Tag Archives: Lithuania

Jews of the Week: Dov Behr and Bernard Manischewitz

Kosher Food Revolutionaries

Rabbi Manischewitz (Image Source: Geni.com)

Rabbi Manischewitz
(Credit: Geni.com)

Dov Behr Abramson (1857-1914) was born to a religious Russian-Jewish family in Lithuania. He studied at the famous Telz Yeshiva. After becoming a rabbi he sought to immigrate to the United States. Some say he was only able to do so after buying the passport of a man that had passed away. The man’s name was Manischewitz, and the name stuck. Others say the Rabbi simply made up the name when arriving in America. Either way, he settled with his family in Cincinnati, Ohio. When the holiday of Passover came around, Manischewitz saw that the small Jewish community did not have much kosher matzah, so he began baking them in his basement. His matzahs soon became famous far beyond Cincinnati, and to keep up with demand, Manischewitz opened up a factory where matzahs were made by gas-powered machines. This generated a lot of controversy, as most rabbis at the time believed matzahs had to be hand-made. Nonetheless, machine-made matzahs were soon deemed kosher, and the Manischewitz brand grew ever larger. Manischewitz matzahs were also revolutionary because they were the first to be made in square shapes to simplify manufacturing, packaging, and shipping (traditional matzahs are round). Rabbi Manischewitz passed away in 1914 and left the company to his five sons, who went public in 1923. In the 1940s, the company moved beyond matzahs and expanded into other kosher foods like soups, crackers, and most famously, sweet wines.

Bernard Manischewitz

The Rabbi’s grandson, Bernard Manischewitz (1913-2003), expanded the company even further during his 26 years as president, making it a truly international brand. By 1990, the company had over $1.5 billion in annual sales and was producing everything from gefilte fish to processed meats and borscht. However, there was no willing successor in the family to take over, so Bernard sold it to a private equity firm. He credited Manischewitz with ushering in the age of mass-produced, processed kosher foods, which he called “the biggest change in Jewish domestic life since Biblical times.” Today, Manischewitz is still America’s largest producer of kosher foods, and the world’s largest producer of matzahs.

Words of the Week

Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.
– Mark Twain

Jew of the Week: Roman Abramovich

Abramovich

Roman Abramovich

Roman Arkadyevich Abramovich (b. 1966) was born in Lithuania. His parents died before he turned four years old, so he was raised by his grandparents in the cold, remote Arctic region of Komi. Dropping out of college, Abramovich initially worked as both a mechanic and merchant, selling goods from his apartment (at one point, his main wares were rubber ducks and retreaded car tires). In 1988, he started a doll-making business with his wife, and by then had also began investing in Russian oil and gas. By 1995, natural resources were his sole focus, and he had generated a great deal of wealth. Partnering with Boris Berezovsky, the two bought the oil company Sibneft in 1995 and quickly turned it into a multi-billion dollar company. The following year, just thirty years old, he was invited to live in the Kremlin by Russian President Yeltsin. Three years later, he was elected governor of the impoverished and bankrupt province of Chukotka, where he has since contributed over $2 billion of his own money in charitable funds and investments, turning the region into one of the most flourishing in Russia, multiplying its average salary more than five-fold. Unfortunately, Abramovich has also been mired in controversy, bribery scandals, and affairs with the mafia – whom he reportedly paid hundreds of millions per year for protection. (To be fair, most businesspeople, and politicians, in post-Soviet Russia are in the same boat.) Abramovich did try to clear his name and get away from it all, restarting his life in London, and even paying his former partner Berezovsky over $1 billion in 2001 to leave him alone. As a close friend of Yeltsin, he was given the task of interviewing potential presidential candidates who would succeed Yeltsin. It is said that Abramovich was the one who first recommended Putin. Most famously, Abramovich bought the Chelsea Football Club in 2003 and quickly turned over its fortunes, soon making it the league champion for the first time in 50 years, followed by ten more titles in a decade. Abramovich also started a charity organization called the National Academy of Football, which has built over 50 soccer fields across Russia and funds sports programs for disadvantaged youth. He also contributes to Chabad, and is the chairman of Russia’s Federation of Jewish Communities. Having donated countless billions, Abramovich has the distinction of being the most generous philanthropist in Russia. Despite having lost a sizable portion of his wealth in the recent financial crisis, he is still the 12th richest person in Russia, and 137th in the world. The father of seven children has been awarded the Order of Honour and was Russia’s Person of the Year in 2003. Earlier this week, he bought his first property in Israel, spending $25 million on a historic hotel in Tel-Aviv, which he will be converting into his private residence.

Words of the Week

Try not to become a man of success. Rather, become a man of value.
– Albert Einstein