Rabbi Menachem Bombach was born in the ultra-Orthodox Satmar community of Meah Shearim in Jerusalem. His father passed away when he was just a toddler, and Bombach was raised in a very insular environment. Despite living in Israel, he spoke no Hebrew at all until he was 20 years old. Bombach had a sharp mind, though, and studied at some of Israel’s most prestigious yeshivas, including the famous Mir Yeshiva. When he got married and sought to find a job, he realized that he knew very little and was completely unprepared for adult life. Despite protests from his family and community, Bombach pursued secular studies. He learned Hebrew and English, earned a BA in Education, and then a Master’s from Hebrew University. To make sure other young Ultra-Orthodox men do not struggle like he did, Bombach decided to start a new kind of yeshiva, one where secular studies are given equal weight to religious studies, and students are prepared for future careers and financial independence. Encouraged and inspired by Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein, he founded Hamidrasha Hahasadit academy in Beitar Ilit. There, his carefully crafted program weaves together Biblical and Talmudic studies with math, language, and computer science. He has since opened a girls seminary, too, and planted the seeds for a network of similar schools. His vision is to bring the Haredi majority in Israel above the poverty line, to integrate them with technology in a kosher way, and to end the country’s divide between the secular and the ultra-Orthodox. He estimates that if he can reach 10% of the Haredi community, the impact would completely transform Israel economically and socially. Many are already feeling the impact that Bombach’s schools are making. He recently taught a class on Yom HaZikaron about being grateful for Israeli soldiers that have given their lives for Israel. The touching video of the class went viral. Although he has faced a great deal of adversity, Bombach continues to make waves in the Haredi community and Israeli society at large. His schools have become so popular that they cannot keep up with demand, and Bombach now hopes to expand his “Netzach” network of schools across the country. He is currently campaigning to receive more funding from New York’s UJA Israel@70 Fund – click here to watch his campaign video and vote for his school.
When God created the first man, He showed him all the trees of the Garden of Eden, and said to him: “See My works, how beautiful and praiseworthy they are. And everything that I created, I created it for you. Be careful not to spoil or destroy My world, for if you do, there will be nobody after you to repair it. – Midrash (Kohelet Rabbah 7:13)
Zvi Hermann Hirsch Schapira (1840-1898) was born to a religious Russian-Jewish family in a small Lithuanian village. He studied to become a rabbi and at age 24 was appointed to his first post. However, he soon decided to pursue his passion for the sciences and ended up studying at a Berlin academy. Three years later, he settled in Odessa and worked for several years as a merchant. In 1878, Schapira moved to Heidelburg and spent another four years studying math and physics, during which time he earned his doctorate. He became a math professor at the University of Heidelburg, and published several important papers. Throughout this time, he continued studying Jewish literature, and contributed to three Hebrew periodicals. By 1884, Shapira was a vocal Zionist, and suggested the establishment of a Jewish National Fund which would buy land in Israel and help settle Jews there. He formally proposed the idea to the First Zionist Congress in 1897, where he also suggested the establishment of a Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Tragically, Schapira died the following year from pneumonia. The Jewish National Fund would finally be launched three years later, and it would take another two decades before the Hebrew University would open its doors. The JNF would go on to become one of the most important organizations in Israel’s history, and instrumental in the nascent state’s success. It purchased over 50% of Israel’s landmass, developed over 250,000 acres of its land, planted some 260 million trees, built nearly 200 dams and reservoirs, and established over 1000 parks. The JNF also played a key role in the founding of Tel Aviv in 1909, and in running Israel’s first postal service. It still owns about 13% of Israel’s land, and in the past decade alone, helped Israel expand its water capacity by 7%. The JNF is perhaps most famous for its Tu b’Shevat tree-planting drive, which over a million Jews participate in every year.
When God created the first man, He showed him all the trees of the Garden of Eden, and said to him: “See My works, how beautiful and praiseworthy they are. And everything that I created, I created it for you. Be careful not to spoil or destroy My world, for if you do, there will be nobody after you to repair it.” – Midrash (Kohelet Rabbah 7:13)
Yonath at the Weizmann Institute (Credit: Miki Koren)
Ada Yonath (b. 1939) was born in Jerusalem, the daughter of Polish Zionists that immigrated to Israel in 1933. Growing up in poverty, she found solace in books, and was inspired by the Polish-French scientist Marie Curie. Yonath studied chemistry at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University and earned a Ph.D from the Weizmann Institute in 1968. Her focus was on x-ray crystallography, a technique for visualizing biochemical structures. After postdoc studies at Carnegie Mellon and MIT, Yonath returned to Israel to establish the country’s only protein crystallography lab. In the 1980s, she started developing a new crystallography technique that was initially met with a lot of resistance from the scientific community. Yonath silenced her critics with amazing results, and discovered some of the key mechanisms in the body’s production of proteins. By 2001, she unraveled the mysteries of the ribosome, the structure responsible for producing protein from the body’s genetic code. In addition to this, she discovered how dozens of antibiotics impact the ribosome, contributing tremendously to our understanding of antibiotics and drug resistance. The technique she invented, cryo bio-crystallography, is now standard in top biochemistry labs around the world. In 2009, Yonath was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. That made her the first Israeli woman to win a Nobel Prize, the first Middle Eastern woman to win a Nobel Prize in science, and the first woman to win the Prize in Chemistry in 45 years (and only the fourth overall). Yonath has won a handful of other awards, including the Harvey Prize, the Rothschild Prize, the Wolf Prize, the Albert Einstein World Award of Science, and the L’Oréal-UNESCO Award for Women in Science. Despite being in her 70s, Yonath is still doing very important research in her lab at the Weizmann Institute. Some say she may even be up for a second Nobel Prize! She also hopes to write a novel as soon as she has some extra time. (Click here to see an incredible video of a ribosome working in the body, based on Dr. Yonath’s research.)
Words of the Week
Family is not punishment! When I sit with young people and they say, “You’re a mother and you took care of the kids”, I say: “It’s a privilege.” – Ada Yonath