Yakov Henryk Spreiregen (1894-1982) was born to a Jewish family in Warsaw. The family immigrated to France when he was a young man—where he changed his name to Jacques—and then to England to escape the First World War. Spreiregen found a job working for a hatmaker, but was soon called up to serve in the military. After returning to England following his service, he started importing military-style berets from France. He then began making his own hats from high-quality angora wool. In 1938, Spreiregen leased an old thread factory in northwest England and founded Kangol (a name he made up from “knitting angora wool”). The company initially struggled to turn a profit, and many of the first employees were his own family members. Eventually, the hats did become popular, and earned a reputation for quality and durability. During World War II, Spreiregen won a contract to outfit the British army with berets. By the end of the war, he was making a million hats a year! Kangol later outfitted the English Olympic team, and the crew of British Airways. The company went public in 1952. Two years later, Spreiregen started a new division to produce helmets and seat belts. Kangol went on to become the largest seat belt manufacturer in Europe. In 1964, Kangol made a deal with The Beatles to make their branded hats. Soon, Kangol hats were popular among American hip hop artists, too, and have since been sported by the likes of Grandmaster Flash, Madonna, Brad Pitt, and Princess Diana. The most famous wearer of Kangol hats is undoubtedly Samuel L. Jackson, who has said that it’s a family tradition going back to his grandfather. Spreiregen retired from the company in 1972. Just a few years later, it would officially become the world’s largest hatmaker. Because Americans would often ask for the “kangaroo” hats when shopping, Kangol made their logo a kangaroo in 1983, a year after Spreiregen passed away.
Herschel “Hertzko” Haft (1925-2007) was born in Poland and orphaned at the young age of 3. During the Nazi occupation of Poland, he ran a smuggling ring with his brother in order to survive. In 1942, he was sent to Auschwitz. An SS officer noticed his muscular physique and decided to train him to be a boxer. Haft was forced to fight other inmates (at the neighbouring Jaworzno camp), often to the death, for the entertainment of the SS officers. He won and survived through a total of 76 fights. With the Soviet Army closing in, the Nazis forced all the inmates on a death march, which Haft also managed to survive. During his escape, he killed a Nazi soldier and put on his uniform. He eventually made it to an American DP camp, and finally settled in New Jersey in 1948. Haft became a light heavyweight boxer and had 21 fights, of which he won 13. His last fight was against a young and up-and-coming Rocky Marciano, who later became heavyweight champion and one of the most famous boxers in history. The Italian mafia threatened Haft and forced him to lose the fight to Marciano. Haft decided to end his boxing career. He got married and opened a small grocery store in Brooklyn, where he lived the rest of his life quietly. In 2007, he was inducted into the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame. A film about his incredible story, The Survivor (starring Ben Foster, Danny DeVito, and John Leguizamo) was released yesterday in Israeli theatres and on HBO in honour of Yom HaShoah.
Words of the Week
We, the God-fearing, criticize and prosecute the secular state, while the secular Jews take action and create facts on the ground. I also used to think that this was the proper approach, and I would curse the heretics with great fervor, anticipating that my curses would be fulfilled. But that did not happen. On the contrary, I saw that they were becoming stronger and stronger. So, I said to myself, that perhaps it is better if we switch roles. I will build the land of Israel in holiness and the seculars can curse me!
– Rabbi Yekutiel Yehudah Halberstam, the Sanz-Klausenberger Rebbe, renowned Hasidic leader and Holocaust survivor, on why he made aliyah.
Shmaryahu Yosef Chaim Kanievsky (1928-2022) was born in Pinsk (then Poland, now Belarus) and made aliyah with his family to Israel when he was six years old. He never left the Holy Land thereafter. His father was the great “Steipler Gaon”, Rabbi Yaakov Kanievsky, and his maternal uncle was the famed Chazon Ish. Following in their footsteps, Kanievsky became a rabbi, too, and was recognized as a sharp scholar at a young age. As a yeshiva student during Israel’s Independence War, he briefly served in the newly-formed IDF and defended Jaffa (though he did it spiritually, spending most of the time at his post learning Torah!) He then married the daughter of another great rabbi, Rav Elyashiv. Rabbi Kanievsky typically studied Torah for about 17 hours a day. He would wake up at midnight to pray Tikkun Chatzot (mourning for the destruction of the Temple and the exile of the Jewish people) and then learned for the rest of the day, starting with eight (double-sided) pages of the Talmud Bavli, followed by eight pages of the Talmud Yerushalmi, and then selections from a number of Jewish legal codes, the Tanakh, as well as Midrashic and Kabbalistic texts. What normally takes a typical rabbi a lifetime to study, Rav Kanievsky would complete every year! He was famous for his total mastery of all Torah texts, with photographic memory and an ability to mentally “scan” these texts for any word or phrase. He was often called the “Prince of Torah”. In addition to his studies, Rav Kanievsky wrote over a dozen popular books and commentaries. Hundreds of people would line up daily to ask questions and request blessings. His blessings were known to be fulfilled, often miraculously, and his legal rulings were followed closely by religious Jews, especially those in non-Hasidic Ashkenazi communities. He regularly responded to thousands of letters, too. Rav Kanievsky lived simply in a small apartment in Bnei Brak his whole life. After the passing of Rav Shteinman in 2017, he was widely-recognized as the supreme authority on Jewish law, and the top gadol hador. Sadly, the Prince of Torah passed away shortly after the conclusion of Purim last week. He had completed his yearly study cycle the previous day. Some 750,000 people came to his funeral, making it among the largest in Israel’s history.
Words of the Week
In a lottery, it is not the ticket that wins but the person.
– Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky