Tag Archives: Yiddish

Jew of the Week: Jonas Phillips

Revolutionary War Hero

phillipsJonas Phillips (1736-1803) was born in Germany to an observant, Yiddish-speaking family. When he was 21, Jonah set forth for the New World. He first made his way to London, anglicizing his father’s name “Phaibush” to “Phillips”. There, he sold himself into indentured servitude in order to pay for his passage to America. After working several years on an indigo plantation, Phillips earned his freedom and moved to New York to work as a merchant. He became a wealthy man and married a prominent Sephardic Jewish woman, with whom he would have 21 children. Unfortunately, Phillips lost much of his wealth because of British restrictions on commerce. Not surprisingly, Phillips became a strong supporter of the American Revolutionary War, and joined the Philadelphia Militia. He fought valiantly, and earned a reputation as an American war hero. In 1787, he took part in the Constitutional Convention that drafted the United States Constitution. He played a key role in ensuring that the Constitution would protect people’s religious freedoms, and give equal civil rights to all citizens. Meanwhile, Phillips was a founding father of one of America’s oldest synagogues, Philadelphia’s Mikveh Israel. One of his grandsons became the Chief Justice of South Carolina’s Supreme Court, while another was America’s first Jewish commodore in the US Navy, and also a famous war hero. His great-grandson was a governor of South Carolina.

Words of the Week

Brothers, half of the Palestinians are Egyptians and the other half are Saudis. Who are the Palestinians? Egyptian! They may be from Alexandria, from Cairo, from Dumietta, from the North, from Aswan, from Upper Egypt. We are Egyptians. We are Arabs.
— Hamas Minister Fathi Hammad on Al-Hekma TV (Egypt), March 23, 2012 (Click here to watch)

Jew of the Week: Avigdor Lieberman

Israel's New Minister of Defence, Avigdor Lieberman (Photo Credit: Yossi Zamir)

Israel’s New Minister of Defence, Avigdor Lieberman (Photo Credit: Yossi Zamir)

Evet Lvovich Lieberman (b. 1958) was born in Moldova to a Russian-Jewish family. He grew up speaking Yiddish and dreamed of being a poet. In 1978, his family made aliyah to Israel, where he went by the name “Avigdor”. After serving in the IDF, Lieberman studied political science at the Hebrew University. During this time, he worked as a bouncer in a club, and went on to become the club’s manager. In the mid-80s, Lieberman co-founded the Zionist Forum for Soviet Jewry, and worked for Israel’s National Worker’s Union. His first real foray into politics was in 1988, when he began collaborating with Benjamin Netanyahu. By 1993, Lieberman was the Director-General of Likud, and in 1996 became the Director-General of Netanyahu’s Prime Ministerial office. However, the following year he had a falling out with Netanyahu over concessions made to the Palestinians. He left Likud, and two years later, founded a new political party, Yisrael Beitenu. That same year, he was elected to the Knesset for the first time. He remained in this position until 2004, when Ariel Sharon kicked him out because of his vocal opposition to the Gaza withdrawal plans. In the next elections, Lieberman returned to the Knesset, his party having won 11 seats. Once again, in 2008, he left his post to protest “land for peace” negotiations, and was re-elected the following year. All in all, Lieberman has been an MK in every Knesset since 1999, and served as Minister of National Infrastructure, Minister of Transportation, Minister of Foreign Affairs, and even as Israel’s Deputy Prime Minister. Most recently, he has been appointed Minister of Defense. His strong support among the million-plus Soviet immigrants in Israel gives him consistently large Knesset seat victories, making him a key part of forming any successful coalition government. For this reason, he has been nicknamed the “kingmaker”. Over the years, Lieberman has worked to improve ties with European and African nations, and campaigned for Israel to join the European Union and NATO. He has always insisted on keeping Jerusalem undivided, on responding harshly to terror attacks, and strengthening Israel’s borders. On being a controversial figure, he has said: “I’ve always been controversial because I offer new ideas. For me to be controversial, I think this is positive.”

Words of the Week

The peace process is based on three false basic assumptions; that Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the main cause of instability in the Middle East, that the conflict is territorial and not ideological, and that the establishment of a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders will end the conflict.
– Avigdor Lieberman

Jew of the Week: Leonard Nimoy

The World’s Most Popular Alien

Nimoy Demonstrating the Kohanic Blessing Sign/Vulcan Salute

Nimoy Demonstrating the Kohanic Blessing Sign/Vulcan Salute

Leonard Simon Nimoy (1931-2015) was born in Boston to Orthodox Jewish-Ukrainian immigrants. He began performing in the Yiddish theatre when he was eight years old, and was encouraged to pursue a career in acting by his grandfather, against his parents’ wishes. He got his first role at 17, acting in a play about a Jewish family’s struggles during the Great Depression. Following this, he studied at Boston College, and made a living by selling vacuums, working in an ice cream shop, and at the National Yiddish Book Center. He then served for a year and a half in the US Army Reserve and earned the rank of sergeant. Nimoy continued to pursue his passion, though with very little success. He played tiny roles in over fifty movies, and had to deliver newspapers and drive a taxi at the same time just to get by. Finally, Nimoy got his big break when he was cast as Spock in Star Trek, which premiered in 1966. Spock quickly became one of “the most popular alien characters ever portrayed on television”. He played the TV role until 1969, for which he received three Emmy nominations. Nimoy improvised the famous Vulcan salute from his experiences at the synagogue as a child, where he watched the Kohanim bless the congregation. Nimoy adopted the Kohanic hand gesture, and adapted the Hebrew wording of the blessing to the Vulcan “live long and prosper”. He also invented the famous “nerve pinch” (to make a person unconscious), which has been both spoofed and adopted countless times in literature, television, and film. Nimoy played Spock again in eight Star Trek movies, including the most recent in 2013, and he directed two of them himself. Aside from this, Nimoy played in the original Mission: Impossible TV series (from which the Tom Cruise films were adapted), as well as many other movies and TV roles, together with a number of highly acclaimed stage performances (including Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof). Nimoy was also a photographer, producer, pilot, poet, writer (publishing two autobiographies), and musician, releasing five albums! All in all, Nimoy starred in 53 films, appeared in over 45 TV shows, 5 video games, and 3 music videos. Throughout his life, he was very active in the Jewish community, voicing a documentary about Hasidic Jews, leading a project to record Yiddish children’s stories, and preserving the Yiddish language, as well as dedicating much of his time to Holocaust remembrance. Nimoy passed away last week, aged 83. His former co-star George Takei said of him: “The word extraordinary is often overused, but I think it’s really appropriate for Leonard. He was an extraordinarily talented man, but he was also a very decent human being.”

Purim Begins Tonight!

Words of the Week

“Logic is the beginning of wisdom, not the end.”
“When you let me take, I’m grateful. When you let me give, I’m blessed.”
“The miracle is this: the more we share, the more we have.”
– Leonard Nimoy