Tag Archives: Zionist

Jew of the Week: Menachem Begin

In Memory of an Israeli Founding Father

Menachem Begin (1913-1992) was born in what is today Belarus to a religious and Zionist family that came from a long line of great rabbis. Interestingly, the midwife that delivered him was the grandmother of fellow Belorussian Jew Ariel Sharon! Begin went to a religious cheder elementary school, and then a religious Zionist high school, and was also a member of Hashomer Hatzair, the Zionist youth movement. In law school at the University of Warsaw, he organized a Jewish self-defence group to fight rampant anti-Semitism. After graduating, Begin joined Ze’ev Jabotinsky’s Betar organization and soon became the head of its Polish and Czech branches. When Germany invaded Poland in September of 1939, Begin fled to Lithuania. The following month, Lithuania was invaded by the USSR and Begin was imprisoned for his Zionist activity and for being a supposed “British imperialist”. Begin was tortured and sentenced to 8 years in a labour camp. He was released in 1941 and put into a Polish resistance force to fight the Nazis. By the end of 1942, Begin’s commander issued him a leave of absence so that he could go to Israel to fight for the Zionist cause. Begin arrived in the Holy Land and joined the militant Irgun, arguing that the Zionist leadership was too soft and that the British had to be expelled. Against the wishes of the Jewish Agency, Begin organized a revolt against the British, with a step-by-step plan that he modeled on the Irish independence movement. The insurgency was launched in February 1944. Begin’s plan worked, and the British would leave three years later, allowing Israel to declare independence. Throughout this time, Begin was Britain’s “most wanted” man and stayed in hiding, appearing in public rarely and usually disguised as a rabbi. Begin went on to sign a deal with Ben-Gurion to combine their forces and create the IDF, though the process was far from smooth. He then formed the right-wing Herut party, winning 14 seats in Israel’s first election. The Herut party was sidelined as “extremist” and only participated in the governing coalition briefly following the Six-Day War. It only became more prominent in 1973 when, following the Yom Kippur War, Herut joined several other parties to form the new Likud coalition. In the 1977 election, Begin won a landslide in what has been called the mahapakh, a “revolution” in Israeli politics. The main reason for his win was that Begin reached out to Mizrachi and Sephardic Jews, who long felt like second-class citizens under Israel’s Ashkenazi establishment. Begin did not disappoint, and as prime minister started a “Project Renewal” to inject major funding into Mizrachi communities, transforming 82 “slums” into thriving towns. He also pioneered major education reform in Israel, making secondary education compulsory and removing tuition fees for it. Begin’s “economic transformation” shifted Israel away from a socialist economy towards a free-market economy (which saw several hiccups, and admittedly came with both positives and negatives). Most famously, Begin met with Egyptian president Sadat to negotiate the Camp David Accords, resulting in Israel’s first peace treaty with an Arab adversary, for which he won a Nobel Peace Prize. Nonetheless, Begin was severely criticized within his own party, accused of no longer being the hawk he once was, and reneging on his own principals. Perhaps to mitigate this, Begin launched a massive campaign of Jewish settlement in Judea and Samaria (the “West Bank”) and Gaza, quadrupling the Jewish population in these regions, and later formally annexed the Golan Heights. Begin’s other famous achievement was Operation Opera, in which Saddam Hussein’s nuclear reactor was destroyed by the Israeli Air Force in 1981. This gave rise to the “Begin Doctrine”: that Israel would never allow an enemy state to develop nuclear weapons. In November 1982, Begin’s beloved wife passed away and he fell into a deep depression. Together with his own failing health, and Israel’s quagmire in Lebanon, Begin resigned as prime minister and left the post to Yitzhak Shamir. Begin lived out his life in seclusion, leaving his apartment only to say Kaddish at his wife’s grave. Begin died of a heart attack and had requested a simple Jewish funeral, with no state honours. Unlike other leaders who are buried at Mount Herzl, Begin asked to be buried at the Mount of Olives. His funeral was attended by some 75,000 admirers. Altogether, Begin served on the Knesset for 34 years, and over that time had stints as Minister of Communication, Justice, Labour, Transportation, Foreign Affairs, Defence, and Agriculture. He wrote two books. Next Monday is his yahrzeit.

