Irwin Cotler (b. 1940) was born in Montreal and studied law at McGill University. After continuing his education at Yale, he returned to McGill as a law professor, and directed its Human Rights Program for over 25 years. As an expert on international and human rights law, Cotler served as a counsel for famous political prisoners like Nelson Mandela, Maher Arar, and Natan Sharansky. He has advised the Middle East peace process, and was involved in the Camp David Accords that brought peace between Israel and Egypt. In the 1980s, he served as President of the Canadian Jewish Congress, while also working to combat apartheid in South Africa. In 1999, he was elected as a Canadian Member of Parliament with a landslide victory that gave him 92% of the vote, described as “the most stunning electoral victory in this century.” Between 2003 and 2006, he served as Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, and has been lauded for his work in ensuring human rights and citizen privacy, particularly in the face of increasingly restrictive anti-terrorism legislation. He has worked against discrimination, anti-Semitism, and racism, appointing two women to the Supreme Court (making Canada’s the most gender-representative in the world), and appointing the first aboriginals and visible minorities to appellate courts. He issued the first national initiative against racism, worked to bring justice to victims of the Rwanda massacres, and even to indict former Iranian President Ahmadinejad for inciting genocide. Cotler reverted more wrongful convictions than any other minister in history. Having been re-elected as MP no less than 5 times, Cotler recently announced that he will not seek further re-election, and is ready to retire, though he intends to remain very active in social justice and peace activism. Awarded ten honourary degrees and the Order of Canada, Irwin Cotler is described as a key global player “in the struggle for justice, peace and human rights.”
Words of the Week
And God said: “. . . Abraham shall be a great people . . . Because I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him that they shall keep the way of God, to do righteousness and justice.”
– Genesis 18:17–19
Zev Wolfson (1928-2012) was born in Lithuania, deported to Siberia during World War II and finally made his way to New York. With no money he began working as a light-bulb salesman, but soon found his way into real estate where he quickly earned a large sum of wealth. Inspired by the sight of an Israeli flag, Wolfson began working tirelessly for Israel, lobbying the U.S. government to help the nascent state. He secured arms for Israel during the critical period of the Yom Kippur War, and built countless institutions across the country. Yitzchak Rabin said he didn’t know “one other Jew in the world who, as an individual, had done more for the State of Israel”. In spiritual matters, too, Wolfson was a giant, financing yeshivas worldwide, and paying for such programs as RAJE, Aish Fellowships, and Argentina’s Morasha, which bring thousands of young Jews to Israel every year at virtually no cost. Possibly every Jew in the world has somehow been touched by Wolfson’s outreach – he even established a Torah-learning program in Iran during the times of the Shah! Humble and dedicated to Torah, he made sure to donate more than 50% of his earnings, and was known to fly economy class despite his wealth. His family continues to contribute hundreds of millions of dollars to Jewish causes every year.
Zev Wolfson is not to be confused with Sir Isaac Wolfson (1897-1991) of Scotland, another great Jewish philanthropist. Born to poor Polish immigrants, Isaac Wolfson couldn’t afford school so he became a salesperson. He worked his way up to become director of Great Universal Stores, once among the largest retailers in the UK, with over 50,000 employees. A devout Orthodox Jew, Sir Wolfson donated virtually all of his wealth, much of it to build the young State of Israel, saying “No man should have more than £100,000. The rest should go to charity.”
Words of the Week
People are accustomed to look at the heavens and wonder what happens there. It would be better if they would look within themselves to see what happens there.
– Menachem Mendel of Kotzk, “The Kotzker Rebbe”