Tag Archives: Columbia University

Jew of the Week: Isaac Rice

Chess Master, Musician, Submarine Tycoon

Isaac Rice

Isaac Leopold Rice (1850-1915) was born in Bavaria to a German-Jewish family, and grew up in Philadelphia. At 19, he went back to Europe and studied music at the National Conservatory of Paris. At the same time, he was a European correspondent for the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, and regularly wrote newspaper articles. After three years, Rice briefly moved to England and became a music teacher. He was an avid chess player and won a UK chess championship in Manchester. Rice then moved to New York and wrote his first book, the philosophical “What is Music?” He taught music classes for ten hours a day in order to support his struggling parents and siblings, and spent several more hours composing new music. In 1878 he enrolled in Columbia Law and graduated at the top of his class two years later. Rice worked primarily with railroad companies, and over the next decade became the most famous railroad lawyer in America. Meanwhile, he co-founded Columbia’s school of political science, and taught the subject (along with law and economics) for four years. He also established Forum Magazine, and was a regular contributor for decades. Rice was fascinated by electricity and its potential. In 1892 he bought out the failing Electro-Dynamic Company, producer of motors and generators. He then founded the Electric Vehicle Company, and is thought to be the first person in New York to have a car, bringing another dozen motorized cabs to operate in the city for the first time. In 1897, Rice bought the Electric Storage Battery Company and the Holland Torpedo Boat Company, creating his new Electric Boat Company. Rice secured a contract with the US government to build America’s first submarines (designed by John Philip Holland). He went on to supply the US Navy with 85 submarines and 722 submarine chasers, which were instrumental in World War I, as were his 580 motor boats for the British Royal Navy. Rice sold his Electric Boat Company for $2 million several months before he passed away. His companies later formed General Dynamics, today one of the largest military contractors in the world, employing over 100,000 people, and still the main supplier of the Navy’s submarines. (The company’s most famous creation: the F-16 fighter jet.) Rice continued to play chess and host tournaments until his last days. He is credited with playing a key role in boosting the popularity of chess in America. Rice was president of the Manhattan Chess Club, and discovered a classic opening move of chess that is named after him (the Rice Gambit). His large New York home, which he built in 1903, is an official historical landmark, and currently houses a yeshiva.

Amazing Discovery of Biblical Joseph’s Statue in Egypt

Words of the Week

This is a fight for the homeland – it is either us or the Israelis. There is no middle road. The Jews of Palestine will have to leave. We will facilitate their departure to their former homes. Any of the old Palestine Jewish population who survive may stay, but it is my impression that none of them will survive.
– former PLO chairman Ahmed Shukairy

New York City is famous for its cabs. It all began with a set of motorized cabs, like the Electrobat on the right (designed by Morris and Salom) – first introduced by Isaac Rice.

Jew of the Week: Herman Wouk

America’s Tolstoy

Herman Wouk

Herman Chaim Aviezer Zelig Wouk (1915-2019) was born in New York to poor Russian-Jewish immigrants. He studied at Columbia University and was the editor of its humour magazine. He also took courses at Yeshiva University. After graduating, Wouk worked as a radio actor, and when World War II began, wrote radio commercials in support of the war effort. Wouk enlisted in the army himself after Pearl Harbour, and served in the Navy in the Pacific. He fought in eight battles, won a bunch of medals, and rose to the rank of lieutenant. It was during this time that he wrote his first novel. He sent a copy to an old professor, who passed it on to a publisher, who sent Wouk a contract to his base near Okinawa. The book was published in 1947, shortly after Wouk returned from military service. It was an instant hit. Wouk’s second novel didn’t do so well, but his third, 1951’s The Caine Mutiny, sold a whopping three million copies, won a Pulitzer Prize, and was adapted to a Broadway play, followed by a Hollywood film. A few years later and after another bestseller (also made into a Hollywood film), Wouk was on the cover of TIME magazine. Throughout this time, he maintained strict observance of the Torah and was deeply religious. This was inspired by his grandfather, who taught Wouk the Torah and Talmud in his youth. Wouk would later state that his grandfather and the Navy were the two biggest influences in his life. In 1959, he wrote his first book of non-fiction, This is My God: The Jewish Way of Life. The book was credited with opening up Judaism to the American mainstream, enlightening the world about Jews, and helping to counter anti-Semitic myths. It also showed Jews that it was possible to be modern, American, and Orthodox. His third non-fiction book was about the interplay between religion and science. He also wrote a two-volume, 2000-page war drama likened to War and Peace. Altogether, Wouk wrote 21 books and plays, many of which were adapted into films or TV shows. His last was a memoir published when he was 100 years old. Wouk won countless awards and honourary degrees, and was described by the Library of Congress as an “American Tolstoy”. Stephen King wrote an award-winning short story called Herman Wouk is Still Alive. Wouk is considered by many to be the most successful Orthodox Jewish author to date. Sadly, Wouk passed away two weeks ago, just days shy of his 104th birthday, and in the middle of writing his newest book.

The Kabbalah of Exile and Terrorism

Words of the Week

That idea, that life is here purely for personal pleasure, that is a goal in life for a herd of swine.
– Albert Einstein