Tag Archives: Mizrahi Jews

Jew of the Week: Mikhael Mirilashvili

Pediatrician, Oligarch, Philanthropist

Mikhael Mirilashvili with a glass of air-generated water from one of his Watergen machines

Mikhael Mirilashvili (b. 1960) was born to a Jewish family in Kulashi, Georgia. He moved to St. Petersburg at 17 to study mathematics, then switched to medicine and became a pediatrician. As many new opportunities opened up with the collapse of the Soviet Union, Mirilashvili went into business. He started with real estate, then expanded to retail stores, banking, television, oil and gas, and casinos. He owned six casinos in St. Petersburg alone, and his Viking bank is among the city’s most popular. Mirilashvili was a cofounder of Russian social media app Vkontakte, which he sold in 2013 for $1.12 billion. In 2000, his father was kidnapped by a group of criminals posing as police officers. Two weeks after his father’s release, the kidnappers were all found dead. Mirilashvili was arrested for ordering the hit on his father’s captors, and spent eight years in prison. Upon his release in 2009, he moved to Israel and has since invested a great deal in the country, including in Israel’s new offshore gas fields. He is a generous philanthropist, donating millions to ZAKA (of which he was chairman), Keren haYesod, Yad Vashem, the IDF, the World Jewish Congress, the Russian Jewish Congress (of which he is the vice-president), the Torah and Chessed Center for Georgian Jews, as well as Migdal Ohr, an organization started by beloved rabbi Yitzchak Dovid Grossman (known as “the disco rabbi”) to help struggling Israeli youths. Mirilashvili’s funding has allowed Migdal Ohr to support, educate, and care for over 17,000 impoverished and disadvantaged Israeli kids and teens. Mirilashvili also co-founded and owns Watergen, an Israeli start-up that transforms air into clean drinking water, extracted and filtered from humidity. Watergen machines are now found in over one hundred water-starved regions of the world. In previous years, Mirilashvili donated seven such machines to the Gaza Strip, each providing over 2000 litres a day of clean water, powered by solar cells. The machines are still operating in the Gaza Strip amidst the war, providing essential water to Palestinians. Watergen machines are also operating in Ukraine, though Mirilashvili has been falsely accused by the Ukrainians of supporting the Russian invasion. He has dispelled these myths, and reminds people that he was imprisoned for years in a Russian jail, survived several Russian assassination attempts, and has sold off nearly all of his Russian-based businesses. Meanwhile, Mirilashvili established the Israeli-Emirati Water Research Institute in Abu Dhabi (together with Tel Aviv University), and the Moshe Mirilashvili Center for Food Security at Ben-Gurion University in honour of his father. Over the years, he has donated millions more to synagogues, hospitals, and Jewish schools, for medical equipment, Torah scrolls, and ambulances, as well as a special fleet of firetrucks to combat forest fires in Israel.

Jewish Awakening” Causes Global Shortage of Tefillin and Mezuzahs

Three Approaches to the Arab-Israeli Conflict from This Week’s Torah Parasha

Support the #KidnappedFromIsrael Campaign

Words of the Week

The Arab refugee problem was caused by a war of aggression, launched by the Arab States against Israel in 1947 and 1948. Let there be no mistake: If there had been no war against Israel, with its consequent harvest of bloodshed, misery, panic and flight, there would be no problem of Arab refugees today.
Abba Eban

