Honourable James Mayer Sassoon, The Lord Sassoon

The son of another of Rachel’s nephews is James Meyer Sassoon (b. 1955), who was born in London and studied at Eton College, followed by Oxford University. After heading a number of investment firms, he joined the British Treasury in 2002. Five years later, he was appointed as president of the Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering. Among his duties was combat financing for terrorists. He was knighted in 2008, and entered the House of Lords in 2010, taking on the title of Baron Sassoon. He also served as the first Commercial Secretary to the Treasury.

Words of the Week

I prefer a wicked person who knows they are wicked, to a righteous person who knows they are righteous.
Rabbi Yaakov Yitzchak of Lublin (c. 1745-1815)

Jew of the Week: Hans Zimmer

Your Favourite Film Music

Hans Zimmer

Hans Florian Zimmer (b. 1957) was born in Frankfurt, then part of West Germany. His father passed away when he was a child, and he was raised by his musician mother, who had fled Germany to England upon the outbreak of World War II. Zimmer began playing keyboards as a teen, and joined the Buggles in the late 70s (famous for their hit “Video Killed the Radio Star”, in which Zimmer makes an appearance). He continued to work with various European bands for the next decade. Meanwhile, he did some work on the side writing jingles for commercials. Soon, he teamed up with Stanley Myers to found a new recording studio in London called Lillie Yard. The duo started to produce a new style of music combining traditional orchestras with new electronic sounds. They wrote the score for a number of movies, climaxing with The Last Emperor in 1987, which won an Oscar for Best Original Score. The following year, Zimmer was hired to write the score for Rain Man. The movie went on to win four Oscars, with a nomination for Zimmer. A year later, another film for which he wrote a score won Best Picture. For his next film, Zimmer flew to Africa to record traditional African choirs, and this led him to be hired for The Lion King. (Which he says he agreed to do to impress his then-six year old daughter.) The immensely popular music that Zimmer wrote for The Lion King won him two Grammys, a Golden Globe, and an Oscar. The Broadway adaptation won a Tony Award, and set a record for being the highest-grossing Broadway show of all time. Zimmer went on to write hit music for many more films, including The Prince of Egypt, The Thin Red Line, The Rock, Gladiator, Pearl Harbor, The Last Samurai, Iron Man, Pirates of the Caribbean, The Dark Knight trilogy, Inception, and Interstellar. All in all, he has 1 win and 11 nominations for Oscars, 4 Grammys, 2 Golden Globes, 3 Saturn Awards, and many more. He has written scores for over 150 films, and made music for 17 television shows and 2 video games. Zimmer has been ranked among the “Top 100 Living Geniuses” and is considered one of the greatest film composers and musicians of all time. Zimmer has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and an asteroid is named after him. His latest work is the score for the new live adaptation of The Lion King, which opens in theatres this Friday.

The Kabbalah of Kippah

Words of the Week

With science, there are unknowns, but there are also these rituals for finding the answers… It’s the same thing with Judaism. I think that’s why we have so many Jewish scientists. It’s easy to go from ‘I am trying to figure out the mysteries of the universe and these are my rituals for doing it,’ to ‘I’m trying to figure out the mysteries of the universe and these are my rituals for doing it.’ It’s the same thing, but just different rituals.
– Neuroscientist Julia Mossbridge