Tag Archives: Polyglot

Jew of the Week: Madeleine Albright

First Female Secretary of State

Marie Jana Korbelova (1937-2022) was born in Prague to a Jewish family. Her father was a Czech diplomat and when Hitler occupied Czechoslovakia in 1938, the family fled and ended up in Britain. Traumatized by what they had experienced, and distraught over the loss of their parents and many other relatives in the Holocaust, the Korbels decided to convert to Catholicism and bury their Jewish identity for good. They did not tell their children that they were Jewish. After the war, the family return to Prague and Marie Jana went on to study in Switzerland, where she changed her name to Madeleine. When the Communists took over Czechoslovakia in 1948, the family fled again, this time to the US. Madeleine studied political science and wrote for The Denver Post, where she met her husband, journalist Joseph Albright. She went on to earn her Ph.D, focusing on the Soviet Union, and became fluent in Russian. In 1980, she was given a research grant at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and explored Poland’s solidarity movement. She traveled across Poland for a long time and became fluent in the language. When she returned, Albright became a professor at Georgetown University, and also a foreign policy advisor for the Democratic Party. In 1993, Bill Clinton selected Albright to be the ambassador to the UN, and in 1997 she became the US Secretary of State, the first woman to hold the post and the highest-ranking women in the history of US government. One of her key moves was getting the US involved to stop the massacres in Bosnia, arguing that there was no point having a “superb military… if we can’t use it”. In 1998, she formulated NATO’s “3D” policy of “no diminution, no discrimination, no duplication”. After leaving government, Albright briefly served on the board of the New York Stock Exchange. Although she had been vocal about stopping Saddam Hussein back in the 90’s, she opposed the Iraq War. She ran a consulting firm, and also returned to teaching at Georgetown. Albright was awarded multiple honourary degrees and was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame. Last year, she was on Forbes’ list of “50 Over 50” influential people. Altogether, she spoke 8 languages. Sadly, Madeleine Albright passed away last week after a battle with cancer.

When Madeleine Albright Found Out She’s Jewish

Russia, Ukraine, and the Coming of Mashiach

Words of the Week

Such is the way of fools: Once they achieve a little knowledge and awe, they think they have achieved a high level and don’t realize how ignorant they are.
– Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Peshischa

Jew of the Week: Sir Sassoon Eskell

Father of Iraq

Sassoon Eskell (1860-1932) was born in Baghdad to a wealthy and illustrious Mizrachi Jewish family. At the time, some 40% of Baghdad’s population was Jewish. Eskell’s father was a rabbi, and at one point served as the chief rabbi of India’s large Baghdadi community. Eskell studied law and economics in Istanbul, London, and Vienna. He spoke nine languages fluently, and became the official translator (dragoman) for the Ottoman government in Baghdad. When the Ottomans drafted a constitution and established a new Turkish Parliament in 1908, Eskell was elected as Baghdad’s deputy representative. He also served as the under-secretary of state for trade and agriculture, and represented the Ottomans on multiple international delegations. At the end of World War I, the Ottoman Empire collapsed and Eskell was among the key figures that pushed for Iraqi independence. He was one of two Iraqi representatives that negotiated with Winston Churchill in creating the new state and choosing its first king. Eskell went on to be Iraq’s first finance minister, and continued in this role through the next five governments. He was the primary advisor to the Iraqi king and prime minister, and was described as “by far the ablest man” on Iraq’s governing council. Eskell was elected to the first Iraqi parliament in 1925, and continued to serve on it until his death. He is often referred to as the “Father of Iraqi Parliament”. Among his many significant achievements was making sure that Iraq’s oil was sold to the British for gold, not pounds sterling. While this was unusual at the time, the British pound soon lost most of its value and was no longer backed by gold. Sassoon thus ensured Iraq’s wealth was not diminished, and that it would continue to profit from its oil sales. These funds were critical in ensuring the success and viability of the nascent state. Eskell was also a major philanthropist and gave countless sums to charity. Much of his wealth went to the Jewish National Fund to support the re-establishment of Israel. The village of Kfar Yehezkel in Israel is named after him. Among his many other awards and honours, Eskell was knighted by King George V. Several years ago, the Iraqi government demolished his historic 100-year old home in a controversial move that made way for a new development.

Words of the Week

Those who stand for nothing fall for anything.
– Alexander Hamilton

Jew of the Week: Sarah Aaronsohn

Israel’s Joan of Arc

Sarah Aaronsohn

Sarah Aaronsohn (1890-1917) was born in Zikhron Yaakov to a Romanian-Jewish family which had settled in the Land of Israel during the First Aliyah to co-found a moshav. The moshav was later financed and supported by Edmond James de Rothschild (who renamed it Zikhron Yaakov after his father). Aaronsohn studied languages, and could speak Hebrew, Yiddish, Turkish, French, Arabic, and English. She married a wealthy Jewish-Bulgarian businessman and lived with him briefly in Istanbul. When the marriage unraveled, Aaronsohn returned to Israel. During her journey, she personally witnessed the horrors of the Armenian Genocide, and was deeply affected by what she saw. This inspired her to work against the Ottoman Turks, both to stop what was happening to the Armenians, and to prevent the same happening to Jews, as was rumoured at the time. Aaronsohn and her siblings started the NILI spy ring to supply important information to the British. (NILI stood for the Biblical words Netzach Israel Lo Ishaker, “the God of Israel does not lie”, from I Samuel 15:29.) Their spy ring grew to include 40 operatives, making it the largest British spy network in the Middle East during World War I. The information they provided was so vital that General Allenby later admitted he would not have been able to liberate the Holy Land without it. And without Allenby’s conquest, there would probably not have been a State of Israel (at least not so soon). Aaronsohn was also in charge of taking care of the Jews expelled from Haifa and Tel-Aviv by the Ottomans. At one point she worked with Lawrence of Arabia, and many believe the “S.A” to whom he dedicated his book The Seven Pillars of Wisdom is Sarah Aaronsohn. Unfortunately, the Ottomans caught one of Aaronsohn’s carrier pigeons to the British and arrested her shortly after. She was gruesomely tortured for days, refusing to give any information and insisting that she was the sole spy, thus saving the lives of many others. While being transferred to a different torture chamber, she asked to stop at home to change her tattered and blood-soaked clothes. Aaronsohn managed to get a gun and shoot herself in the head. She survived the blast, and suffered for another four days before succumbing to her injuries. In her suicide note, she wrote that she hoped the blood of martyrs like her would one day be avenged, and that her work would speed up the establishment of a Jewish state. History has shown that it certainly did. Aaronsohn was hailed as a new “Joan of Arc”, and is one of Israel’s great heroines.

The Spiritual Purpose of Jewish Exile and Wandering

Words of the Week

Before the Endlessness of God, the highest saint and the lowliest commoner are equal.
– Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk (c. 1730-1788)