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July 25, 2013 12:01 am

Five Proud 20th Century Jews Who Changed the World

avatar by Ronn Torossian

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20th Century Proud Jews Who Changed the World: Albert Einstein. Photo: Wiki Commons.

The Jewish people have had such a positive effect on the world – so many heroes and so many great contributions in so many arenas. While there are a lot of high-profile, successful Jews, as a proud Jew myself who owns a PR firm, I wanted to share my list of some Jewish heroes and role models. This list highlights Jews whose Judaism and love for Am Israel (the nation of Israel) encompassed them and occupied a central role in their lives as they changed the world for the better.

With no further ado, here is my list of five 20th Century Proud Jews Who Changed the World:

Albert Einstein: Time Magazine’s “Person of The Century” developed the general theory of relativity. Thanks to his brilliance, the television was developed, remote controls, lasers, DVD-players, and so much more. The man was a proud Jew, and a Zionist who was devoted to making the world a better place. Einstein said “my relationship to the Jewish people has become my strongest human bond, ever since I became fully aware of our precarious situation among the nations of the world.” To this day, any purchase of any product with Einstein’s name or image on it results in proceeds going to The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.  The man in life and work was an inspiration.  His name has become synonymous with genius.

20th Century Proud Jews Who Changed the World - Marc Chagall. Photo: Wiki Commons.

Marc Chagall: One of the most successful artists of the 20th Century, he is undoubtedly the most famous Jewish artist ever. His work so richly and vividly defines the Jewish experience. He depicted so many Jewish events with such beauty, and changed the world with his work, which circled around his heritage. His works sometimes depicted Torah (Bible) portions, and they are on display worldwide – from the halls of the Knesset to the Lincoln Center to the South of France. Pablo Picasso once said, “When Matisse dies, Chagall will be the only painter left who understands what color really is.” Art has such a strong impact upon this world, and the proud Jewish artist Marc (Moshe) Chagall indeed helped make this world a better place.

20th Century Proud Jews Who Changed the World - Elie Wiesel. Photo: David Shankbone.

Elie Wiesel: Wiesel has told the story of the Holocaust, and kept the story alive so we never forget the horrors that were perpetuated upon our people. We may never understand the depth of the destruction and pain done to the Jewish people – and the world – but Wiesel has told the stories so we remember them. As he says, “I have tried to keep memory alive. I have tried to fight those who would forget. Because if we forget, we are guilty, we are all accomplices.” He also said, “To be Jewish today is to recognize that every person is created in the image of God and that our purpose in living is to be a reminder of God…” The man has contributed so much to the world.

20th Century Proud Jews Who Changed the World - Menachem Schneerson. Photo: Mordecai Baron.

Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson: The leader of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement built the largest Jewish organization in the world. He was a pioneer of Jewish outreach and spread positive Judaism to all ends of the Earth. He reached out to Jews of all backgrounds and had tremendous influence and impact. The man simply spread Judaism and a love for yiddishkeit (Jewishness) further and further afield. As it is said, Coca-Cola and Chabad are everywhere in the world.

20th Century Proud Jews Who Changed the World - Ze'ev Jabotinsky. Photo: Wiki Commons.

Ze’ev Jabotinsky: One of the founders of modern-day Zionism, the Jewish Garibaldi founded the modern day Jewish self-defense movement. His political philosophy has been the guiding force behind many of Israel’s political leaders of the last 35 years (Menachem Begin, Yitzchak Shamir, Benjamin Netanyahu), and he reminded Jews of the importance of unity and protecting one’s people.  This week marks the 74th year of his passing, yet the words of Ze’ev Jabotinsky remain vibrant and relevant for the Jewish people even today.

And some honorable mentions:

The holy soldiers of the Israeli Defense Forces who protect our people and our nation. The leaders of Israel, including Menachem Begin, Golda Meir, and others. The father of modern day Zionism, Theodore Herzl. Anne Frank, whose stories from the Holocaust show how strong the human spirit is, and remind us of the Jews we lost. Natan Sharansky, whose strength and opposition to Russian brutality inspired Russian Jews who have changed the Jewish experience. Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach who taught the Jewish people of the beauty of Jewish song, and whose tunes of love for G-d are sung at synagogues worldwide.  The Chofetz Chaim, whose books remind us that Jewish law is a real, living, breathing organism by which to live our lives.

