Tag Archives: Passover

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: Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Ruth Joan Bader Ginsburg (b. 1933) was born in Brooklyn to an observant Conservative Jewish family. After earning a degree from Cornell, she pursued law at Harvard – one of just nine women in a class of 500 – and then completed her law studies at Columbia. During this time, she became the first ever woman to be published in two law reviews. She would later co-found the first law journal dedicated to women’s rights, and participated in some of the greatest cases on women’s rights before the Supreme Court. Not surprisingly, she is considered one of the key figures in ending gender discrimination. In the early 60’s, Ginsburg was a law researcher, spending time at the prestigious Lund University in Sweden (and co-authoring a book in Swedish). Following this, she was a law professor at Rutgers, and then at Columbia, where she was the first female professor to get tenure. In 1980, Ginsburg was appointed to the US Court of Appeals, and after 13 years of service, was elected to the Supreme Court (by an overwhelming 96 to 3 Senate vote). She has served continuously since then, and still rules on the Supreme Court today, despite being the oldest Justice at 82 years of age, and having battled two different cancers. Amazingly, she has never missed a single day of her Supreme Court duties. In 2012, she traveled to Egypt to assist in their transition to a democracy. True to her feminist roots, a couple of months ago Ginsburg co-authored ‘The Heroic and Visionary Women of Passover’ that looks at the central role of the female figures in the Exodus story. She has been ranked by Forbes as one of the ‘100 Most Powerful Women’ and among TIME’s list of 100 greatest icons.

Update: Sadly, Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away on September 18, 2020.

Words of the Week

You can’t have it all, all at once. Who—man or woman—has it all, all at once? Over my lifespan I think I have had it all. But in different periods of time things were rough. And if you have a caring life partner, you help the other person when that person needs it.
– Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Jew of the Week: Wolf Wissotzky

Tea!

If you had a name like Kalonimus Kalman Vulf Ze’ev Yankelevich Wissotzky, you’d kick ass, too.

Kalman Ze’ev Yankelevich Wissotzky (1824-1904) was the son of struggling merchants in Russia. After studying at the famous Volozhin Yeshiva, he joined an agricultural colony which paved his way into the tea trade. In 1849, he established the Wissotzky Tea company in Moscow and very soon became known as the “King of Russian Tea.” By 1904, Wissotzky Tea was popular across the world, with branches in Europe and America. Meanwhile, the situation in Russia worsened to the point that Wissotzky Tea moved their headquarters to Israel. (During the Russian Revolution, the masses protested “Jewish domination” and chanted their slogan: “Tea of Wissotzky, Sugar of Brodsky, and the Tzar is Leiba Trotsky!”) In 1936, Wissotzky Tea opened a factory in Israel, becoming the first tea company in the region. Since then it has been Israel’s leading tea brand. It would surely make Wolf Wissotzky proud – he was an ardent Zionist and one of the main shakers of the movement. He gave 10,000 rubles to the Alliance Israelite for Zionist causes, then another lump sum of 20,000, as well as 6000 rubles to start one of Israel’s first monthly magazines (called HaShiloach). Wissotzky personally traveled to Israel and laid the groundwork for the Lod, Nablus and Gaza settlements. He also established and financed the first school in Jaffa. Outside of Israel, too, Wissotzky was a great philanthropist. In 1898, he gave 70,000 to build a yeshiva in Byelostok. Most amazingly, he worked tirelessly to help the Cantonists – young Russian Jews forcibly taken from their homes and conscripted into life-long military service. Wissotzky ensured many of them had Shabbat services and Passover meals, and helped bring countless young boys back to Judaism. Ultimately, he would leave over 1 million rubles to charity. In those days, one ruble was equal to 0.514 ounces of gold, which in today’s value is nearly $1,000. So, Wissotzky donated nearly one billion dollars to charity! Now that’s philanthropy!

Words of the Week

Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.
– Eleanor Roosevelt