Tag Archives: Shabbat

Jew of the Week: Max Azria

BCBG Max Azria 

Max Azria (Credit: David Shankbone)

Max Azria (b. 1949) was born in Tunisia to a traditional Jewish family, the youngest of six children. He grew up in France, where he was first drawn to the fashion industry. He spent eleven years working in French fashion before moving to Los Angeles and opening his first boutique, called Jess. After eight very successful years, Azria launched BCBG Max Azria in 1989. (The name comes from the French slang bon chic bon genre, “good style, good attitude”.) Known for its affordable designer fashion, the brand became extremely popular. It made headlines at New York Fashion Week in 1996, and put Azria on the prestigious Council of Fashion Designers of America in 1998. That same year, he bought a French company, Hervé Léger, making history by being the first American designer to buy out a French one. Azira launched an exclusive celebrity line called Max Azria Atelier in 2004, and a youth store called BCBGeneration in 2008. Celebrities are particularly fond of his designs, and among his biggest fans are Angelina Jolie, Miley Cyrus, Britney Spears, Halle Berry, and Beyoncé. Azria has also designed clothing for TV shows, including Friends and Seinfeld. In all, he owns twenty different brands and has nearly 600 stores around the world. Unfortunately, many of these locations will soon be closing, as BCBG filed for bankruptcy yesterday. Nonetheless, Azria has been hailed as “one of the most important and influential designers in the world”. Aside from fashion, he is the spokesperson for ‘Concept: Cure’, a charity that supports breast cancer research. His brother Serge, daughter Joyce, and wife Lubov are all successful fashion designers as well. The latter recently spoke of the large Shabbat meals that the couple hosts at their home: “Sometimes there’s only five people, sometimes a hundred.”

Words of the Week

My relationship to the Jewish people has become my strongest human bond, ever since I became fully aware of our precarious situation among the nations of the world.
– Albert Einstein

Jew of the Week: Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen (Credit: CBC)

Leonard Cohen (Credit: CBC)

Leonard Norman Eliezer Cohen (1934-2016) was born in Montreal, the grandson of a Lithuanian rabbi and a Polish immigrant who founded the Canadian Jewish Congress. Cohen grew up very close to his Jewish community, and attended Montreal’s Jewish Herzliah High School, where he was first inspired to take up poetry by a teacher. While studying at McGill University, he published his first set of award-winning poems. His second book of poetry found even more success, and was seen as an important work in Canadian literature, with one critic calling Cohen “the best young poet in English Canada.” Cohen moved to a small island off the coast of Greece and wrote prolifically, publishing several more books of poetry and novels. One of his later books – a Literary Award winner – was inspired by the Hebrew Bible and consisted of 50 poems that Cohen called “prayers”. Meanwhile, Cohen started recording music in the 1960s as poetry did not bring the income he hoped for. His first album was a big hit in the US and UK. It was his seventh album that had his most famous song, “Hallelujah”, which Cohen went through some 80 drafts writing, and “banging his head on the floor”. The song was inspired by various Biblical scenes, including the stories of Samson and Delilah, and King David and Batsheva. It would be covered by over 200 artists in dozens of languages, and become the subject of a whole book and BBC documentary. In 1994, Cohen entered a period of five years of seclusion during which time he was ordained a Zen Buddhist monk. However, he never abandoned his Jewish roots, and said, “I’m not looking for a new religion. I’m quite happy with the old one, with Judaism.” Cohen was known to keep Shabbat throughout his career, even while on tour. In his 2009 concert in Tel-Aviv, Cohen spoke Hebrew and ended the concert with Birkat Cohanim, the priestly blessing. During the Yom Kippur War, Cohen went to Israel to volunteer at a kibbutz before going to the front lines himself to entertain Israeli soldiers, saying he will “stop Egypt’s bullets”. In his 1972 Jerusalem concert he was so emotional that he had to walk off stage at one point. The crowd started singing to bring him back and a teary-eyed Cohen felt like “the entire audience turned into one Jew”. All in all, Cohen produced 15 albums (the last of which was released just three weeks ago), 13 poetry books, and two novels. He won a plethora of awards – including multiple Junos and Grammys, the Order of Canada, and induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame – and inspired countless musicians, poets, and artists. He has been hailed as one of the most influential songwriters and greatest musicians of all time. Sadly, Cohen passed away earlier this week.

Words of the Week

There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.
– Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen performing for the IDF, with Ariel Sharon looking on.

Leonard Cohen performing for the IDF, with Ariel Sharon looking on.

Jew of the Week: Rebbetzin Henny Machlis

Rebbetzin Henny Machlis (Photo Credit: Joan Roth)

Rebbetzin Henny Machlis (Photo Credit: Joan Roth)

Henny Machlis (1957-2015) was born and raised in Brooklyn, the daughter of an Orthodox rabbi. She studied genetics, dietetics, and education at both Brooklyn College and Yeshiva University. Shortly after marrying Rabbi Mordechai Machlis, the two opened up their home to host people for Sabbath meals. Their inspiring words of wisdom and delicious cooking brought more and more guests. Soon, the Machlis family was hosting between 200 and 300 guests for Shabbat meals each week! Among their guests were students, immigrants, and tourists, widows and orphans, the impoverished, homeless, and mentally ill. Many of these slept over for days or weeks, on their couches, tables, and even in their van. Rebbetzin Machlis would cook for 8 hours straight to prepare for each Shabbat, with the help of her 13 kids. Cleaning up would often take until Tuesday. Each Shabbat cost the family $2500, some of which was covered by donations, but most came from their own modest funds, together with many loans, and even the sale of their personal belongings. Amazingly, the family only took off one week a year, during the holiday of Passover. Their door was never locked, and people regularly came in for a safe place to stay. At the same time, the Rebbetzin taught a regular women’s class on Jewish philosophy, while mentoring and advising countless others. Despite her hard work, Machlis was famous for always being cheerful, calm, warm, and modest. Over the past 36 years, her family has hosted over 400,000 people. Sadly, Rebbetzin Machlis passed away last month after a battle with cancer. Many visited her in the hospital, and even there, the Rebbetzin continued her kindness, giving up her own hospital bed to give homeless people a place to rest. At her funeral, a stranger pushed aside her son to draw nearer, saying “I have to get closer. She’s my mother.” Indeed, many consider Henny Machlis their spiritual mother. One person said of her: “When I was with her, I felt embraced by God.” Click here to read more about Henny Machlis’s story.

Words of the Week

Wisdom from Rebbetzin Machlis:

“All giving is a little bit of imitating God. Giving builds one’s character, and makes one more God-like.”

“Rebbe Nachman of Breslov says that when you cook, the energy that you cook with goes into the food. So if you cook with a lot of anger, you can give people food poisoning. But if you cook with joy, you can give them good health.”

“We are living in the midst of a spiritual holocaust. Most Jews today have no idea of the beauty and depth of Judaism. How can we not do everything in our power, including going into debt, to reach out to our fellow Jews?”