Ahmed Zayat holding the trophy at the 2015 Preakness Stakes
Ephraim Ahmed Zayat (b. 1962) was born in Cairo to a wealthy Orthodox Jewish-Egyptian family. His father was Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s personal doctor. Zayat studied in the US at Yeshiva University, and then at Boston University, where he got his Master’s in business and health. He then spent some time as a real estate investor in New York (working for past Jew of the WeekZev Wolfson), before returning to Egypt to run Al-Ahram Beverages. Zayat turned the company into a huge success, particularly through its popular alcohol-free halal beer catered to the Muslim world. He sold Al-Ahram to Heineken in 2002 for triple the original price, making it the largest buyout in Egypt’s history. Zayat then turned his attention to horse racing. He first learned to ride horses as a child growing up in Egypt, and had competed in various show jumping tournaments, winning a couple of national titles. Zayat soon started his new company, Zayat Stables, to breed his own race horses. His horses have gone on to win two dozen prestigious competitions. At one point, he was America’s number one race horse owner. Most recently, his horse American Pharoah made history by winning the Triple Crown – one of just 12 horses to do so, and the first since 1978. Before the final race, Zayat had American Pharoah’s jockey Victor Espinoza visit the grave of the Lubavitcher Rebbe to pray for success. Zayat still has big investments all over the world, including being the main shareholder in Egypt’s largest glass container manufacturer. He is also a noted philanthropist, donating large sums to various important causes, including Jewish schools.
Words of the Week
From the time that God said to our forefather Abraham, “Go from your land…” and “Abraham went on, journeying southward,” began the process of birurim – of extracting the sparks of holiness that are scattered throughout the universe and buried within the material existence… By Divine providence, a person wanders about in his travels to those places where the sparks that are to be extracted by him await their redemption… – Rabbi Sholom DovBer of Lubavitch
Abdullah Ovadia Yousseff (1920-2013) was born in Baghdad, Iraq and immigrated with his family to Jerusalem at the age of 4. He was quickly recognized as a young prodigy with a photographic memory and a profound depth of understanding, and ordained as a rabbi at age 20. Shortly after, Rav Ovadia moved to Cairo, Egypt where he headed a yeshiva and Jewish court until his return to Israel upon the State’s independence. In 1952 he published the first of several great works, which propelled him into the spotlight. He then founded an advanced yeshiva for gifted students. By 1973, Rav Ovadia was appointed Israel’s Sephardic Chief Rabbi. He served in this post until 1984 when he founded the Shas political party – today the 4th largest in the Knesset – and served as its spiritual guide until his last days. A scholar above all else, he pored through thousands of works. Once, he tumbled off a ladder while reaching for a book, breaking his back. As no one was there to help him, he grabbed the nearest text and studied it for 3 hours until someone found him. Possessing a great love for the Jewish people, Rav Ovadia always strove to make life simpler for the Jews, earning a reputation for being very lenient when it came to Jewish law. He was heavily engaged in kiruv – bringing secular Jews back to their heritage and into the spiritual fold. He especially focused his efforts on Mizrahi and Sephardic Jews (who often suffered discrimination and a lower socio-economic status in Israel) and is thus credited with restoring Jewish and national pride among this demographic. Many stories highlight his love and service to the people. Once, he suffered a heart attack and was rushed to hospital for life-saving surgery. He had the surgery delayed for several hours as he was in the middle of writing a letter to a woman in distress, and feared that if he died there would be no one to help her. Sadly, Rav Ovadia passed away on Monday. Nearly a million people attended his funeral in Jerusalem – the largest funeral in Israel’s history. Many have hailed his passing as the end of an era in the country’s history.
Words of the Week
The righteous promise little and do a lot; the wicked promise much and don’t do even a little. – Talmud, Bava Metzia 87a
Secret Agent Krystyna Skarbek – the inspiration for James Bond’s Vesper Lynd
Maria Krystyna Janina Skarbek (1908-1952) was born in Poland to a Catholic father and a Jewish mother from a wealthy family. From a young age, Maria enjoyed horse-back riding, skiing, and extreme physical activities. At 22, her father died and her mother’s family wealth ran out. Skarbek got a job in a Fiat dealership but fell ill from the fumes. To regain her health, she returned to the slopes and spent the majority of her time skiing and hiking. With the outbreak of World War II, Skarbek fled to London and enlisted in the British Army. She found her way into the Secret Intelligence Service and was sent to Hungary for “espionage, reconnaissance and sabotage”. From there she re-entered Poland by hiking across the mountainous border. Skarbek first attempted to save her mother from the Nazis, but her mother refused to leave and was killed in a camp. Skarbek’s main work was to organize the transfer of vital intelligence reports out of Warsaw to the SIS. (One of these correctly revealed Germany’s planned invasion of the USSR, of critical importance to the Allied victory). She also assisted in smuggling weapons and exfiltrating key military personnel. Arrested by the Gestapo in 1941, Skarbek bit her own tongue until it bled, then pretended to have virulent tuberculosis and used the cover to escape her captivity. She made her way through the Balkans to Turkey, then to the SIS headquarters in Egypt. Upon arrival, she was suspected of being a counter-spy secretly working for the Germans! Thankfully, she cleared her name and returned to work. In 1944 she was posted in France under the name ‘Madame Pauline’. Here were some of her most infamous missions, including demolishing bridges and infiltrating a Nazi prison to save her commanding officer. After the war she was awarded with an Officer of the Order of the British Empire and France’s Croix de Guerre. However, she was dismissed from service with only a month’s salary and left alone in Cairo. She slowly rebuilt her life as Christine Granville. Sadly, in 1952 she was assassinated in a hotel room. Skarbek’s story inspired Vesper Lynd, the original ‘Bond Girl’ in Ian Fleming’s first 007 story Casino Royale. Many consider her Britain’s first female secret agent.
Words of the Week
God transforms spirituality into physicality; the Jew makes physical things spiritual. – Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov