Tag Archives: Mexico

Jews of the Week: the Guggenheims

Meyer Guggenheim, with (top to bottom) Daniel, Solomon, Simon, and Benjamin

Meyer Guggenheim (1828-1905) was born in Switzerland to a traditional Ashkenazi Jewish family. At 19, he set out on his own and journeyed to the United States. After working in various shops in Philadelphia, Guggenheim opened up his own company, importing Swiss embroidery. Business went well, and he soon searched for new opportunities. In 1881, Guggenheim invested $5000 in two Colorado silver mines, and quickly realized their incredible potential. He sold all his other ventures and put all of his money into mining and smelting. With the help of his seven sons, Guggenheim quickly expanded across the US. By 1901, the family controlled the largest metal-processing plants in the US, and also owned mines in Mexico, Bolivia, Chile, and the Congo. In 1922, various disputes led to the Guggenheims being kicked out of their largest company by its own board. Soon, they sold off all of their mines. The family would invest elsewhere, and the fortune vacillated over the decades. In 1999, it ceased to be a strictly family affair with the opening of Guggenheim Partners. Today, the firm has 2300 employees, and controls $260 billion in assets worldwide (including the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team, purchased for a record $2.15 billion in cash).

After the elder Guggenheim’s passing, his son Daniel Guggenheim (1856-1930) took over the business. By 1918, he raised the family fortune to as much as $300 million, making them among the wealthiest people in the world, as well as among the most generous philanthropists. Daniel’s son was a World War I pilot, inspiring Daniel to invest considerably in aviation technology. To this day, the most prestigious prize in aeronautics is the Daniel Guggenheim Medal. Another son, Solomon Guggenheim (1861-1949), was a patron of the arts and an avid collector. He established New York’s world-famous Guggenheim Museum. Meanwhile, Simon Guggenheim (1867-1941) served as a US senator. He established a fund in honour of his deceased son that has granted over 15,000 scholarships to date, totalling over $250 million! His $80,000 donation (equivalent to $2.5 million today) to a Colorado school was, at the time, the largest private grant ever made to a state institution. Benjamin Guggenheim (1865-1912) worked for the family business out of Paris, and in 1912 boarded the Titanic to head back home. When the iceberg hit, he was offered a place among the first women being evacuated, but rejected, saying “No woman shall remain unsaved because I was a coward.” One survivor reported that “after having helped the rescue of women and children, [he] got dressed, a rose at his buttonhole, to die.” His body was never recovered.

Words of the Week

We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.
– Plato

Jew of the Week: Emmanuel Lubezki

The Mexican Jew Who Set an Oscar Record

Emmanuel Lubezki, known to most people as "Chivo", ie. "Goat"

Emmanuel Lubezki, known to most people as Chivo, or “Goat” (Credit: Getty Images)

Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki Morgenstern (b. 1964) was born to a Russian-Jewish family in Mexico City. He initially studied history, then switched to film studies and became a cinematographer. He first worked on a film made with a group of 10 friends who pooled together $7000. It brought in enough money to make a second film, which found more success in Mexico, but no profit. His third film brought an invitation to the Toronto International Film Festival, following which Lubezki started getting calls from Hollywood (yet still barely spoke any English). Among his first major productions was a collaboration with his childhood friend and classmate Alfonso Cuaron. The two went on to make 6 films together, winning a handful of Oscars along the way. Lubezki’s work on the 2006 film Children of Men was critically acclaimed for its new cinematic techniques, and got him a fourth Oscar nomination. He finally won an Academy Award in 2013 for Gravity, another trailblazer in 3D cinematography which some have described as “the most technologically impressive film ever” and “the greatest visual achievement in the history of cinema”. (It took over four years of work for Lubezki’s team to make it happen.) He won yet again the following year for Birdman, and took a third Oscar in a row this year for The Revenant. This set a new record, making Lubezki the first cinematographer to win three Oscars in three consecutive years. Among Lubezki’s other highly-praised works are The Tree of Life (starring Brad Pitt) and Ali (starring Will Smith). Alfonso Cuaron has said of Lubezki: “You go to a concert and you are listening to the music… Chivo’s looking at the light. When you’re having dinner with Chivo, he starts moving everything around – he’ll move a candle over here or a light over there – until suddenly the light is just right.”

Words of the Week

The righteous promise little and do a lot; the wicked promise much and don’t do even a little.
– Talmud, Bava Metzia 87a