Tag Archives: World Jewish Congress

Jew of the Week: Mikhael Mirilashvili

Pediatrician, Oligarch, Philanthropist

Mikhael Mirilashvili with a glass of air-generated water from one of his Watergen machines

Mikhael Mirilashvili (b. 1960) was born to a Jewish family in Kulashi, Georgia. He moved to St. Petersburg at 17 to study mathematics, then switched to medicine and became a pediatrician. As many new opportunities opened up with the collapse of the Soviet Union, Mirilashvili went into business. He started with real estate, then expanded to retail stores, banking, television, oil and gas, and casinos. He owned six casinos in St. Petersburg alone, and his Viking bank is among the city’s most popular. Mirilashvili was a cofounder of Russian social media app Vkontakte, which he sold in 2013 for $1.12 billion. In 2000, his father was kidnapped by a group of criminals posing as police officers. Two weeks after his father’s release, the kidnappers were all found dead. Mirilashvili was arrested for ordering the hit on his father’s captors, and spent eight years in prison. Upon his release in 2009, he moved to Israel and has since invested a great deal in the country, including in Israel’s new offshore gas fields. He is a generous philanthropist, donating millions to ZAKA (of which he was chairman), Keren haYesod, Yad Vashem, the IDF, the World Jewish Congress, the Russian Jewish Congress (of which he is the vice-president), the Torah and Chessed Center for Georgian Jews, as well as Migdal Ohr, an organization started by beloved rabbi Yitzchak Dovid Grossman (known as “the disco rabbi”) to help struggling Israeli youths. Mirilashvili’s funding has allowed Migdal Ohr to support, educate, and care for over 17,000 impoverished and disadvantaged Israeli kids and teens. Mirilashvili also co-founded and owns Watergen, an Israeli start-up that transforms air into clean drinking water, extracted and filtered from humidity. Watergen machines are now found in over one hundred water-starved regions of the world. In previous years, Mirilashvili donated seven such machines to the Gaza Strip, each providing over 2000 litres a day of clean water, powered by solar cells. The machines are still operating in the Gaza Strip amidst the war, providing essential water to Palestinians. Watergen machines are also operating in Ukraine, though Mirilashvili has been falsely accused by the Ukrainians of supporting the Russian invasion. He has dispelled these myths, and reminds people that he was imprisoned for years in a Russian jail, survived several Russian assassination attempts, and has sold off nearly all of his Russian-based businesses. Meanwhile, Mirilashvili established the Israeli-Emirati Water Research Institute in Abu Dhabi (together with Tel Aviv University), and the Moshe Mirilashvili Center for Food Security at Ben-Gurion University in honour of his father. Over the years, he has donated millions more to synagogues, hospitals, and Jewish schools, for medical equipment, Torah scrolls, and ambulances, as well as a special fleet of firetrucks to combat forest fires in Israel.

Jewish Awakening” Causes Global Shortage of Tefillin and Mezuzahs

Three Approaches to the Arab-Israeli Conflict from This Week’s Torah Parasha

Support the #KidnappedFromIsrael Campaign

Words of the Week

The Arab refugee problem was caused by a war of aggression, launched by the Arab States against Israel in 1947 and 1948. Let there be no mistake: If there had been no war against Israel, with its consequent harvest of bloodshed, misery, panic and flight, there would be no problem of Arab refugees today.
Abba Eban

Jew of the Week: Edgar Bronfman Sr.

Edgar Bronfman Sr.

Edgar Bronfman Sr.

Edgar Miles Bronfman (1929-2013) was born in Montreal to the Bronfman family (of Seagram fame), the eldest son of Samuel Bronfman and brother of Birthright co-founder Charles Bronfman. He was raised in a religious, kosher home, graduated from McGill University, and in 1957 took over the company’s American subsidiary. He greatly expanded its American business, and broadened the company internationally, too. When film-production company MGM bought into Seagram, Bronfman briefly served as MGM’s chairman. Having participated in the World Jewish Congress for several years, in 1981 he was officially elected as its new president, and used his skills to make the organization among the most important and influential in the Jewish world. Bronfman led many delegations to Moscow in a successful campaign to free Soviet Jews. He also exposed the hidden Nazi past of some notable figures, and brought greater compensation for Holocaust victims, particularly from Swiss banks. In 1982, he became the first leader of a Jewish organization to speak before the United Nations. He stepped down as president in 2007, and focused more of his efforts on philanthropy. He took on Bill & Melinda Gates’ Giving Pledge, a promise to donate the majority of one’s wealth to charity. Among many other awards, Edgar Bronfman Sr. received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Bill Clinton, and a French Legion of Honour. He also published several books, including The Bronfman Haggadah. Sadly, Bronfman past away on December 21st.

Words of the Week

When a day passes one should know what he has accomplished and what remains yet to be done… In general, one should always see to it that tomorrow should be much better than today.”
The Lubavitcher Rebbe (Hayom Yom, Iyar 1)

Jew of the Week: Estée Lauder

Beauty Queen, Business Genius

Estee Lauder

Estée Mentzer (1908-2004) was born in Queens to Hungarian-Jewish immigrants. She took an early interest in her chemist uncle’s nascent beauty products business. Soon after high school, she began selling some of his concoctions and found success. After marrying Joseph Lauder, the two opened their own cosmetics company and Esther quickly became famous for her ingenious marketing strategies. In 1953 she created a new fragrance – “Youth Dew” – which sold 50,000 bottles that year. By 1984, it sold 150 million. No wonder she was the only woman named to TIME’s list of 20th century business geniuses. She also won the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Her son Ronald Lauder is a fervent activist for Israel and Jewish causes worldwide. In 2007, he was elected president of the World Jewish Congress. For these reasons, Estée Lauder is frequently the focus of anti-Israel boycott groups. Little to these groups know that Estée Lauder encompasses 27 brands including Clinique, Aveda and MAC. Words of wisdom from Esther: “I have never worked a day in my life without selling. If I believe in something, I sell it, and I sell hard.” She wasn’t just talking about beauty products.

Words of the Week

King David said, “Seek peace and pursue it.” (Psalms 34:15) This means: Seek peace for your friends, and pursue it among your enemies; seek peace where you dwell, and pursue it in all other places; seek peace with your body and pursue it with your all your resources; seek peace for yourself and pursue it for others; seek peace today, and pursue it for tomorrow.
– Sefer Ma’alot HaMiddot