Yossef Romano (1940-1972) was born in Benghazi, Libya to a family of traditional Italian Sephardic Jews. The family made aliyah when he was six years old and settled in Herzliya. Romano became an interior designer, but his real passion was weightlifting. He started to compete professionally, and soon set Israeli records in the lightweight and middleweight categories. He was Israel’s weightlifting champion for nine years straight, and also coached the Hapoel Tel Aviv team. His greatest dream came true in 1972 when he represented Israel at the Munich Olympics. He promised his family that it would be his last competition and he would retire from the sport for good when he came back home. Unfortunately, on the first day of competition, he injured a knee tendon and needed surgery. Romano decided to stay and support the rest of the Israeli Olympic team. The night before his flight, Palestinian terrorists stormed the Israeli compound and took the Israeli athletes hostage. Romano was a war hero who fought valiantly in the Six-Day War, and immediately attacked the terrorists. He managed to beat one down and disarm him, but was shot by another, before being brutally tortured and killed. His bravery gave five of the athletes time to escape, including (former Jew of the Week) Shaul Ladany. The remaining 11 were all murdered by the terrorists during the botched rescue attempt. Romano’s wife, Ilana Romano, campaigned for years to have the International Olympic Committee formally honour the victims, and her request for a moment of silence at the 2012 Olympics was denied. She did manage to get the IOC to contribute $250,000 towards a memorial. This week marks the 51st anniversary of the Munich Massacre.
Words of the Week
The Jew is that sacred being who has brought down from heaven an everlasting fire and has illumined with it the entire world. He is the religious source, spring and fountain out of which all of the rest of the peoples have drawn their beliefs and their religions. The Jew is the pioneer of liberty… – Leo Tolstoy
Amedeo Modigliani (1884-1920) was born to an influential Sephardic Jewish family in Livorno, Italy. As a child, he was often sick and was home-schooled by his mother, his favourite hobby being painting. After nearly dying of typhus, and then tuberculosis, his mother took him on a cross-Italy tour, with an important stop in Florence to see its great artworks. She then signed him up for lessons with master painter Guglielmo Micheli. Modigliani spent several years at Micheli’s school, and proved himself as a creative and original artist. Micheli nicknamed him “superman”, not only for his artistic ability but because Modigliani liked to study and quote the philosophical works of Nietzsche. After some time learning art in Venice, Modigliani settled in Paris in 1906 and lived in the Montmartre commune for poor artists. He was entirely devoted to his art, producing as much as one hundred works per day! Unfortunately, “Modi” (as he was now known) descended into heavy drug and alcohol use, partly to deal with his chronic pains and illnesses. In 1909, he took up sculpting. (In 2010, his Tete carving became the third most expensive sculpture ever sold, going for over $70 million at auction.) He returned to painting in 1914. When World War I broke out, Modi enlisted in the army but was soon kicked out due to poor health. That same year, he had a relationship with renowned British painter Nina Hamnett. He had met her at a café and famously introduced himself simply as “Modigliani, painter and Jew”. He had several other high-profile relationships, including with Russian poet Anna Akhmatova and English writer Beatrice Hastings. He eventually settled down and got married. Modi was famous for being unconventional and uncategorizable as an artist, and for his many rich portraits. His Nu couché nude painting sold for over $170 million in 2015, among the most expensive paintings ever sold, while Nu couché (sur le côté gauche) set a Sotheby’s record in 2018, selling for $157 million. As a result of his illnesses and addictions, Modi died at the young age of 35. The following day, his grieving wife, pregnant with their second child, jumped out a window and committed suicide. Many believe that had Modi lived longer, he would have become the undisputed greatest painter of all time. There are thought to be more fakes of Modigliani’s works today than of any other artist. Two movies have already been made about him, and currently Johnny Depp and Al Pacino are working on a new biopic about his life.
Words of the Week
I only look for the good qualities in every Jew. That way I come to love him.
– Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk (1787-1859), the Kotzker Rebbe
Eliyahu “Bachur” haLevi (1469-1549) was born near Nuremberg, the youngest of nine children. When the Jews were expelled from the region, his family settled in Venice. Throughout these years, Eliyahu spent most of his time in the study of Torah, Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism), and Hebrew grammar. In 1504, he settled in Padua and took on a job as a teacher of Jewish studies. He wrote a textbook of Hebrew grammar for his students, and the book quickly spread far and wide. It became especially popular among Christian scholars, many of whom were then trying to learn Hebrew in order to understand the Bible in its original language. Meanwhile, inspired by other Renaissance authors, Eliyahu wrote a romance novel in Yiddish, the Bovo-Bukh, history’s first Yiddish novel. Hugely popular, it has been continuously published until this day, going through some 40 editions over the past five centuries. It was also translated to other languages, including German and Russian. The book’s title is the origin of the well-known Yiddish phrase, bube mayse, an “old wives’ tale”. Eliyahu wrote two satires in Italian as well. By the time he resettled in Rome in 1514, he was quite famous, and became close with Cardinal Egidio da Viterbo. The two made a deal in which Eliyahu and his family could live in the Cardinal’s palace, in exchange for Eliyahu teaching him Hebrew and Jewish mysticism. (At that time, Jewish mysticism was very popular in Europe, and had many famous non-Jewish students, too, including Michelangelo and Pico della Mirandola.) Eliyahu lived with the Cardinal for the next 13 years. During this time, he composed several more textbooks on the Hebrew language, including one of the first Hebrew dictionaries. He also translated various Jewish texts, mainly Kabbalistic ones, into Latin. Rome was sacked in 1527, so Eliyahu had to relocate again. King Francis I offered him to become a professor of Hebrew at the University of Paris, but Eliyahu declined because at that time Jews were banned from living in Paris and he refused to live in a city where his brethren were not welcome. Eliyahu would return to Venice and passed away there. Today is his yahrzeit. Former British Prime Minister David Cameron is one of his descendants.
Words of the Week
To have a second language is to have a second soul. – Charlemagne