Tag Archives: United Nations

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

Jew of the Week: Isaac Herzog

Isaac Herzog

Isaac Herzog

Yitzhak Herzog (b. 1960) was born in Tel Aviv to a father from Ireland and mother from Egypt. His grandfather was once the Chief Rabbi of Ireland, and the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel between 1936 and 1959. His uncle was the great Israeli politician Abba Eban. Meanwhile, Herzog’s father was an IDF general who also served as Israel’s sixth president between 1983 and 1993, as well as Israel’s Representative to the U.N. During his term in the latter position, the family lived in New York, where Isaac went to the Modern Orthodox Yeshivat Ramaz school (as did last week’s Jew of the Week, Ivanka Trump). Herzog also studied at Cornell, New York University, and Tel Aviv University. During his army service, he was an intelligence officer with Unit 8200, the IDF’s largest unit, often compared to the American NSA. Herzog continues to serve in the military as a reservist. After completing his education, he worked in his father’s law firm. His first foray into politics was as a secretary in Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s cabinet between 1999 and 2001. He then chaired Israel’s Anti-Drug Authority until 2003, when he won a seat in the Knesset and was appointed Minister of Housing and Building. Since then, he has held a number of other ministerial posts, including Minister of Tourism, Social Affairs, Diaspora, and Welfare & Social Services. In 2013, he was elected leader of the Labor Party and thus became Leader of the Opposition. One of his first moves was meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and announcing his support for a two-state solution. For yesterday’s elections, Herzog joined his party with Tzipi Livni’s ‘Hatnua’ to form the ‘Zionist Union’. Though hailed by many as being the clear favourite in the elections and unseating Netanyahu, the Zionist Union ended up winning only 24 seats to Likud’s impressive 30. Herzog has stated that he will not be part of the coalition government, and will continue as Leader of the Opposition.

Words of the Week

I don’t speak because I have the power to speak; I speak because I don’t have the power to remain silent.
– Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook

Jew of the Week: Sivan Borowich-Ya’ari

Saving Africa With Israeli Technology

Sivan Borowich-Ya'ari

Sivan Borowich-Ya’ari

Sivan Borowich-Ya’ari was born in Israel to an Algerian-Jewish father and Tunisian-Jewish mother. She was raised in France, but returned to Israel to serve in the army. After her service, Ya’ari moved to the United States to pursue higher education. While completing a Master’s at Columbia University, she went on an internship to Senegal with the United Nations Development Program, working to bring electrical generators to poor villages. Inspired by the terrible living conditions that she saw, Ya’ari took it upon herself to make a positive change in Africa. Soon after, she started her own project to bring solar-powered electricity to a Tanzanian village. In 2008, Ya’ari founded a non-profit organization, originally called Jewish Heart for Africa, and now Innovation: Africa. Its mission: making Africa a better place, and doing it with modern Israeli technology. Since then, her organization has helped bring light and electricity, food and water, education and medical care to over 450,000 people in Africa, particularly in Ethiopia, Uganda, Tanzania and Malawi. Over 250,000 children have been able to get vaccinated thanks to solar refrigerators provided by Innovation: Africa. Ya’ari works together with impoverished villages to bring them the basic infrastructure that they need. Her efforts have stimulated business opportunities, wider education, and better health. The organization maintains its promise to contribute 100% of donations for its causes, a part of which goes to develop novel Israeli technologies. Last fall, Ya’ari was honoured with the United Nation’s Innovation Award.

Words of the Week

You speak of all that you need, but you say nothing of what you are needed for.
– Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi