Tag Archives: Russian Jews

Jew of the Week: Bob Shad

The Producer Who Discovered Janis Joplin

Bob Shad (Courtesy: Herman Leonard Photography)

Abraham Shadrinsky (1920-1985) was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. His parents were early Bolsheviks that were actively fighting the Czar, and his father was exiled before the Russian Revolution. Young Abee Shadrinsky soon became “Bobby Shad”. His passion was music and especially the popular jazz of the time. In the 1940s, when the music producers’ union went on strike, a totally inexperienced Shad took the opportunity to go to the Savoy Label and offered to produce some jazz. He spent much of the next forty years in the recording studio, producing over 800 albums. He founded the great Emercy jazz label for Mercury Records, as well as Sitting In, Time, Brent, and Mainstream Records. He recorded many of the jazz legends and was personally responsible for developing the careers of greats like Quincy Jones, Sarah Vaughan, Dinah Washington, and Clifford Brown. He recorded pop artists, too, including Patti Page, the Platters, and Vic Damone. Shad was an incredibly creative man who was able to foresee many of the trends in music, such as early stereo, high fidelity, avant-garde, and acid rock. In the sixties, it was Shad who first discovered Ted Nugent and Janis Joplin, recording and producing her first album with the Big Brother band. Joplin went on to become one of the top-selling musicians in American history, and was ranked among the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time by Rolling Stone. Despite the great success, Shad lived modestly and remained true to his love of music, devoting most of his career and financial resources to the world of jazz. Having grown up in an atheistic home, he was not religious. Nonetheless, he was a real Jew at heart and was deeply in dialogue with God, especially regarding the Holocaust. He would often recount how special the Jewish people were and, because he was a pilot and had a private twin engine plane, he even assisted in smuggling arms for Israel at one point! Altogether, Shad recorded thousands of songs, including some of the greatest hits of the 20th century (listen to some of his music here). He is the father of Hollywood screenwriter Samantha Shad, and grandfather of author and professor Robert Apatow, and comedy filmmaker Judd Apatow.*

Words of the Week

People think loving one’s fellow means to give him a pat on the back. Loving one’s fellow means that if a Jew on the other side of the world has a problem, you feel it.
Rabbi Yisroel Friedman, the Ruzhiner Rebbe (1796-1850)


*The above Jew of the Week was a guest submission by Robert (Avraham) Apatow, about his grandfather Bob Shad.

Jew of the Week: Harold Grinspoon

The Philanthropist Behind PJ Library

Harold Grinspoon (Credit: Robert Charles Photography)

Harold Grinspoon (b. 1929) was born and raised in Newton, Massachusetts to a family of Jewish-Russian immigrants. He had a difficult childhood, struggling with dyslexia and rampant anti-Semitism, poverty, and losing his father at 19. While a student at Marlboro College, he had his first business idea: Putting together some meagre savings, he bought an old laundry machine and put it in the college dorm, charging 25 cents per load. Meanwhile, he worked on an ice cream truck and soon left school to manage a whole fleet of them. After serving in the Navy, Grinspoon bought his first property in 1959. He renovated it and rented out one of the units, and from there steadily built his real estate development business. He founded Aspen Square Management, now one of America’s top-50 private developers, with 15,000 apartments across 16 states. When diagnosed with cancer at age 59, Grinspoon realized he wanted to do something more meaningful with his life. He was particularly troubled by Jewish assimilation and intermarriage. Together with his wife, he founded the Harold Grinspoon Foundation to fund a variety of Jewish causes, and has since donated over $200 million. At one Passover seder, Grinspoon saw how excited his grandkids were to read Jewish books, and came up with the idea of sending a free Jewish book once a month to every Jewish home. Thus, in 2005 he launched PJ Library. Today, PJ Library operates around the world, delivering nearly 1 million free books each month to kids in some 30 countries. PJ Library also delivers popular Arabic-language books to Arab Israeli children. (It’s the largest Arabic book program in the world!) Meanwhile, PJ Library runs weekend and after-school programs, along with over 3000 events a year. The Harold Grinspoon Foundation funds other Jewish programs, too, including Jewish camps and day schools. In 2015, Grinspoon signed The Giving Pledge to donate more than half of his wealth. Grinspoon and his PJ Library have won a number of prestigious awards, including one from the Library of Congress. Grinspoon has been called “the most important Jewish philanthropist you’ve never heard of”. He is also an avid artist and sculptor, and is still very active at 92 years old. Sign up to PJ Library here!

Words of the Week

We are indignant when we are fooled by others but live comfortably with our unconscious desire for self-deceit.
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

Jew of the Week: Natan Sharansky

The Refusenik

Anatoly Borisovich Sharansky (b. 1948) was born in Donetsk, Ukraine. He was a child chess prodigy, and won his city’s chess championship as a teenager. He went on to study math in Moscow and later worked in a secret Soviet research lab. In 1973, Sharansky applied for an exit visa to Israel and was refused. Henceforth, he became a vocal activist on behalf of Soviet Jewry, and became the world’s most famous refusenik. He soon expanded his scope to work for all human rights, and was the spokesperson for the Moscow Helsinki Group, today Russia’s primary human rights organization. In 1977, Sharansky was arrested on trumped-up charges of treason and espionage, and sentenced to 13 years of hard labour. He was tortured, and kept in solitary confinement for long periods of time. (He would later remark that one of the things that helped him through it was playing chess in his mind.) After ceaseless activism from his wife, mother, and countless international supporters, Sharansky was finally released in 1986. Shortly after, he received a Congressional Gold Medal from the US government. He moved to Israel and started going by his Hebrew name, Natan. A couple of years later, he published a bestselling memoir, Fear No Evil. (This book was passed on by Helen Suzman to Nelson Mandela, then still in prison, and inspired his ongoing struggle.) In 1995, Sharansky co-founded the Yisrael BaAliyah political party to advocate on behalf of hundreds of thousands of new Soviet Jewish immigrants to Israel. They won seven seats in their first election. Sharansky served as Minister of Industry and Trade, then Minister of Internal Affairs, and even Israel’s Deputy Prime Minister. In 2003, as chairman of his party, he merged it with Likud, and became Minister of Jerusalem Affairs. In 2005, Sharansky resigned in protest of Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza. He is a staunch supporter of Israeli settlements, and co-founded One Jerusalem, an organization that works to keep the Jewish capital from being divided ever again. President Bush awarded him the Medal of Freedom in 2006, and he won the Israel Prize in 2018. Last year, he won the prestigious Genesis Prize, and donated all $1 million of it for coronavirus relief. Currently, Sharansky heads the Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy, and continues to serve on the board of the Jewish Agency.

Sharansky: The Dangerous Rise of the Un-Jews

Understanding the Arab-Israeli Conflict in 5 Easy Points

Words of the Week

Jews came here 3,000 years ago and this is the cradle of Jewish civilization. Jews are the only people in history who kept their loyalty to their identity and their land throughout the 2,000 years of exile, and no doubt that they have the right to have their place among nations—not only historically but also geographically. As to the Palestinians, who are the descendants of those Arabs who migrated in the last 200 years, they have the right, if they want, to have their own state… but not at the expense of the state of Israel.
– Natan Sharansky