Jew of the Week: Rami Levy

Israeli Supermarket King and Palestinian Hero

Rami Levy (b. 1955) was born in Jerusalem to an impoverished Iraqi-Jewish family. After completing his military service, he took over his grandfather’s failing grocery stall at the local market. He decided to slash his prices and sell without profit for the first three months to attract customers. After that, he continued operating at wholesale prices, becoming Israel’s first official discount store. A few years later, he was able to open a bigger, second location, and in 1992 his first supermarket, Rami Levy Shivuk HaShikma, named after himself and the street where his first shop was located. He has since expanded to 44 locations across Israel. He also operates 4 locations in Judea and Samaria (the “West Bank”) that, despite being boycotted by the Palestinian Authority, employ Palestinian workers at double the wages of other supermarkets in the area, and are hugely popular among Palestinian shoppers who appreciate the low prices. More recently, he opened a shopping mall on the outskirts of Jerusalem, where a third of the stores are Palestinian-owned. Rami Levy has supported Jewish settlements in the area and does not see them as a barrier to peace, because he strongly believes Jews and Arabs can coexist no matter where they live, and peace can be achieved through Palestinian economic development. He has been described as “the Israeli supermarket king that became a Palestinian hero”. Today, Rami Levy supermarkets are famous for their clever marketing and epic pre-holiday sales (for example, chickens, apples, and honey for less than a shekel per kilo before one Rosh Hashanah). The company went public in 2007, and has since expanded into clothing, real estate, and cellular communications, becoming Israel’s fourth mobile network. They are even trying to develop a home-delivery system using drones. Rami Levy Shivuk HaShikma is now the third largest supermarket chain in the country.

Recognizing and Fighting Fake News About Israel

Words of the Week

The state and progress of the Jews, from their earliest history to the present time, has been so entirely out of the ordinary course of human affairs, is it not then a fair conclusion, that the cause also is an extraordinary one—in other words, that it is the effect of some great providential plan?
– Alexander Hamilton

Jews of the Week: Sarah of Yemen and Qasmuna bint Ismail

Great Arabic Poets

The single surviving poem of Sarah of Yemen

Sarah (fl. 6th-7th century) was born to the Jewish Banu Qurayza clan of the Arabian Peninsula, in the pre-Islamic era when much of the peninsula was inhabited by Jews. Her family originally hailed from what is today Yemen. They lived in Yathrib, the flourishing oasis of the Banu Qurayza Jews. In 622, Muhammad entered the city, and in 627 he annihilated the Banu Qurayza tribe (and renamed the city “Medina”, making it the first capital of the Islamic empire). Sarah was a poet, and one of her poems describing the devastation of Yathrib has survived. It was first printed in a 10th-century anthology of Arabic poems called Kitab al-Aghani. She wrote: “By my life, there is a people not long in Du Hurud; obliterated by the wind. Men of Qurayza destroyed by Khazraji swords and lances; We have lost, and our loss is so grave…” According to legend, she fought in the battle against Muhammad and was killed. (In a little-known quirk of history, Muhammad actually took two of the Jewish captives for himself as wives, and one of them is even considered a “mother of Islam”!) Incredibly, Sarah of Yemen may be history’s oldest and first known Arabic poet.

Another famous Jewish-Arab poet was Qasmuna bint Ismail (fl. 11th-12th century), who lived in Andalusia (today’s Spain). She was the child of a wealthy and well-educated Jew, who made sure his daughter was literate and taught her the art of poetry. Qasmuna is the only Sephardic Jewish female poet whose work has survived. Three of her poems were published in a 15th century anthology. In one of her poems she wrote: “Always grazing, here in this garden; I’m dark-eyed just like you, and lonely; We both live far from friends, forsaken; patiently bearing our fate’s decree.” In another she describes reaching the age of marriage and the struggle of finding the right partner: “I see an orchard, Where the time has come; For harvesting, But I do not see; A gardener reaching out a hand, Towards its fruits; Youth goes, vanishing; I wait alone, For somebody I do not wish to name.” She has also been referred to as “Qasmuna the Jewess” and “Xemone”.

The Guardian Angels of Israel

Back When Palestinians Insisted There’s No Such Thing as Palestine

Words of the Week

In Judaism the word for “education” (chinukh) is the same as for “consecration”. Is your child being consecrated for a life of beneficence for Israel and humanity?
Rabbi Dr. J.H. Hertz, former Chief Rabbi of Britain