Jewish mothers and fathers worldwide who keep our tradition going. My mother (Z’L), Penny Waga who will always be my hero.

We only live in this world once.  Let us do all we can – as proud Jews and human beings – to make the world a better place.

Ronn Torossian lives in New York City with his family. He established the Ronn Torossian Family Foundation as a non-profit organization through which he conducts philanthropy, and is an active board member of a number of charities.

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  • Miriam

    Wonderful list. I would add every single one of the martyrs and survivors of the Holocaust, every soldier of the IDF, and Jewish educators all over the world.
    Thank you to Ronn Torossian for compiling this wonderful and inspirational list.

  • NYIronweed

    Einstein: BAM!
    Chagall: Seriously? In the Age of Duchamp?
    Wiesel: No creds. Why so silent in the face of Israeli atrocities against the Palestinian people?
    Schneerson: Who?
    Jabotinsky: BAM!

  • Awesome list, couldn’t agree more with the selections. You mentioned Anne Frank and Golda Meir, who have shown the world what is excellence of character and sharpness of mind and who will certainly prove to be inspirations and role models of courage and wisdom for generations. If I may there are at least three other women who merit a mention on your list.

    Donna Garcia Mendes- 15th century; head of a banking empire in Belgium, eventually moved her family and wealth into the Ottoman empire, organized a citywide boycott in Ancona after dozens of Jews were burned at the stake.

    Glückel of Hameln- 17-18th cent.; business woman and diarist, for centuries providing scholars with accurate depictions of Jewish life of the time, had 14 children, 12 of whom were married into the most prominent families in Europe.

    and who could forget Barbara Streisand, especially in her endearing and heart wrenching performance of Yentl?, her humor and warmth coupled with the elegance she brings to everything can really be identified as the epitome of the Jewish woman.

    • or perhaps merit a mention on a throughout the ages list* 🙂

  • Zvi

    Great article! Einstein was also the first head of the World Union of Jewish Students, and Jabotinsky was a Russian-Jew from Odessa. 🙂

  • Ronn, in highlighting for us the achievements of these great men at the close of a century, you remind us that someday not too distant from today someone, perhaps our own children, perhaps the world, will look upon our actions and judge our own contribution(s) to mankind. Your words are an inspiration to us all to always strive to maximize each moment of our short existence to make the greatest positive impact that we can. Well done!

    • Dovid Goldshteyn

      “Certainly a world without the Jews would have been a radically different place” Paul Johnson A History of the Jews. Thank you Ron for focusing our attention on what proud Jews are capable of.

      Dovid G.

  • Alter

    Einstein had the soul of Esau/Edom; he was a descendant of Edomite converts, a Jewish dissembler by confession; not by blood! As our sages put it: “Grant not to (his soul) Esau, the wicked, the desire of his heart; for should they but go forth they would destroy the whole world.” (Megilah 6a). Einstein’s imagination caused great damage and his soul had the potential to destroy the world!

  • Alter

    Einstein had the soul of Esau/Edom; he was a descendant of Edomite converts, a Jewish dissembler by confession; not by blood! As our sages put it: “Grant not to (his soul) Esau, the wicked, the desire of his heart; for should they but go forth they would destroy the whole world.” (Megilah 6a) Einstein’s imagination caused great damage and his soul had the potential to the world!

  • Yeshemesh

    How about Sasha Borat Cohen who showed the world not to throw Jews down the well? Or how about the esteemed Yitzhcak rabin

  • Mordechai

    Ronn, Great article and food for thought as always! It’s so easy to allow for life to just pass by and for real meaning to slip away. I think anyone who dedicates themselves to doing good and to strengthening the Jewish people is a hero!

  • Joey yeh

    Hannah Senesh would have been on my list as would have David Ben-Gurion.

  • For years the Coca-Cola slogan was IT’S THE REAL THING. So when we speak about what Chabad and Coca-Cola have in common – we say that they are both found all over the world and they are THE REAL THING.

  • moshe

    1 – Jesus
    2 – Freud
    3 – Einstein
    4 – Schneerson
    5 – Herzl

    • Isaac

      Moshe, the headline says 20 th century, Jesus ? what are you smoking?




    3- FREUD

    4- MAHLER