Tag Archives: Congressman

Jew of the Week: Ed Koch

The Man Who Made New York Great Again

Ed Koch

Edward Irving Koch (1924-2013) was born to poor Polish-Jewish immigrants in The Bronx. He was drafted to the US Army in 1943 and sent to Europe as an infantryman, earning three medals of distinction. Because he could speak German, he remained in Europe after the war to help dismantle the Nazi government. Returning to New York, Koch studied at City College, then got his law degree from NYU. He worked as a lawyer for the next two decades, and during that time became an influential member of the Democratic Party. In 1967 he was appointed to the New York City Council, and two years later was elected to the US House of Representatives. Though he was originally “just a plan liberal”, he soon became a “liberal with sanity” (in his own words), realizing that at times liberal ideology was illogical and harms the very people it aims to help. He was renowned for his human rights efforts, as well as for combating communism and dictatorships. This drew the ire of various foreign governments (including Uruguay and Chile, who unsuccessfully plotted to assassinate him). Koch served in Congress until 1977, resigning only to take the post of New York City’s mayor under a platform of restoring “law and order”. He fulfilled his campaign promises, among them hiring 3500 new police officers to make New York safer. He ended the riots, and saved New York from its deep economic crisis. Koch was a beloved mayor, easily winning re-election in 1981 with 75% of the vote, and again in 1985 with 78% of the vote. When Chabad wanted to put up a public menorah for Chanukah, he readily agreed, and made sure it would be “the world’s largest”. In fact, he paved the way for other cities to do the same. (Amazingly, a lighting ceremony in Manhattan one Friday afternoon went behind schedule, so Koch summoned a helicopter to transport the rabbi back home to Brooklyn in time for Shabbat!) Despite a stroke in 1987, Koch recovered and continued faithfully serving his city. A year later, he took a strong stand against Jesse Jackson’s run for president (citing Jackson’s anti-Semitic comments). This lost him the support of most black voters, and Koch narrowly missed re-election in 1989. He returned to practicing law, and also became a professor at NYU. He spent more time writing, publishing a children’s book and contributing to a number of newspapers. Back in 1984 he had already published a memoir, Mayor, which became a bestseller and was later turned into a hit Broadway musical. Koch was a big movie buff, and his film reviews became legendary. Koch himself appeared in over 60 films and TV shows. He continued lecturing and going on speaking tours, often in support of human rights, and always in support of Israel. New York’s Queensboro Bridge was renamed after him, and there is a street named after him in Tel-Aviv, too. Koch’s funeral was attended by thousands, with the NYPD doing a fly-over, and eulogies by Bill Clinton and Michael Bloomberg. He asked his tombstone to simply state the Shema, along with the final words of journalist Daniel Pearl, who was kidnapped and brutally murdered by terrorists: “My father is Jewish, my mother is Jewish, I am Jewish.”

Where in the Torah is Chanukah?

Words of the Week

A small hole in the body is a big hole in the soul.
– Rabbi Dov Ber, the Maggid of Mezeritch (1704-1772)

American-Israeli astronaut Jessica Meir tweets her Chanukah wishes from the International Space Station, with a photo of her Chanukah socks.

