Tag Archives: Philanthropists

Jew of the Week: Lina Morgenstern

The Woman Who Transformed Germany – and the World

Lina Bauer (1830-1909) was born to a wealthy, religious German-Jewish family in Breslau (now Wroclaw, Poland). Her parents were noted social justice activists and philanthropists. Among other things, her father built an apartment building to provide housing for destitute workers, while her mother and aunts sought to save women from brothels and give them a proper education. Lina was raised with these important values. At just 18 years of age, amidst the wars of 1848, she established the Penny Society for Poor Pupils to raise money for shoes, clothes, and books for needy children. The organization would continue to operate for the next eighty years, providing countless children with basic necessities. Lina received an extensive education in music, literature, history, and science, and was so passionate about her studies that her mother wanted to take her out of school. Undeterred, Lina continued to study in secret at night. Meanwhile, she fell in love with a poor Polish Jew and married him in 1854 despite her parents’ wishes. The couple moved to Berlin and Lina (now Morgenstern) started to write to help pay the bills. Morgenstern was heavily influenced by the German thinker Friedrich Fröbel, famous for his concept of a “kindergarten” where small children can learn, play, and grow healthy and happy. Fröbel’s preschools did not go very far, and were even suppressed by the Prussian authorities. It wasn’t until Morgenstern co-founded the Berlin Women’s Association for the Advancement of Fröbelian Kindergartens that the idea took off. She chaired the organization for five years, during which time she established eight kindergartens, and a training academy for kindergarten educators. Fröbel’s other students established the first kindergartens in America, and the institution was soon adopted around the world. Morgenstern ultimately left her post to start a new charity: the Volksküche, or “people’s kitchen”. This organization distributed healthy meals to the poor, inspiring the thousands of soup kitchens that operate around the world today. Morgenstern herself opened up ten such kitchens, each serving as many as 2500 people per day! Morgenstern also published a number of important works on feminism, education, health, and child care. Her Das Paradies der Kindheit (“The Paradise of Childhood”) was the kindergarten textbook used globally for decades, and went through seven editions in her lifetime alone. Meanwhile, her Illustrated Universal Cooking Book – a result of all those years working in soup kitchens – was so popular that the Nazis did not include it in their Jewish book-burning list. Among the other organizations that Morgenstern founded are the School for Further Education of Young Ladies, the Berlin Housewives’ Association, the International Congress of Women, and the Berlin Society for Child Protection. During the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, she started a group for the care of soldiers, assisting some 60,000 troops. Morgenstern had become so popular and beloved that the German emperor and empress, Wilhelm and Augusta, visited her and became her patrons. Morgenstern was awarded the Victoria Medal, the Service Cross, and the War Medal. Despite all this, she was a central target for anti-Semites, and their attacks ultimately forced her into bankruptcy and illness. The Empress sent her to San Remo to recover, but it was not enough. Morgenstern left the public sphere and spent her last years writing. Among her final works is a collection of 250 biographies of inspiring women. In those last years she also directed the German Peace Society, advocating for pacifism, arms reduction, and peaceful coexistence. Disbanded by the Nazis, the organization was reformed in 1945, and continues to operate to this day. Morgenstern quietly passed away in 1909, and is buried in Berlin’s Jewish cemetery.

The Secret History of the Star of David

Words of the Week

I only have one real man in my cabinet.
– David Ben-Gurion on Golda Meir

Jew of the Week: Diane von Fürstenberg

Diane von Fürstenberg    (Credit: Ed Kavishe)

Diane Simone Michelle Halfin (b. 1946) was born in Belgium, the daughter of a Moldavian-Jewish immigrant father and a Greek-Jewish mother who survived the Holocaust. She was born just 18 months after her mother was liberated from Auschwitz. Halfin studied economics at Madrid University and the University of Geneva. During this time, she met Prince Egon of the German aristocratic house of Fürstenberg. The couple soon married and had two children: Prince Alexander and Princess Tatiana. The now-Princess Diane did not want to be a trophy wife, and “decided to have a career. I wanted to be someone of my own, and not just a plain little girl who got married beyond her desserts.” She followed her passion into fashion design and apprenticed at a textile factory in Italy. It was here that she first came up with her idea of the “jersey dress”. Unfortunately, the Prince and Princess separated (a major reason being the disapproval of the Prince’s family of a Jewish bride), and Diane became a full-time fashion designer in New York. She started her business with a $30,000 loan from her father. In 1974, she finally introduced her jersey “wrap dress”. It took the world by storm, and over 5 million dresses were sold in just one year. Von Fürstenberg expanded into cosmetics and fragrances, and was soon among New York’s most successful fashion designers and businesspeople. After moving to Paris in 1985 to open a publishing house and a European cosmetics line, she returned to New York in 1997 to re-launch her American business. The jersey dress returned to immense popularity. In 2004, von Fürstenberg launched new collections of jewellery and beachwear. A couple of years later, she was made President of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, a position she still holds. She is one of the most popular designers among celebrities, and her dresses have been worn by the likes of Kate Middleton, Michelle Obama, Madonna, and Jennifer Lopez. Von Fürstenberg is also a noted philanthropist (together with her current husband Barry Diller), having donated millions to a wide array of causes including public housing, education, human rights, health, and the environment. Every year, she presents a $50,000 “DVF Award” at the United Nations building to each of five women “who display leadership, strength, and courage”. She is on the board of Vital Voices, an organization that assists women around the world, particularly in the area of economic empowerment. In 2014, she gave $12 million to help restore the crumbling historic Jewish ghetto of Venice (the oldest in the world). Von Fürstenberg also had her own reality TV show (House of DVF) that ran for two seasons, and has written two popular books. She still presides over 111 DVF stores around the world. She was recently ranked by Forbes among the world’s most powerful women, and in the TIME 100 list of iconic figures.

Words of the Week

One feels the beauty of the world only according to the measure of beauty that is in the inner core of one’s soul.
– Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook