Amazing Jewish Heroes Down Through the Ages, David Richard Goldberg. Springfield, NJ: Gefen Publishing House, 2017.
Summary: A collection of brief biographical sketches on eleven Jewish heroes from ancient to modern times.
Whatever one thinks of the State of Israel in present day international politics, the continued existence of the Jewish people, and the existence of a modern Jewish state seems little short of miraculous (and some would delete “little short of”). A part of this miracle are the heroic figures through Jewish history, who acted for the welfare of their people and others, and serve as role models for others in the Jewish community of Jewish faith and identity.
The late David Richard Goldberg was a financial consultant, an executive with a Florida construction services firm and a staunch supporter of various Jewish causes. In this book, he tells the stories of eleven Jewish heroes from ancient to modern times. He begins with two ancient figures, Queen Esther, who saved her from genocide, and Rabbi Akiva. The story of Rabbi Akiva may be less familiar — a descendant of converts to Judaism, an underling of a wealthy landowner who refused urgings to study Torah until the landowner’s daughter persuaded him to do so with the promise that if he became a great teacher of Israel, she would marry him! The rest is history, not only the marriage, but his leadership of Israel under Rome until martyred at the age of 120.
Part Two was an unexpected twist. Goldberg profiles two heroes of American wars. Haym Salomon provided critical financing that made possible the defeat of the British at Yorktown. Uriah Phillips Levy was the first Jewish naval leader to rise to the rank of commodore (now rear admiral) during the Civil War and helped end the practice of flogging in the Navy.
Part Three features two Holocaust survivors, Felix Zandman and Simon Wiesenthal. Wiesenthal’s survival from the camps and subsequent career in hunting down Nazi war criminals and making them answer for the Holocaust is better know. Zandman’s career is equally amazing–surviving seventeen months of Nazi occupation in an underground pit with five others until liberated. He went on to study engineering, physics, and applied mechanics, developed a technology to study the stresses on high performance equipment like jet engines, building his own firm, Vishay (named after an obliterated Lithuania village). Eventually Vishay acquired the micro-electronics unit of Telefunken, once owned by Jews.
The final part of the book covers five heroes engaged in the Zionist movement leading up to the State of Israel . The first was Theodor Herzl, credited with the birth of the Zionist movement. Given that prominent role, I was a bit surprised that this was one of the briefest biographical sketches in the book. Ze’ev Jabotinsky was one of the first to grasp that Jews would need to fight for a Jewish state, forming a militaristic youth movement, Betar, mentoring one of the other heroes in this section, Menachem Begin. The final three portraits then focus on David Ben-Gurion, Golda Meir, and Begin. We see the distinctive leadership styles of each, and the vehement conflicts that existed among the three even as they fought to birth the Jewish state of Israel and defend against its enemies. Their stories helped me grasp how deeply embedded the belief in a Jewish state was and is for a people who survived the Holocaust and could never again feel safe as a minority within another state.
What one finds here are not extensive critical biographies detailing flaws and failures as well as successes, although we get some glimpses of these with Ben-Gurion, Meir, and Begin. Rather these are, as the title states, sketches that draw out the heroic nature of each character, and are obviously very pro-Jewish and pro-Israel.
It seems this book is intended for two purposes. One is within Jewish families, particularly with upper elementary or middle school children, to learn more about the heroes of their heritage. The other is for Jews later in life like one friend of the author, who was forced to re-think his beliefs about Judaism because of these stories.
With the recent synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh, it is clear both that antisemitism is far from dead and the quiet heroism is needed of us all to resist it. As an American, I’m reminded the great debt we owe the Jews for the very existence of our country, for scientific and technological advances, and for the many cultural treasures we enjoy. As a non-Jew, the book reminds of the lingering cloud of fear arising from the threat of genocide throughout history from Esther’s day to the Holocaust, and how heroically generations of Jews have lived in the face of that threat. Whatever else I think about the troubled history between Jews and Palestinians, this book reminds me of what the hope of a land of one’s own means to a people who spent two millenia struggling to survive and maintain an identity in the lands of others.
That alone is a heroic.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher via LibraryThing’s Early Reviewer program in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.
4 thoughts on “Review: Amazing Jewish Heroes Down Through the Ages”
Israel is here to stay. The sooner the Palestinians acknowledge this, the sooner they will have a chance at rebirth. Instead of building a functioning state and economy in Gaza, for example, they focus their energies on “driving Israel into the sea.” THAT is not going to happen.
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Agreed, but probably not going to happen.
Bob, I had a treasured friendship with the Jewish rabbi at Macalester (St. Paul, MN) for many years. He was keenly aware of Jewish history and Jewish-Christian relations over the centuries (good and bad). I don’t see him much any more but I remember all the rich theological conversations we had behind the scenes. We took a few of those conversations public, drawing students into the discussion. Fantastic. And it was an awakening for me to the realities of Jewish history and culture.
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