Tag Archives: United Kingdom

Jew of the Week: Yehuda Avner

In Memory of a Great Israeli Diplomat

Yehuda Avner

Yehuda Avner

Yehuda Haffner (1928-2015) was born in Manchester, England to an Orthodox Jewish family. From a young age he was involved with Bnei Akiva, a religious-Zionist organization founded a year after Haffner was born (and now the world’s largest religious-Zionist youth movement). He would later serve as its national director, too. After high school, Haffner moved to Israel, taking on the more Hebrew-sounding last name of Avner. Shortly after that, he fought in Israel’s War of Independence with the elite Palmach forces, defending Jerusalem during its difficult siege. Following the war, he helped to found the religious Kibbutz Lavi. In 1958, Avner joined the Israeli Foreign Service and worked for the Prime Minister’s office. For the next 25 years, he served as a speechwriter, secretary, and advisor to six prime ministers and presidents. He also became an important statesman and politician of his own, as an Israeli diplomat in Washington, as ambassador to the UK, Ireland, and Australia, and for his involvement in key operations such as Entebbe (to free Jewish hostages from a hijacked airplane in Uganda), and Operation Opera (to destroy Iraq’s nuclear capabilities). Interestingly, he also served as Israel’s unofficial liaison to the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Throughout his career, he never compromised his faith, proudly wearing his kippah wherever he went, and making sure to have kosher meals arranged at state dinners. In 2010, Avner published a highly-acclaimed memoir which has since been adapted into a documentary (voiced by Sandra Bullock, Michael Douglas, Cristoph Waltz, and Leonard Nimoy). He has been described as “one of the senior members of Israeli diplomacy”, “living Israel’s history”, and “Begin’s Shakespeare” for his beautiful speeches. Sadly, Avner passed away yesterday from complications due to cancer.

Words of the Week

From Yehuda Avner’s “Ten Commandments”:

1. When an enemy of our people says he seeks to destroy us, believe him.
2. Stand tall in the knowledge that every tyrant in history who has ever sought our destruction has himself been destroyed.
6. Whenever a threat against a fellow Jew looms, do all in your power to come to his aid, whatever the sacrifice.
7. Never pause to wonder what others will think or say.
8. Be forever loyal to the historic truth that Israel is the nation state of the Jewish people and Jerusalem its eternal capital.
10. Build Jewish homes not by the accident of birth, but by the conviction of our eternal Torah.

Jews of the Week: Zev Wolfson and Sir Isaac Wolfson

Zev Wolfson

Zev Wolfson (1928-2012) was born in Lithuania, deported to Siberia during World War II and finally made his way to New York. With no money he began working as a light-bulb salesman, but soon found his way into real estate where he quickly earned a large sum of wealth. Inspired by the sight of an Israeli flag, Wolfson began working tirelessly for Israel, lobbying the U.S. government to help the nascent state. He secured arms for Israel during the critical period of the Yom Kippur War, and built countless institutions across the country. Yitzchak Rabin said he didn’t know “one other Jew in the world who, as an individual, had done more for the State of Israel”. In spiritual matters, too, Wolfson was a giant, financing yeshivas worldwide, and paying for such programs as RAJE, Aish Fellowships, and Argentina’s Morasha, which bring thousands of young Jews to Israel every year at virtually no cost. Possibly every Jew in the world has somehow been touched by Wolfson’s outreach – he even established a Torah-learning program in Iran during the times of the Shah! Humble and dedicated to Torah, he made sure to donate more than 50% of his earnings, and was known to fly economy class despite his wealth. His family continues to contribute hundreds of millions of dollars to Jewish causes every year.

Sir Isaac Wolfson

Zev Wolfson is not to be confused with Sir Isaac Wolfson (1897-1991) of Scotland, another great Jewish philanthropist. Born to poor Polish immigrants, Isaac Wolfson couldn’t afford school so he became a salesperson. He worked his way up to become director of Great Universal Stores, once among the largest retailers in the UK, with over 50,000 employees. A devout Orthodox Jew, Sir Wolfson donated virtually all of his wealth, much of it to build the young State of Israel, saying “No man should have more than £100,000. The rest should go to charity.”

Words of the Week

People are accustomed to look at the heavens and wonder what happens there. It would be better if they would look within themselves to see what happens there.
– Menachem Mendel of Kotzk, “The Kotzker Rebbe”