Tag Archives: Zionist

Jew of the Week: Ephraim Kishon

Father of Israeli Satire

Ferenc Hoffman (1924-2005) was born in Budapest, Hungary to a secular Jewish family. He loved to write from a young age, and won a prize for a novel he wrote while still in high school. He was also an avid chess player. During World War II, he was first expelled from university before being imprisoned at a number of concentration camps, ending up in the Sobibor death camp. One of the ways he survived is by challenging the guards to chess matches. Another is by maintaining his sense of humour. After the Holocaust, he went by the name Franz Kishunt, studying sculpting and art history while also writing satire. In 1949, he escaped communist Hungary and made aliyah, becoming “Ephraim Kishon”. He was a passionate Zionist and would staunchly defend the State of Israel for the rest of his life—often being disparaged by the media for his hardline views. Within two years of settling in the Holy Land, Kishon was fluent in Hebrew (he literally hand-copied an entire dictionary) and began writing satire for a number of papers. His most famous column was Had Gadya in the Ma’ariv newspaper, which he wrote almost daily for over 30 years. Kishon soon became Israel’s greatest and most famous humourist. He also wrote popular plays, an opera, and books that have been translated into some 40 languages, including So Sorry We Won! about the Six-Day War. In the 1960s, Kishon entered the world of film. He wrote, directed, and produced five movies, the first being the critically-acclaimed Sallah Shabbati, highlighting the struggle of Mizrachi Jewish refugees to Israel. The film won a Golden Globe and was nominated for an Oscar, making Kishon the first Israeli with that distinction. (The film also launched the international career of Israeli actor Chaim Topol, most famous for portraying Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof.) Kishon’s fourth film, The Policeman, also won a Golden Globe and was nominated for an Oscar. Not surprisingly, Kishon has been credited with opening up Israeli cinema to the world, and paving the path to Hollywood for Israelis. He won a long list of awards, including the Bialik Prize and the Israel Prize. He was a billiards champ, a pioneer in the field of computer chess, and even created a board game (“Havila Higiya”) once popular in Israel. Kishon has been called the “father of Israeli satire”, and inspired an entire generation of Israeli humourists.

Words of the Week

The State of Israel wasn’t founded so that anti-Semitism would end. It was founded so that we could tell the anti-Semites to shove it.
– Ephraim Kishon

Jew of the Week: Chuck Schumer

America’s Top Senator

Charles Ellis Schumer (b. 1950) was born in Brooklyn to a Jewish family with Russian, Ukrainian, and Polish ancestry. He scored a perfect 1600 on his SAT and went to Harvard, where he first studied chemistry before switching to law. He passed the bar in 1975, but went right into politics, having once been inspired when volunteering on a presidential campaign. Schumer was elected to the New York State Assembly straight out of law school. After three terms, he won a seat on the US House of Representatives. He served on the House for nine terms until 1998, when he ran for a Senate seat instead and won again. He has since been re-elected to the Senate three times, with consistently high approval ratings. In 2016, he was voted head of the Senate Democrats, making him the minority leader. Earlier this year, when the Democrats took control of the Senate, he became the majority leader. In both cases, Schumer became the first Jew (and first New Yorker) to hold the Senate leader title. Impressively, Schumer visits every single one of New York’s 62 counties every year to meet with his constituents. He has been praised for helping average New Yorkers deal with even minor issues that are not the role of a senator to address. Over the years, Schumer has worked hard to keep jobs and factories in America, and has been fiercely critical of China. In 2017, he tried unsuccessfully to get Trump to impose a ban on Chinese buyouts of American companies. (This week, he finally pushed through a massive $250 billion “China competition bill”.) Schumer has also been praised for his assistance to veterans and for lowering healthcare costs. In 2001, together with John McCain, he introduced a bill to open the prescription drug market to more generic, cheaper versions, resulting in savings of billions of dollars. Schumer has fought for net neutrality, and criticized Republicans for allowing the FCC to pass new internet restrictions in 2018. While Schumer is pro-choice, he has also supported Efrat, an Israeli anti-abortion organization. He is currently trying to push legislation to ban BPA, cadmium, and other toxins. Over the years, Schumer has fought for tougher sanctions on Iran, Russia, and North Korea, and is one of the few Democrats that continues to oppose a nuclear deal with Iran. He is a huge supporter of Israel, defending both its blockade of Gaza, and its settlements. Schumer cosponsored a 2017 bill making it illegal to boycott Israel. He praised Trump for finally moving the US embassy to Jerusalem. Schumer has voted for more gun control and more college tuition credits, as well as stricter regulation of Wall Street. He has developed a “Marshall Plan for Teachers” to revamp education in America. Schumer is an avid cyclist. He has never lost an election in his life, and has always sought to be a balanced voice of reason in Congress.

Words of the Week

You can be a Jew and care about Israel and it does not make you any less American. You can be a Jew and lobby for Israel and it does not make you any less American. You can be, all at once, completely Jewish, completely pro-Israel and completely American.
– Chuck Schumer

Jew of the Week: Harriet Cohen

The Piano Sensation Who Saved Refugees

Harriet Pearl Alice Cohen (1901-1967) was born in London, England to a Jewish family with Russian heritage. She started playing piano in early childhood, and by age 13 won the Ada Lewis Scholarship and the Sterndale Bennett Prize from the Royal Academy of Music. A year later, she made her professional debut and soon became one of the most popular musicians in England. She was noted for resurrecting old English compositions that had been forgotten, as well as opening up Spanish and Russian music to the wider world. In fact, she was permitted to visit the Soviet Union (and perform there) in 1935, bringing back great compositions by contemporary Russians that she then performed around the world. While visiting Vienna in 1933, Cohen first recognized the plight of refugees fleeing Nazi Germany. She decided to devote herself to their cause. Cohen went on to raise large sums of money to support the refugees, and worked with several organizations to bring them to safety. In 1934, she performed a special benefit concert, with Albert Einstein on the violin (!), to raise money. Einstein was only one of Cohen’s many admirers. Charming and witty, Cohen’s close circle of friends included H.G. Wells, British Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald, Eleanor Roosevelt, George Bernard Shaw, and Chaim Weizmann. The latter won her over to the Zionist cause. Cohen made her first trip to the Holy Land in 1939, and quickly gained a reputation as a passionate Zionist. She fought so passionately, in fact, that it led to two assassination attempts on her life! Both for her musical contributions, and for her work with refugees, Cohen was awarded the Commander of the Order of the British Empire (one step below being knighted) in 1938. Unfortunately, she would later severely damage her right hand on broken glass, and could no longer use it. Undeterred, she continued to play and perform with her left hand only, and renowned composer Sir Arnold Bax (another admirer) wrote for her the Concertino for Left Hand. Bax would credit her with inspiring most of his compositions, while Albert Einstein referred to her as “the beloved piano-witch”. Cohen was also credited with bringing Bach back into the spotlight (listen to her play Bach here). She recorded music for films, too, and published two books. In 1954, she was awarded the key to the City of London. Many see Harriet Cohen as one of the first modern music superstars.

Words of the Week

Better to talk to a woman and think of God, than to talk to God and think of a woman.
– Yiddish Proverb