Tag Archives: Switzerland

Jew of the Week: Rav Shteinman

Aharon Yehuda Leib Shteinman (1914-2017) was born in what is now the city of Brest, Belarus. To avoid being conscripted into the Polish army, the young yeshiva student fled to Switzerland with some classmates. He continued his diligent studies in a Swiss yeshiva until being arrested during World War II and sent to a labour camp. Shteinman was the only member of his family to survive the Holocaust. He settled in Israel after the war. There, the young rabbi quickly made a name for himself as a Torah prodigy, and was soon appointed rosh yeshiva, head of a Torah academy. He would serve as a rosh yeshiva for the next five decades, while also establishing a number of children’s schools for the underprivileged. Meanwhile, Rav Shteinman wrote profusely, authoring dozens of bestselling books and discourses on Torah, Talmud, and Jewish thought, as well as being recognized as an expert in the field of education. While abstaining from politics himself, Rav Shteinman was the spiritual leader of Israel’s Degel HaTorah party, playing an influential role in government. In his 90s, and in frail health, the Rav decided to journey around the world to strengthen Jewish communities. Countless thousands gathered to greet him and hear his wise words in Los Angeles, New York, Mexico City, Buenos Aires, Manchester, Odessa, Berlin, Gibraltar, Paris, and many more small towns. On these trips, he would give as many as 10 talks a day.

Rav Shteinman was known for his extreme piety, humility, and modesty. His daily diet was nothing but a cucumber, a boiled potato, and one small bowl of oatmeal. He lived in a tiny apartment, with little furniture but walls lined end to end with books. He slept on the same thin mattress that was given to Jewish refugees upon arrival in Israel for some 50 years. Streams of people lined up at his open door each day seeking counsel and blessings. Rav Shteinman stood only for truth, even when it brought him adversity. This was particularly clear when he supported the Nachal Charedi, an IDF unit for yeshiva students. Even after some backlash from ultra-Orthodox communities, the Rav stood his ground and continued his support. He was widely recognized as the gadol hador, the world’s chief rabbi. Sadly, the great rabbi passed away yesterday, at 103 years of age. (His condition had turned critical two weeks ago after the tragic death of his 72-year old daughter from a heart attack, even though no one had told him of her passing.) Rav Shteinman wrote in his will that it would suffice to have just ten men to carry out his funeral, and requested no eulogies. Nonetheless, the funeral procession brought over 600,000 people. Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin stated that Rav Shteinman “bore the entire weight of the Jewish people’s existence on his shoulders… he knew how to convey his ideas gently, in a pleasant manner, and with a great love of the Jewish people… He was a man whose wisdom was exceeded only by his humility.”

Words of the Week

You are also living on a miracle.
– Rav Shteinmanto a doctor that told him the frail rabbi is “living on a miracle”.

The streets of Bnei Brak fill with hundreds of thousands of mourners for Rav Shteinman’s funeral procession.

Jew of the Week: Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

JungreisEsther Jungreis (1936-2016) was born in Hungary, the daughter of a rabbi. During the Holocaust, the family was sent to Bergen-Belsen, and later loaded up on a train headed for Auschwitz. On route, they managed to escape to Switzerland with the help of Rudolph Kastner’s Aid and Rescue Committee. The quota for migrants to Israel was filled, so the family was given papers to go to the States. Jungreis went on to marry a rabbi and settled in North Woodmere, New York, where the couple founded the town’s Jewish Center and Congregation Ohr Torah. Seeing the rampant assimilation in the United States, Jungreis made it her life’s work to prevent what she saw as a “spiritual holocaust”. In 1973, she started an organization called Hineni, aimed at inspiring Jewish youth to return to their roots. Under her dedicated leadership and moving speeches, Hineni grew to become an international organization, no longer focused solely on youth but rousing countless young and old alike. Jungreis organized events and gave lectures around the world – visiting fifteen or more countries a year was normal for her. Her weekly class drew as many as 1500 people at a time. Meanwhile, Jungreis wrote a regular column for The Jewish Press (the world’s largest English-language Jewish paper) for some 45 years, making it the longest running column in the publication’s history. She also wrote four best-selling books, and had a television programme. In 2004, the Rebbetzin spoke at the Republican National Convention, and in 2008 was selected by President Bush to join him on his delegation to Jerusalem for Israel’s 60th anniversary. Today, she is recognized as one of the central pioneers of the modern kiruv (Jewish outreach) movement. Sadly, the Rebbetzin passed away yesterday. She worked tirelessly until the very end, and in her last article – published just last week – finished with these words: “When will we wake up? When will we don our priestly garments and fulfill our G-d-given destiny and be ‘a light unto all mankind’?”

Words of the Week

A long life is not good enough, but a good life is long enough.
– Rabbi Theodore Meshulem Jungreis

Jew of the Week: Ruth Dreifuss

President of Switzerland

Ruth Dreifuss (Photo Credit: Chatham House)

Ruth Dreifuss (Photo Credit: Chatham House)

Ruth Dreifuss (b. 1940) was born in Switzerland to a Jewish family that had been living in the country for many generations. She studied commerce and social work, and later earned a Master’s in economics from the University of Geneva. Dreifuss worked as a hotel secretary, journalist, and social worker before joining Switzerland’s Socialist Party. Throughout the 1970s, she worked for the Swiss Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In the 80s, she was the general-secretary of the Swiss Trade Union (the first woman to hold that position), and by 1993, was elected as an executive member of the Swiss Federal Council, the country’s official head of government. The council is made up of seven officials who collectively run the federal government, with each taking a turn as president for one year. Dreifuss’ turn as president came in 1999, making her the first female (and Jewish) president of Switzerland. This was a tremendous achievement, especially because Switzerland was the last country in Europe to grant equal rights to both women and Jews. During her tenure, she brought forth many improvements to Switzerland, including revisions of the country’s health insurance and social security systems. She helped make Switzerland a full member of the United Nations, implemented paid maternity leave, enhanced the country’s policies on pensions and drugs, introduced programs for prevention of HIV and drug addiction, and helped Holocaust victims retrieve their money from old Swiss bank accounts. After serving two and a half terms, the popular Dreifuss resigned from the federal council in 2002. Since then, she has chaired the World Health Organization’s Commission on Intellectual Property Rights, Innovation, and Public Health, and is also an important member of the Council of Women World Leaders, an organization composed of former female politicians and heads of state working to improve women’s rights globally. Dreifuss continues to play an important role within the European Union, and has been awarded honourary degrees from both Haifa University and Jerusalem’s Hebrew University for her tireless work in social justice, gender equality, and combating anti-Semitism.

Words of the Week

If my theory of relativity is proven successful, Germany will claim me as a German and France will declare me a citizen of the world. Should my theory prove untrue, France will say that I am a German, and Germany will declare that I am a Jew.
– Albert Einstein