Tag Archives: Polish Jews

Jew of the Week: Sanz-Klausenberger Rebbe

Miracles in the Holocaust

Yekutiel Yehudah Halberstam (1905-1994) was born to a Hasidic family of the Sanz dynasty in the small Jewish town of Rudnik, Poland. At just 14, he lost his father, and replaced him as the town rabbi. At the age of 21, he was invited to become the rabbi of Klausenberg (then part of Hungary), and head its yeshiva. During the Holocaust, his entire family was sent to Auschwitz, and Rabbi Halberstam tragically lost his wife and 11 children. Nonetheless, he did not lose faith and continued to serve as an inspirational leader for the Jews in the camps. During a 1944 death march that took place on Tisha b’Av, the Rebbe recited the traditional Kinot as the Nazis tortured the Jews. Since it was Tisha b’Av, the Jews took off their leather shoes, so the Nazis used the opportunity to make the Jews march on broken glass. They then left them to die of thirst in the summer heat. As reported by several survivors, the Rebbe asked everyone to start digging in the earth. When they did so, water miraculously emerged out of the soil. The Jews were saved, and the bewildered Nazis left them alone. The Rebbe then said: “Here we have proof that despite all the troubles and the apparent concealment of God’s face, the Holy, Blessed One still loves us.” Another time, Rabbi Halberstam was shot in the arm by a Nazi and left to bleed to death. He wrapped a leaf around the wound and made a vow that if he survived, he would dedicate the rest of his life to saving the lives of others. The Rebbe survived. First, he stayed at the DP camps to run soup kitchens and care for the countless orphans. He established and headed the She’erit haPletah (“Surviving Remnant”) organization, which built mikvehs, set up Jewish schools, organized chuppas, and raised money for the victims. During this time, he met General (and future US president) Dwight Eisenhower, who was inspired by the “wonder rabbi”. Rabbi Halberstam then moved to New York, got remarried, and had seven more children. In 1960, he made aliyah and settled in Netanya. The Rebbe opened both a Hasidic-Ashkenazi yeshiva, and a Sephardic yeshiva, established the town of Kiryat Sanz and, to fulfill his Holocaust vow, founded the Sanz Medical Center/Ladiano Hospital. Today, the hospital serves half a million people, runs strictly according to Jewish law, and has the distinction of being the only hospital in Israel that has never closed—not even for a worker’s strike. Famous for his deep love and concern for every Jew, Rabbi Halberstam was beloved by everyone who knew him, secular and religious, Ashkenazi and Sephardi. His two sons continue to lead the Sanz-Klausenberg communities in New York and Netanya.

Tisha b’Av Begins this Saturday Night

Words of the Week

I promised myself that if, with God’s help, I got well and got out of there, from those evil people, I would build a hospital in Eretz Yisrael where every human being would be cared for with dignity. And the basis of that hospital would be that the doctors and nurses would believe that there is a God in this world and that when they treat a patient, they are fulfilling the greatest mitzvah in the Torah.
Rabbi Yekutiel Yehudah Halberstam, the Sanz-Klausenberger Rebbe

Jew of the Week: Helena Rubenstein

First Self-Made Female Millionaire

Chaya Helena Rubinstein (1872-1965) was born in the Jewish ghetto of Krakow, Poland, the oldest of eight daughters in a very religious family. Her cousin was Martin Buber. At age 16, she was arranged to be married but refused to go along with it, instead running away to Switzerland, and then Australia. Although she spoke no English, the local ladies fell in love with her fashion sense and makeup. After agreeing to sell off most of what was in her luggage, she realized she could start a business. With help from an aunt, Rubinstein found her way to the region of Coleraine, famous for its millions of sheep, which produce lanolin, the key ingredient in her creams. Rubinstein worked as a waitress by day, and experimented with her creams by night. With some help from a wealthy admirer, Rubinstein launched her business. It didn’t take long for her to open up her own shop in the heart of Melbourne. Within five years, she opened two more locations: in Sydney and London, England. At the time, women were barred from getting bank loans, so Rubinstein saved up all the money herself and paid in cash. In 1912, she moved to Paris with her first husband, and there opened a new salon. During World War I, the family fled to New York, and Rubinstein opened up shop there as well. Business boomed, and Rubinstein expanded to another twelve cities. She soon became the most famous businesswoman in the world—and the richest. She has been credited as the world’s first self-made female millionaire. After her first marriage fell apart, Rubinstein tied the knot with a Georgian prince, and took on the title “Helena Princess Gourielli”. Rubinstein was a huge philanthropist, and her charity distributed around $130 million to causes around the world. She had a great life-long rivalry with Elizabeth Arden, of whom she said: “With her packaging and my product, we could have ruled the world.” Rubinstein faced a tremendous amount of adversity, as well as anti-Semitism. (In 1941, she was rejected from living in a Park Avenue apartment because she was Jewish, so she bought the whole building!) Nonetheless, she persevered through it all and became a pioneer in the cosmetics industry, in business, and in marketing, continuing to work into her 90s. Among her innovations were waterproof mascara and what may be the first sunscreen. Today, her company is owned by L’Oréal, which presents the Helena Rubinstein Women in Science Awards yearly in her honour.

Words of the Week

We have been waiting for 2,000 years. Is that hurrying?
Golda Meir, to King Abdullah of Jordan in a May 10, 1948 meeting, when he asked not to “hurry” to declare independence.

Helena Rubinstein cuts the ribbon at the grand opening of her Museum of Art in Tel-Aviv (1959)

 

Jew of the Week: Renata Reisfeld

The Renowned Chemist Who Survived the Holocaust—and Entebbe

Renata Sobel (b. 1930) was born in Chelm, Poland. Orphaned at a young age, she was raised by her grandparents. When the Nazis occupied Poland, the family managed to escape and spent the war years in the harsh conditions of Siberia. Young Renata was unable to receive a formal education. After the war, she was engaged to Eliezer Reisfeld—on the condition that he allow her to pursue an education. As a child, Renata was inspired by a biography of Marie Curie and wished to become a scientist, too. The young family made aliyah to Israel in 1950 and settled in Jerusalem. There, Renata Reisfeld took up studies at the Hebrew University. Despite having no knowledge of Hebrew or English, she was the first to complete the entrance exam into the prestigious chemistry program that had only 23 spots. Reisfeld earned her Ph.D, then went to Oregon State University for post-doctoral work. One of Reisfeld’s main areas of research has been photovoltaic cells, and she played a big role in helping to bring down the cost of solar panels to make renewable solar energy possible on a large scale. She is also an expert on nanotechnology and solid state lasers. By 1975, Reisfeld had become the head of the chemistry department at Hebrew University. The following year, she was invited to speak at a conference in Paris. Her flight from Tel-Aviv made a stop in Athens, where Palestinian and German hijackers took control of the plane and diverted it to Entebbe, Uganda. Because she was one of the few hostages that spoke English, she represented the group of 102 passengers, and spoke with Idi Amin. The dictator took a liking to her, and when she asked him to take the hostages out on a tour of Uganda, Amin agreed! Eventually, the hostages were rescued in a daring raid by Israeli commandoes (which took the life of Yoni Netanyahu, brother of Benjamin Netanyahu). All in all, Reisfeld has published a whopping 532 scientific papers, together with four books, and her work has been cited over 30,000 times, making her among the world’s most prolific and renowned chemists. She has been awarded multiple honorary doctorates and scientific medals from around the world. Although officially retired, and now in her 90s, Reisfeld is still coming up with new inventions, the most recent being her fluorescent-transparent glass.

Words of the Week

Sometimes things happen about which the leaders of the generation remain silent. This does not mean that nothing is to be done… On the contrary: when aware that you are able to do something about it, you are obligated to do so.

Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe