Tag Archives: Refugees

Jew of the Week: Harriet Cohen

The Piano Sensation Who Saved Refugees

Harriet Pearl Alice Cohen (1901-1967) was born in London, England to a Jewish family with Russian heritage. She started playing piano in early childhood, and by age 13 won the Ada Lewis Scholarship and the Sterndale Bennett Prize from the Royal Academy of Music. A year later, she made her professional debut and soon became one of the most popular musicians in England. She was noted for resurrecting old English compositions that had been forgotten, as well as opening up Spanish and Russian music to the wider world. In fact, she was permitted to visit the Soviet Union (and perform there) in 1935, bringing back great compositions by contemporary Russians that she then performed around the world. While visiting Vienna in 1933, Cohen first recognized the plight of refugees fleeing Nazi Germany. She decided to devote herself to their cause. Cohen went on to raise large sums of money to support the refugees, and worked with several organizations to bring them to safety. In 1934, she performed a special benefit concert, with Albert Einstein on the violin (!), to raise money. Einstein was only one of Cohen’s many admirers. Charming and witty, Cohen’s close circle of friends included H.G. Wells, British Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald, Eleanor Roosevelt, George Bernard Shaw, and Chaim Weizmann. The latter won her over to the Zionist cause. Cohen made her first trip to the Holy Land in 1939, and quickly gained a reputation as a passionate Zionist. She fought so passionately, in fact, that it led to two assassination attempts on her life! Both for her musical contributions, and for her work with refugees, Cohen was awarded the Commander of the Order of the British Empire (one step below being knighted) in 1938. Unfortunately, she would later severely damage her right hand on broken glass, and could no longer use it. Undeterred, she continued to play and perform with her left hand only, and renowned composer Sir Arnold Bax (another admirer) wrote for her the Concertino for Left Hand. Bax would credit her with inspiring most of his compositions, while Albert Einstein referred to her as “the beloved piano-witch”. Cohen was also credited with bringing Bach back into the spotlight (listen to her play Bach here). She recorded music for films, too, and published two books. In 1954, she was awarded the key to the City of London. Many see Harriet Cohen as one of the first modern music superstars.

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The Quiet Philanthropy of Sheldon Adelson

An Ambassador Brings Israel Back to Egypt

America’s Biggest Owner of Farmland is Now Bill Gates  

Science: Earth is Spinning Faster This Year

Israeli Aleph Farms Teams Up With Mitsubishi To Bring Cultured Meat

Worldwide Virtual Prayer to be Held for “Canada’s Rabbi” 

Words of the Week

Better to talk to a woman and think of God, than to talk to God and think of a woman.
– Yiddish Proverb  

Jew of the Week: Yitta Schwartz

The Woman With 2000 Children

A rare photo of Yitta Schwartz from the 1980s

A rare photo of Yitta Schwartz from the 1980s

Yitta Schwartz (1916-2010) was born in Kalev, Hungary to a Chassidic family. During the Holocaust, her entire family was taken to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, where two of her six children died. A strong and pious woman, Schwartz persevered, and took care of many other people in the camp, often at great personal risk. One Holocaust survivor recalls how Schwartz took care of the deceased, carefully cleaning their bodies, digging graves, and burying them. Following the war, Schwartz’s family started to rebuild in Belgium, and helped countless refugees in the process, giving them shelter in their own tiny apartment. In 1953, the family (now with 11 children) moved to the US, where Schwartz had 5 more kids. Schwartz’s husband sold furniture, while she took care of their 16 children, and then the many grandchildren that followed. By the time of her passing at the age of 93, Schwartz had over 200 grandchildren, many more great-grandchildren, and nearly 2000 descendants altogether. Not surprisingly, the vast majority of her time was spent going from one family event to the next. When arriving at these gatherings, people would say she resembled the Prophet Elijah, her presence filling the room with light, and everyone clambering for a bit of the great matriarch’s attention and blessings. A very modest woman, she avoided being photographed or filmed. She is remembered as having an infectious smile, a thirst for life, and an excellent memory. Knowing that she would always live on in the doting hearts of her descents, she once said, “If you leave a child or grandchild, you live forever.”

Words of the Week

So said God: ‘Let a wise man not glory in his wisdom, nor let the strong one glory in his strength, nor let the wealthy glory in his wealth. Only in this may one glorify himself: in discerning and knowing Me, for I am God, Who performs kindness, justice, and righteousness – for these are what I desire…’
– Jeremiah 9:22-23

Jew of the Week: Frank Lautenberg

Democratic Senator Frank Lautenberg

Frank Raleigh Lautenberg (1924-2013) was born in New Jersey to a poor family of Jewish immigrants from Poland and Russia. His father died young from cancer, leaving his mother to support the family by selling sandwiches. After high school, Lautenberg fought in World War II, serving in the army until 1946. At the time, returning war veterans had their education financed by the government, so Lautenberg got an economics degree from Columbia Business School. He first worked for an insurance company, then as a salesman, eventually rising to the rank of CEO. In 1978 he became New York’s Port Authority, managing the area’s vast transportation infrastructure. That brought him closer to politics, and in 1982 he ran for the Senate as a democrat. One of his first major moves as senator was bringing into effect a minimum drinking age, set at 21 years since 1984. In 1990 his ‘Lautenberg Amendment’ passed into law, making it easier for refugees to immigrate to the US, thus opening the doors to thousands of Jews fleeing the collapsing Soviet Union. Since then, countless refugees from around the world have been able to find asylum in the US due to this law. Lautenberg’s second famous amendment passed in 1996, banning the sale of firearms to those convicted of domestic violence. After winning two more re-elections, Lautenberg decided to retire in 2000. However, he quickly regretted the decision, and came back in 2002, winning re-election again in 2008. Lautenberg wrote legislation that banned smoking on airplanes and in federal buildings. He voted consistently for more stem cell research, gun control, and peaceful foreign policies, making him a hero among liberal democrats. Sadly, he passed away this Monday from viral pneumonia after a previous battle with lymphoma. At 89 years of age, he was the oldest-serving senator, and the last to have fought in World War II.

 

Words of the Week

Are you as careful with what comes out of your mouth as you are with what enters it?
– Chassidic Proverb