Historic Footage: Menachem Begin and the Lubavitcher Rebbe

Words of the Week

I am completely and unequivocally opposed to the surrender of any of the liberated areas [of Israel] currently under negotiation…
– Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe


From the Jew of the Week Archives: Ukrainian president Vladimir Zelensky

Jews of the Week: Aura Herzog and Tova Berlinski

In Memory of Two Great Israeli Women

Aura Ambache (1924-2022) was born in Egypt to a Jewish family of Russian and Polish heritage, that had been expelled from Yafo by the Turks before World War I. Ambache went to French schools in Egypt before heading to South Africa for university studies in math and physics. The family moved back to Israel in 1946 and Ambache joined the Jewish Agency. The following year, she married Chaim Herzog, who would go on to become Israel’s sixth president. Both husband and wife fought in the War of Independence, with Mrs. Herzog serving as an intelligence officer with Unit 8200. She was seriously injured during an attack on the Jewish Agency building. In 1958, she helped organize the first Chidon Tanach, the International Bible Contest, and between 1959 and 1968 was the head of Israel’s Department of Culture. The following year, she founded the Council for a Beautiful Israel, an NGO which works to preserve the environment of the Holy Land and boost the standard of living in the country. Herzog also wrote a book called Secrets of Hospitality. Between 1983 and 1993, she was Israel’s First Lady. Sadly, Herzog passed away last week. Her son Isaac Herzog is the current President of Israel, while son Michael Herzog is Israel’s ambassador to the US.

Tova Gusta Wolf (1915-2022) was born in Oswiecim (Auschwitz), Poland to a Hasidic family, the oldest of six children. She was very active in the Beitar Zionist youth movement and during this time met her husband Eliyahu Berlinski. The young couple decided to make aliyah together in 1938, as soon as they married. (They had to sneak in past British authorities who had then restricted Jewish immigration to the Holy Land.) This prescient move saved their lives. Back in Poland, Tova’s entirely family (except for one sister) would perish in the Holocaust. While originally interested in acting and theatre, the loss of her family inspired her to grieve through painting. Berlinski went on to study at the renowned Bezalel Academy of Arts in Jerusalem, and spent time learning with the abstract expressionists in Paris. She won the Jerusalem Prize in 1963 and became one of Israel’s most famous painters. She has been described as the artist who “painted the pain of Auschwitz”. In 2000, she received the Mordechai Ish-Shalom Award for Lifetime Achievement. Sadly, Berlinski passed away earlier this week, aged 106. She had been painting until her last days.

Words of the Week

We need leaders not in love with money but in love with justice. Not in love with publicity but in love with humanity.
– Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Jew of the Week: Bob Shad

The Producer Who Discovered Janis Joplin

Bob Shad (Courtesy: Herman Leonard Photography)

Abraham Shadrinsky (1920-1985) was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. His parents were early Bolsheviks that were actively fighting the Czar, and his father was exiled before the Russian Revolution. Young Abee Shadrinsky soon became “Bobby Shad”. His passion was music and especially the popular jazz of the time. In the 1940s, when the music producers’ union went on strike, a totally inexperienced Shad took the opportunity to go to the Savoy Label and offered to produce some jazz. He spent much of the next forty years in the recording studio, producing over 800 albums. He founded the great Emercy jazz label for Mercury Records, as well as Sitting In, Time, Brent, and Mainstream Records. He recorded many of the jazz legends and was personally responsible for developing the careers of greats like Quincy Jones, Sarah Vaughan, Dinah Washington, and Clifford Brown. He recorded pop artists, too, including Patti Page, the Platters, and Vic Damone. Shad was an incredibly creative man who was able to foresee many of the trends in music, such as early stereo, high fidelity, avant-garde, and acid rock. In the sixties, it was Shad who first discovered Ted Nugent and Janis Joplin, recording and producing her first album with the Big Brother band. Joplin went on to become one of the top-selling musicians in American history, and was ranked among the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time by Rolling Stone. Despite the great success, Shad lived modestly and remained true to his love of music, devoting most of his career and financial resources to the world of jazz. Having grown up in an atheistic home, he was not religious. Nonetheless, he was a real Jew at heart and was deeply in dialogue with God, especially regarding the Holocaust. He would often recount how special the Jewish people were and, because he was a pilot and had a private twin engine plane, he even assisted in smuggling arms for Israel at one point! Altogether, Shad recorded thousands of songs, including some of the greatest hits of the 20th century (listen to some of his music here). He is the father of Hollywood screenwriter Samantha Shad, and grandfather of author and professor Robert Apatow, and comedy filmmaker Judd Apatow.*

Words of the Week

People think loving one’s fellow means to give him a pat on the back. Loving one’s fellow means that if a Jew on the other side of the world has a problem, you feel it.
Rabbi Yisroel Friedman, the Ruzhiner Rebbe (1796-1850)


*The above Jew of the Week was a guest submission by Robert (Avraham) Apatow, about his grandfather Bob Shad.