Tag Archives: Russia

Jews of the Week: Nathan, Benzion and Yoni Netanyahu

Nathan Mileikowsky (1879-1935) was born in what is now Belarus to an Orthodox Jewish family descended from the great Vilna Gaon. When he was ten, he joined the famous Volozhin yeshiva and after eight years of diligent study was ordained as a rabbi. During this time he became drawn to Zionism and soon dedicated his time to the Zionist cause. He traveled across Europe, Russia, and later the United States to raise support for Zionism – becoming one of the world’s most popular Zionist speakers – as well as to raise money for the Jewish National Fund. In 1920, Mileikowsky made aliyah to Israel. He headed a school in Rosh Pina, promoted settlement of the Galilee, and wrote articles for the Hebrew press – often under the pen name “Netanyahu”. He continued to tour globally, at one point giving over 700 lectures in under 9 months, and publishing some of these talks in a popular book. Towards the end of his life, Mileikowsky settled in Herzliya and established a farm.

Benzion Netanyahu

Benzion Netanyahu

His son, Benzion Mileikowsky (1910-2012), was born in Warsaw while Nathan was head of its Hebrew Gymnasium. Growing up in Israel, he adopted his father’s pen name “Netanyahu”. Benzion studied at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, taking on a more hard-line approach to Zionism. He became editor of a number of Zionist newspapers, and later the chief editor of the Encyclopaedia Hebraica. In 1940, Benzion moved to New York to build American support for the Jewish state, serving as executive director of an American Zionist group. Later on, he became a professor of Judaic studies and medieval history at Cornell University. Benzion published five books on Jewish history, and edited a number of others. His three sons are: Iddo, a doctor and author; Benjamin, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister; and Yoni, the eldest son.

Last known photograph of Yoni Netanyahu

Last known photograph of Yoni Netanyahu

Yonatan “Yoni” Netanyahu (1946-1976) was born in New York, went to high school in Pennsylvania, and studied at Harvard. He first enlisted in the IDF in 1964, and fought in the Six-Day War, getting wounded while rescuing a soldier behind enemy lines. A few years later, he joined Israel’s special forces unit, Sayeret Matkal, and by 1972 became its deputy commander. For his heroic service during the 1973 Yom Kippur War he was awarded a distinguished medal. In 1976, now commander of Sayeret Matkal, Yoni led Operation Entebbe, successfully rescuing over 100 Israeli hostages held in Uganda. Sadly, Yoni was the mission’s sole casualty, and passed away during the flight back home. In 1980, his personal letters were published, and were described as a “remarkable work of literature”. Both a film and play have recently been made about his life.

Words of the Week

God treats a person the same way they treat their children.
– Rabbi Shlomo of Karlin

Jew of the Week: Roman Abramovich

Abramovich

Roman Abramovich

Roman Arkadyevich Abramovich (b. 1966) was born in Lithuania. His parents died before he turned four years old, so he was raised by his grandparents in the cold, remote Arctic region of Komi. Dropping out of college, Abramovich initially worked as both a mechanic and merchant, selling goods from his apartment (at one point, his main wares were rubber ducks and retreaded car tires). In 1988, he started a doll-making business with his wife, and by then had also began investing in Russian oil and gas. By 1995, natural resources were his sole focus, and he had generated a great deal of wealth. Partnering with Boris Berezovsky, the two bought the oil company Sibneft in 1995 and quickly turned it into a multi-billion dollar company. The following year, just thirty years old, he was invited to live in the Kremlin by Russian President Yeltsin. Three years later, he was elected governor of the impoverished and bankrupt province of Chukotka, where he has since contributed over $2 billion of his own money in charitable funds and investments, turning the region into one of the most flourishing in Russia, multiplying its average salary more than five-fold. Unfortunately, Abramovich has also been mired in controversy, bribery scandals, and affairs with the mafia – whom he reportedly paid hundreds of millions per year for protection. (To be fair, most businesspeople, and politicians, in post-Soviet Russia are in the same boat.) Abramovich did try to clear his name and get away from it all, restarting his life in London, and even paying his former partner Berezovsky over $1 billion in 2001 to leave him alone. As a close friend of Yeltsin, he was given the task of interviewing potential presidential candidates who would succeed Yeltsin. It is said that Abramovich was the one who first recommended Putin. Most famously, Abramovich bought the Chelsea Football Club in 2003 and quickly turned over its fortunes, soon making it the league champion for the first time in 50 years, followed by ten more titles in a decade. Abramovich also started a charity organization called the National Academy of Football, which has built over 50 soccer fields across Russia and funds sports programs for disadvantaged youth. He also contributes to Chabad, and is the chairman of Russia’s Federation of Jewish Communities. Having donated countless billions, Abramovich has the distinction of being the most generous philanthropist in Russia. Despite having lost a sizable portion of his wealth in the recent financial crisis, he is still the 12th richest person in Russia, and 137th in the world. The father of seven children has been awarded the Order of Honour and was Russia’s Person of the Year in 2003. Earlier this week, he bought his first property in Israel, spending $25 million on a historic hotel in Tel-Aviv, which he will be converting into his private residence.

Words of the Week

Try not to become a man of success. Rather, become a man of value.
– Albert Einstein

Jew of the Week: Moe Berg

Baseball Player, Lawyer… and Secret Agent 

Moe Berg

Moe Berg

Morris Berg (1902-1972) was born in New York to Russian-Jewish immigrants. He began playing baseball at age 7, and by 16 was on Newark’s baseball “dream team”. He studied first at New York University, then Princeton, and graduated with a degree in languages, learning to speak seven of them. By his senior year, he was captain of Princeton’s baseball team. A day after his last game with Princeton, Berg signed a contract with the Brooklyn Robins. In the off-season, he headed to Paris and continued his studies at the world-famous Sorbonne (University of Paris). There, he began a personal routine of reading as many as 10 newspapers every single day. Berg was never very good at baseball, and was often traded and loaned between many different teams. Always a scholar first, in 1926 he told the Chicago White Sox that he is skipping spring training because he was enrolled in law school at Columbia University. He earned his law degree in 1930, and then split his time between baseball in the summer and working at a prestigious Wall Street law firm in the winter.

In 1932, Berg toured Asia, visiting Japan, China, Siam, India, and Egypt. A couple of years later, he returned to Japan with a video camera, later traveling to the Philippines, Korea, and Russia, before returning to play with the Red Sox for 5 seasons, then coaching the team for 2 more. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Berg joined the war effort and eventually became a spy. He shared his video footage of Japan, which was instrumental in planning American raids during the war. After serving in South America and the Caribbean, Berg was parachuted into Yugoslavia to assist resistance groups fighting the Nazis. His next mission was to travel across Europe and convince scientists working for the Nazis (particularly on their nuclear bomb project), to come work for the U.S. instead. In 1951, he requested that the CIA station him in Israel. Instead, they sent him to Europe to spy on Soviet nuclear work. In 1954, the CIA let him go and for the rest of his life Berg lived with his siblings, having never married. His wishes were to be cremated, and his ashes were scattered in Jerusalem. Berg was inducted into the Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, and Baseball’s Shrine of the Eternals. He was awarded the Medal of Freedom, and his baseball card is on display at CIA headquarters. Berg was described as “the most scholarly professional athlete”, and the “strangest man ever to play baseball.”

Words of the Week

If you begin a good deed, finish it, for a mitzvah is credited to the one who concludes the task.
– Talmud, Sotah 13b