Tag Archives: Zionist

Jew of the Week: David Wolffsohn

The Man Who Created the Flag of Israel

David Wolffsohn (1856-1914) was born to a poor, religious Jewish family in the Lithuanian-Polish town of Darbenai (then part of Russia). His father was a Torah scholar and teacher, and Wolffsohn, too, was learning in yeshiva with the same goal in mind. In his teens, he was sent to live with relatives in Germany to avoid being conscripted to the Russian army. There, he met the rabbi, philosopher, and early Zionist leader Isaac Rülf, and became his devoted disciple. Meanwhile, Wolffsohn took up secular studies and went on to apprentice at a trading company. In 1877, he started his own flouring business, and was soon one of the most prominent Jewish businessmen in Europe. Henceforth, he dedicated his life to realizing that ancient dream of his people’s return to Israel. He played a key role within the Hovevei Zion movement, and in 1894 was a cofounder of the Society for the Promotion and Support of Jewish Agriculture in Syria and Palestine. When Herzl’s The Jewish State was published two years later, Wolffsohn immediately journeyed to Vienna to meet him. The two became very close and traveled the Holy Land together, setting the foundations for what would become the State of Israel. Not surprisingly, when the World Zionist Congress was founded, Herzl was made its president and Wolffsohn its vice-president. Upon Herzl’s death shortly after, Wolffsohn succeeded him. As president, he was instrumental in reinvigorating Jewish life in the Holy Land (among other things, it was under his tenure that the city of Tel-Aviv was founded). However, Wolffsohn is most famous for being the one who created the flag of modern Israel. Back in 1896, Herzl had written: “We have no flag, and we need one. If we desire to lead many men, we must raise a symbol above their heads. I would suggest a white flag, with seven golden stars…” Herzl’s proposal was good, but his flag gained little support. Wolffsohn responded to Herzl thus: “We have a flag—and it is blue and white. The talit with which we wrap ourselves when we pray: that is our symbol. Let us take this talit from its bag and unroll it before the eyes of Israel and the eyes of all nations…” Wolffsohn designed a simple flag with blue talit-like stripes and a star of David in the centre. The flag caught on quickly, and the rest is history.

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Words of the Week

What is the meaning of human life, or, for that matter, of the life of any creature? To know an answer to this question means to be religious. You ask: Does it make any sense, then, to pose this question? I answer: The man who regards his own life and that of his fellow creatures as meaningless is not merely unhappy but hardly fit for life…
– Albert Einstein

The traditional design of the talit inspired the modern flag of Israel.

Jews of the Week: Rose and Reuben Mattus

Rose and Reuben Mattus

Reuben Mattus (1912-1994) was born in Poland during World War I, which took his father’s life. He and his mother moved to New York when he was still a child. To make a living, the two worked at an ice cream parlour run by Mattus’ uncle, where ten-year old Reuben would squeeze lemons. By the time he finished high school, the family business was making chocolate ice cream bars and ice cream sandwiches, and sold them from a horse-drawn carriage. They opened up an ice cream factory in Brooklyn, where a young Rose Vesel (1916-2006) was hired to be a bookkeeper. Rose also immigrated with her Polish-Jewish family to New York as a five-year old. She first met Reuben on the streets of Brooklyn, and the two finally married in 1936. Two decades later, the couple decided to open up a new ice cream company. This ice cream would be richer and thicker, made with natural ingredients and butterfat as opposed to the artificial ingredients commonly used by other ice cream makers at the time. Since foreign-sounding names typically market better, Reuben came up with the Danish-sounding “Häagen-Dazs”, and put a map of Denmark on the logo. He did this as a tribute to Denmark, a country which strove to protect its Jews during the Holocaust. (The name “Häagen-Dazs” doesn’t actually mean anything in Danish!) While Reuben developed the recipes, Rose would sell the ice cream – initially by giving out free samples at supermarkets and universities, then catering to upscale restaurants. By 1973, Häagen-Dazs was the only ice cream being sold across the US, and opened its first official store just three years later. The Mattus’ sold the company for $70 million in 1983, but stayed on as consultants. Today, Häagen-Dazs is among the best-known ice cream brands in the world, and continues to operate ice cream shops all over the globe. (It still uses natural flavours and avoids using emulsifiers and artificial stabilizers like guar gum and carrageenan.) Reuben and Rose Mattus have been called the “Emperors of Ice Cream”, much like their fellow Jewish compatriots Baskin & Robbins and Ben & Jerry. Aside from ice cream, the Mattus’ were noted philanthropists, and strong supporters of Israel. They founded a school in Herzliya which still bears their name, and funded the construction of multiple settlements. They also financially supported the controversial Rabbi Meir Kahane, founder of the Jewish Defense League (JDL), as well as the Likud party. Rose Mattus sat on the board of the Zionist Organizations of America, and was reportedly a good friend of both Ariel Sharon and Benjamin Netanyahu. In 2004, she published a book detailing the incredible story of Häagen-Dazs.

Words of the Week

It is better to have an Israel that everyone hates, than an Auschwitz that everyone loves.
– Rabbi Meir Kahane