Moshe Chaim Montefiore (1784-1885) was born in Livorno, Italy to a wealthy Sephardic family. Raised in England, he worked as a grocery merchant before earning great wealth in the stock exchange. In 1824, Montefiore retired and dedicated his life to making the world a better place, funding countless schools, hospitals and other institutions. He was a key figure in abolishing slavery, and even raised the money used to compensate angry plantation owners. Montefiore served as Sheriff of London, and was knighted by Queen Victoria for his selflessness. In 1827 he travelled to Israel and the experience returned him to his Jewish roots. He became a strictly Torah-observant Jew, so much so that he had a personal shochet travel with him so that he can have kosher meat. Fighting for each individual Jew, Montefiore personally went to Turkey to gain the release of 10 imprisoned Jews. He did the same in trips to Russia, Morocco, Rome and Romania. In 1862 he built a Sephardic yeshiva, in addition to the great Montefiore synagogue, built on the former estate of Queen Caroline. Montefiore would make 7 trips to the Holy Land over his life time (the last at age 91!) setting the ground work for the Zionist movement. He financed much of the early construction projects, including the first printing press and textile factory, established multiple agricultural colonies, and even commissioned several censuses that provide us with important information to this day. Montefiore died childless at the age of 100. His centenary was celebrated as a national holiday. Today, the 13th of Av, is his yahrzeit.
Words of the Week
A wealthy anti-Semite once told Moses Montefiore that he had just returned from Japan, where there are “neither pigs nor Jews.” Sir Moses replied: “then you and I should go there, so that they should have a sample of each.”
Yosef Shalom Elyashiv (1910-2012) was born in Lithuania, the grandson of famous kabbalist Shlomo Elyashiv. He was an only child, long-awaited after 17 years of childless marriage. Proving his genius at an early age, he never needed to pass any rabbinical examination or ordination. Considered by many to be among the greatest rabbis in the world, and chief posek (authority of Jewish law), he was also the spiritual leader of the Degel haTorah party in the Israeli Knesset. Since the 1950s, countless volumes of his teachings have been published, including a famous 18-volume set of Talmudic commentaries. Rabbi Elyashiv passed away last week, at the age of 102. Over 300,000 people attended his funeral in Jerusalem. True to his humble nature, it was his wish that no eulogies be said. Rav Elyashiv had 12 children, and lived to see his great-great-great-grandkids. Incredibly, he already has nearly 1000 descendants!
Words of the Week
Better that you not vow, than that you should vow and not fulfill.
– King Solomon (Kohelet 5:4)
Rita Levi-Montalcini was born in Italy in 1909, and still goes to work every day at the European Brain Institute. If you didn’t catch that: she is 103 years old. That makes her the only Nobel Prize winner in history to live 100 years. She won the prize together with fellow Jew Stanley Cohen for discovering Nerve Growth Factor, the main protein involved in neurological development. Levi-Montalcini went to medical school in the 1930s, but was barred from being a physician by Mussolini’s race laws that prevented Jews from holding academic professions. So she set up a laboratory in her home and studied the nerves of chickens. This was the basis for many of her future discoveries. Wherever her family fled during the war, Levi-Montalcini set up mobile labs; at one point even running a genetics lab from her bedroom! After the war she continued her research and taught at Washington University for 30 years. She has won the National Medal of Science, and was knighted, too. In 2001, Levi-Montalcini was appointed a senator for life and is the eldest member of Italy’s Upper House. Her advice for living a long and healthy life: “minimal sleep, limited food intake, and always keeping the brain active and interested.”
UPDATE: Sadly, Rita Levi-Montalcini passed away in December of 2012, seven months after this post was originally published.