Tag Archives: Hebrew

Jew of the Week: Rabbi Ze’ev Yavetz

Rabbi Ze’ev Yavetz

Ze’ev Wolf Yavetz (1847-1924) was born in what is now Kolno, Poland (then part of the Russian Empire) to a wealthy Orthodox Jewish family. A noted scholar from a young age, he became a distinguished historian, linguist, writer, and teacher. When he was 40, Rabbi Yavetz made aliyah to the Holy Land with his family and joined the Yehud moshava, where he worked in a vineyard. Shortly after, he was hired by Baron Edmond de Rothschild to head the new Rothschild-funded school in Zikhron Ya’akov. (Zikhron Ya’akov was one of the first modern Jewish settlements in Israel, founded by Edmond de Rothschild in 1882, and named after his father Ya’akov “James” Rothschild.) In 1890, when the holiday of Tu b’Shevat came around, Rabbi Yavetz wanted to do something meaningful with his students in honour of the Jewish “new year for trees”. So, he took his class on a tree-planting trip. This turned into a yearly tradition, and was soon adopted by neighbouring schools and villages. Eventually, the Jewish National Fund adopted the custom, too, and to this day over a million Jews participate in the JNF’s Tu b’Shevat tree-planting drive each year. In all, the JNF has planted over 260 million trees in Israel, making it the only country in the world to have increased its tree population in the last century. Meanwhile, Rabbi Yavetz joined the Hebrew Language Committee (famously founded by Eliezer Ben-Yehuda) and helped to develop the modern Hebrew tongue. He coined a number of modern Hebrew words, including tarbut and kvish. Unlike other Zionists, Rabbi Yavetz never abandoned his faith, and worked hard to ensure Jews in Israel observe Torah law, and live like their ancestors. For this reason, he was a co-founder of the Mizrachi religious Zionist movement. (The more well-known Bnei Akiva organization is the youth arm of Mizrachi.) Mizrachi would go on to establish Israel’s Ministry of Religious Affairs, ensure that Israeli government kitchens keep kashrut, and that public services rest on Shabbat. Mizrachi also had a political party, which had many names over the years, and is now known as HaBayit HaYehudi (“The Jewish Home”). Rabbi Yavetz spent the last years of his life in London, where he wrote a monumental 14-volume history of the Jewish people called Toldot Israel. Today, a school in Zikhron Ya’akov is named after him, as is the village of Kfar Yavetz.

Happy Tu b’Shevat!

Tu b’Shevat: The Prime Ministers of Israel and the Coming of Mashiach

Words of the Week

… from the most inhospitable soil, surrounded on every side by barrenness and the most miserable form of cultivation, I was driven into a fertile and thriving country estate where the scanty soil gave place to good crops and cultivation, and then vineyards and finally to the most beautiful, luxurious orange groves, all created in 20 or 30 years by the exertions of the Jewish community who live there.
– Winston Churchillreporting to Parliament after visiting Rishon LeZion in 1921

Jew of the Week: Mark Zuckerberg

Mark Elliot Zuckerberg (b. 1984) was born in White Plains, New York to a Jewish family with German, Austrian, and Polish ancestry. He excelled in high school, won multiple awards, and by the time he was ready to go to college, knew Hebrew, French, Latin, and Greek. Zuckerberg was first taught programming by his father, and later had a private tutor, who called him a “prodigy”. In his youth, he created an instant messaging app for his father’s dentistry (a year before AOL’s Instant Messenger came out), as well as a music player that learned its user’s listening preferences. Not surprisingly, Zuckerberg went to Harvard to study computer science and psychology. He was a member of the Jewish fraternity AEPi. During this time, he made a number of programs, including one to coordinate with friends to choose the same classes, and another to rank people’s appearance (called Facemash) which was so popular it quickly crashed Harvard’s servers. In early 2004, Zuckerberg launched “Thefacebook”, and soon dropped out of school to work on it. After recruiting some friends, he moved his team to Silicon Valley. It wasn’t long before he had offers to buy out Facebook, which was now sweeping college campuses across the country. Zuckerberg refused, not wanting to have people’s information controlled by “media corporations owned by conglomerates”. The company went public in 2012, valued at a record-setting $104 billion. Today, Facebook boasts 2 billion active users, and nearly $30 billion in revenue. The company also owns Instagram, WhatsApp, and Oculus. Meanwhile, Zuckerberg has become a noted philanthropist. He donated over $100 million in 2010, before becoming America’s biggest charity donor in 2013 when, in a single act, he donated Facebook shares worth nearly $1 billion, making it the largest charitable gift ever. He has since pledged to donate 99% of his wealth. One of his main projects is to bring internet access to the billions of people that still do not have it. Zuckerberg has been ranked first in a list of the “Top 100 most influential people of the Information Age”. In recent years, he has taken a greater interest in both politics and religion. Last December, someone asked “Aren’t you an atheist?” to which he responded: “No. I was raised Jewish and then I went through a period where I questioned things, but now I believe religion is very important.” In May, he gave a commencement speech at Harvard (which finally awarded him an honourary degree years after he dropped out) and concluded with a traditional Hebrew Mi Sheberach blessing, stating that he always recited it when faced with challenges. Zuckerberg is still the CEO of Facebook, with a salary of $1. There have been rumours that he is planning to run for president in 2020.

Words of the Week

Just as wisdom is not something you can feel with your hands, Godliness is not something you can grasp with your mind.
– Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi