Tag Archives: Columbia

Jew of the Week: Frank Lautenberg

Democratic Senator Frank Lautenberg

Frank Raleigh Lautenberg (1924-2013) was born in New Jersey to a poor family of Jewish immigrants from Poland and Russia. His father died young from cancer, leaving his mother to support the family by selling sandwiches. After high school, Lautenberg fought in World War II, serving in the army until 1946. At the time, returning war veterans had their education financed by the government, so Lautenberg got an economics degree from Columbia Business School. He first worked for an insurance company, then as a salesman, eventually rising to the rank of CEO. In 1978 he became New York’s Port Authority, managing the area’s vast transportation infrastructure. That brought him closer to politics, and in 1982 he ran for the Senate as a democrat. One of his first major moves as senator was bringing into effect a minimum drinking age, set at 21 years since 1984. In 1990 his ‘Lautenberg Amendment’ passed into law, making it easier for refugees to immigrate to the US, thus opening the doors to thousands of Jews fleeing the collapsing Soviet Union. Since then, countless refugees from around the world have been able to find asylum in the US due to this law. Lautenberg’s second famous amendment passed in 1996, banning the sale of firearms to those convicted of domestic violence. After winning two more re-elections, Lautenberg decided to retire in 2000. However, he quickly regretted the decision, and came back in 2002, winning re-election again in 2008. Lautenberg wrote legislation that banned smoking on airplanes and in federal buildings. He voted consistently for more stem cell research, gun control, and peaceful foreign policies, making him a hero among liberal democrats. Sadly, he passed away this Monday from viral pneumonia after a previous battle with lymphoma. At 89 years of age, he was the oldest-serving senator, and the last to have fought in World War II.

 

Words of the Week

Are you as careful with what comes out of your mouth as you are with what enters it?
– Chassidic Proverb

Jew of the Week: Ilan Ramon

An Inspiring Hero: Israel’s First Astronaut

Ilan Ramon

Ilan Ramon – Israel’s First Astronaut

Ilan Wolferman (1954-2003) was born in Ramat Gan, Israel to Holocaust survivors. At just 19 years of age, he distinguished himself in the Yom Kippur War as a brave soldier, receiving a military decoration for his service. A year later he graduated as a fighter pilot, and as customary, took on a new name, ‘Ramon’. By 1981 he was promoted to squadron commander and was the youngest pilot to participate in the covert Operation Opera – Israel’s successful hit on Iraq’s nuclear reactor. He would log over 4000 hours of flying time, 1000 of which were in an F-16. In the relative calm of the late 1980s, Ramon studied at Tel Aviv University and earned a science degree in electronics and computer engineering. Returning to the military, he became a colonel by 1994, and in 1997 was invited by NASA to serve as a payload specialist in its space shuttle program.

His mission finally came in 2003, when he spent nearly 16 days in space, working 24 hour shifts and performing over 80 successful experiments. He proudly declared that he was representing all Jews and all Israelis. Part of that meant that his space food was certified kosher, that he brought to space with him a Torah scroll and a mezuzah, and he even asked his rabbi how he should keep Shabbat in orbit, where sunrise comes every 90 minutes. Tragically, the Columbia space shuttle exploded upon re-entry into Earth, taking the life of Ramon and his fellow crewmates. Sadder still, Ramon’s son Asaf perished in a training flight in 2009. In an unbelievable miracle, 37 pages of Ilan Ramon’s diary somehow survived the crash, when virtually everything else completely disintegrated. Scientists stated there is no “rational explanation” to how this was possible. An inspiring hero, Ilan Ramon was awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor, and his memory continues to be a shining beacon for Israel and the Jewish nation.

Words of the Week

Why [are mourners fed] lentils? Just as the lentil has no mouth, so is the mourner speechless…Just as the lentil is round, so mourning comes round to all the inhabitants of this world.
– Talmud, Bava Batra 16b

Jews of the Week: Leo Kahn and Thomas Stemberg

Possibly Everything On Your Desk (Including the Desk)

Staples Founders Thomas Stemberg and Leo Kahn

Leo Kahn (1916-2011) was born to Jewish-Lithuanian immigrants who owned a whole foods store in Massachusetts. After getting degrees from Harvard and Columbia, Kahn served across the globe for the US Air Force during World War II. Following this, Kahn took his parents store to a new level, opening up a chain of supermarkets which today go by many different brand names, the largest being Whole Foods. His greatest competitor was Thomas Stemberg, owner of First National Supermarkets. After battling each other in price wars, the two came together (as all Jews should do!) and realized there was a serious lack in the office supply industry. Thus was born Staples. This chain now has over 2280 stores in 26 countries, with a revenue of nearly $30 billion and over 90,000 employees. The EPA ranks Staples as one of the top 25 environmentally-friendly corporations, and the company is well-known for their philanthropic work. Leo Kahn passed away last May at age 94.

Words of the Week

Whoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if he destroyed an entire world. And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.
– Talmud, Sanhedrin 37a