Jew of the Week: Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders

Bernard Sanders (b. 1941) was born in Brooklyn. He studied political science at the University of Chicago in the 1960s, and was a leader of the Civil Rights Movement on campus, for which he was once arrested. After graduating, he spent some time in a kibbutz in Israel. In 1971, Sanders joined the socialist, anti-war Liberty Union Party. He ran for governor and senator many times, but never won. In 1981, he was elected mayor of Burlington, the largest city in Vermont. Sanders brought Burlington back to life, balancing the city’s budget, rebuilding its downtown area, and making Burlington the first city in US history to finance community housing. Sanders was an extremely popular mayor, and was re-elected for four terms. He then briefly taught political science at Harvard before finally winning a Congressional seat in 1990. This made him the first independent to be elected to the House of Representatives in 40 years. He served as a Representative until 2007, and as a Senator since then. That makes him the longest-serving independent Congressman in American history, as well as the only Congressman to openly identify as a socialist. Sanders opposed both wars in Iraq, the bailout of banks in 2008, the NSA, and the unpopular Patriot Act, along with many other bills aimed at expanding government powers. As a member of the Senate Budget Committee, he has focused on “rebuilding the middle class” and is working towards raising minimum wages and social security. He has also been voted the top senator with regards to environmental action, and won an award for his support of war veterans. Not surprisingly, Sanders has won essentially all of his elections by huge landslides, and holds a very high approval rating, making him among the most popular senators in the US. In 2010, following his incredible 8.5 hour speech to Congress that focused on helping the disadvantaged, many began urging Sanders to run for president. On April 30, 2015, he finally announced his candidacy. True to his beliefs, he rejected large “Super PAC” donations, and said he will finance his campaign through small individual contributions. Within 24 hours of this announcement, he raised $1.5 million through small donations averaging $43. By July 2nd, his campaign already raised $15 million through 400,000 donors (nearly triple the number that Obama had, and in less time). The day before, his speech in Wisconsin was attended by over 10,000 people, making it the largest turnout thus far for any presidential candidate. Among other issues, Sanders’ platform is focused on wealth inequality, “getting big money out of politics”, free university education, Wall Street reform, media reform, and investing in more renewable energy sources. He is now considered a top candidate for winning the presidency, which would make him the first Jewish president in American history.

Words of the Week

A guy named Adolf Hitler won an election in 1932. He won an election, and 50 million people died as a result of that election in World War II, including 6 million Jews. So what I learned as a little kid is that politics is, in fact, very important.
– Bernie Sanders

Jews of the Week: Straus and Bloomingdale

Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s 

Lyman and Joseph Bloomingdale

Lyman and Joseph Bloomingdale

Lyman Bloomingdale (1841-1905) and Joseph Bloomingdale (1842-1904) were the sons of German-Jewish immigrants who settled in New York. Their father Benjamin started a small clothing shop, and it was here that Lyman and Joseph sold their first hoop skirts for ladies. In 1872, the brothers opened their own store. Business boomed, and in 1886, the company expanded and opened its current world-famous Bloomingdale’s location. Over the next century, Bloomingdale’s went on to open dozens of stores across America, and become one of the most recognizable department store brands in the world. In 1930, Bloomingdale’s joined together with another department store giant – Macy’s. Macy’s began in 1858 as a small dry goods store. Thirty years later, a pair of Jewish brothers (who originally only supplied Macy’s with tableware) became partners in the business, and the shop’s fortunes boomed.

Isidor Straus

The brothers were Isidor Straus (1845-1912) and Nathan Straus (1848-1931), who were also German-Jewish immigrants like the Bloomingdales. Eventually, the two became the sole owners of Macy’s, and turned the company into an internationally-recognized brand, which now has 850 locations. The elder Isidor served as a US Congressmen and was a noted philanthropist and social activist. Tragically, he and his wife were aboard the Titanic when it sank in 1912. Despite his wealth and status, which immediately guaranteed him a seat on a lifeboat, Isidor refused so that all women and children could be saved first. He and his wife did not survive. His brother Nathan was also supposed to cruise the Titanic, but instead decided to take a trip to Israel. This decision saved his life, and Nathan saw this is a divine message.

Nathan Straus

Nathan Straus dedicated the rest of his life to support the Jewish state, going on to donate two thirds of his wealth for the cause. His money opened up countless schools, health clinics and public kitchens in Israel. The modern city of Netanya is named after him. Meanwhile, Nathan also did a great deal at home. He opened a pasteurized milk institute that gave out free milk to children, and is credited with significantly reducing the incidence of milk-borne diseases. During the recession of 1893, he gave away coal and meat for free, opened lodgings for 64,000 people, and provided 50,000 meals for a penny each. In the recession of 1914-15 he provided over one million such penny meals, and during World War I, sold his private yacht in order to feed orphans. His personal motto was: “The world is my country, to do good is my religion.”

Words of the Week

God transforms spirituality into physicality; the Jew makes physical things spiritual.
– Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov