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The stories of Jewish Americans featured here were selected for their contributions to and impact on the American public. They reflect a broad and eclectic group of achievements in fields ranging from science and medicine to manufacturing and entertainment, and everything in between.

Do you have a story about a Jewish American contribution to tell? Click here to submit your story for consideration. (JAHM reserves the right to edit or refuse any submission.)



Courtesy of The Jewish-American Hall of Fame  

Gertrude Elion 1918-1999

Gertrude Elion's exceptional accomplishments include the development of the first chemotherapy for childhood leukemia, the immunosuppressant that made organ transplantation possible, the first effective anti-viral medication, and treatments for lupus, hepatitis, arthritis, gout, and other diseases. With her research partner, George Hitchings, she revolutionized the way drugs were developed, and her efforts have saved or improved the lives of countless individuals. Elion stated: "It's amazing how much you can accomplish when you don't care who gets the credit." Gertrude Belle Elion was born in New York City on January 23, 1918. Soon after graduating from high school, young Gertrude watched her beloved grandfather die painfully of stomach cancer, and deciding: "nobody should suffer that much," she dedicated herself to finding a cure for cancer. In 1937, at the age of 19, Elion graduated from Hunter College summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa. In June 1944, Elion was interviewed by Dr. George Hitching of Burroughs Wellcome (now GlaxoSmithKline), the pharmaceutical company. Elion was intrigued by Hitchings' research project; and he was impressed by the young woman's intelligence and energy. Over the next decades, the Hitchings-Elion partnership proved immensely fruitful. In 1964, Gertrude Elion received the first of her 25 honorary doctorates from George Washington University, and in 1988, Dr. Elion received the Nobel Prize in Medicine "for discoveries of important principles for drug treatment," together with Dr. Hitchings and Sir James Black. Few Nobels have gone to scientists working in the drug industry or those without Ph.D.s, even fewer to women; Elion was only the fifth female Nobel laureate in Medicine, the ninth in science in general. Gertrude Elion was inducted into The Jewish-American Hall of Fame in 2011.

Text courtesy of The Jewish-American Hall of Fame

Courtesy of The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives  

Levi Strauss 1829-1902

Born in Bavaria, Levi Strauss immigrated to San Francisco during the California Gold Rush and opened a wholesale dry goods business, Levi Strauss & Co. In 1873, Levi and the Reno, Nevada tailor Jacob Davis created the first blue jeans when they received a U.S. patent to make men's denim work pants with copper rivets. With this patent, they began to manufacture blue jeans, known today as the Levi's® brand. Levi Strauss & Co. is still privately held by descendants of the Strauss family and is one of the world's largest brand-name apparel marketers, with sales in more than 110 countries.

Text courtesy of the National Museum of American Jewish History

Courtesy of The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives  

Isaac Mayer Wise 1819-1900

One of the most prominent Jewish leaders of the 19th century, Isaac Mayer Wise was instrumental in establishing the major ideas and institutions of Reform Judaism in America, including the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, Hebrew Union College, and the Central Conference of American Rabbis. Born in Bohemia, Wise immigrated to America in 1846 to lead Congregation Beth El in Albany, New York. There, he introduced such significant reforms as choral singing, mixed seating, and confirmation, all of which created significant controversy and eventually lead to heated arguments and Wise's departure. Wise moved to Cincinnati in 1854 to become rabbi of B'nai Yeshurun, which he built into the largest and most prominent congregation of its time. A proponent of religious reform and community unity, Wise published a prayerbook entitled Minhag America in 1847 in an effort to synthesize Judaism with American culture. He presided over numerous attempts to create a union of American synagogues, most notably the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, and in 1875 founded Hebrew Union College, the reform rabbinical seminary.

Text courtesy of the National Museum of American Jewish History

Courtesy of The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives  

Sandy Koufax b. 1935

Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, Sandy Koufax signed on as a pitcher with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1954. In 1961, Koufax won 18 games and struck out 269 batters, a league record. Koufax was the first major leaguer to pitch four no-hitters, including a perfect game. He was named the National League's Most Valuable player in 1963 and became the first player to earn three Cy Young awards. At age 36 and 20 days, he became the youngest player ever elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Koufax chose not to pitch in the 1965 World Series when a game fell on Yom Kippur.

Text courtesy of the National Museum of American Jewish History

Courtesy of The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives  

Edna Ferber 1885-1968

In addition to winning a Pulitzer Prize in 1925 for her novel So Big, Edna Ferber saw many of her best-known books turned into movies or Broadway shows. Show Boat (1926), the story of a young girl on a floating theater on the Mississippi River, became a long-running musical that was later followed by three movie versions. Of Ferber's other books and plays adapted to film, Cimarron (1929) captured the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1931, and Stage Door (1926) featured Katharine Hepburn and Ginger Rogers. Critics cited Ferber's rich imagination and her scene and plot development as reasons for her enormous popularity.

Text courtesy of the National Museum of American Jewish History

Courtesy of The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives  

Louis B. Marshall 1856-1929

Born and raised in Syracuse, New York, Louis Marshall earned a law degree from Columbia University. He was a vanguard environmental conservationist and worked to secure rights for all political and minority groups. He acted as the mediator in a cloak-makers' strike in New York City and was the arbitrator in a clothing-workers' strike. In a defeated appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, he argued on behalf of Leo Frank in a notorious case that is widely seen as an antisemitic miscarriage of justice. Marshall also investigated the slum conditions of the Lower East Side of New York. He helped to found the American Jewish Committee and served as chair of the Board of Directors of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. Though not a Zionist, he was involved in the establishment of the Jewish Agency for Israel.

Text courtesy of the National Museum of American Jewish History

Courtesy of The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives  

Louis Brandeis 1856-1941

Louis Brandeis was born in Louisville, Kentucky to immigrants from Prague and went on to graduate from Harvard Law School at the young age of 21. As a lawyer in Boston he became a prominent corporate attorney and stalwart advocate for social and economic justice. Brandeis played a major role in ending a massive garment workers' strike in 1912, creating a "Protocol of Peace" that ended the strike and created America's first system of labor mediation and arbitration. His book Other People's Money and How the Bankers Use It (1914) attacked the use of investment funds and argued for antitrust legislation. In 1916, President Wilson nominated Brandeis to the U.S. Supreme Court. He was the first Jew to serve on the country's highest court and became one of its most influential figures, with opinions that defended right to privacy, freedom of speech, and labor laws. Brandeis was active in the Zionist movement, seeing it as a solution to the "Jewish problem" in Europe and Russia.

Text courtesy of the National Museum of American Jewish History

Courtesy of the Jewish Women's Archive  

Ruth Bader Ginsburg b. 1933

An outspoken champion of feminist causes, Ruth Bader Ginsburg is the first Jewish woman to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court. She was also the first woman to make both the Harvard and Columbia law reviews. Prior to serving on the Court, Ginsburg distinguished herself as a professor of law at Rutgers Law School in Newark, as co-founder of the Women's Rights Law Reporter, and as director of the Women's Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union. She served on the U.S. Court of Appeals from 1980 until her appointment in 1993 to the U.S. Supreme Court, where she has been a judicious and eloquent voice in support of civil liberties She’s now considered a pop culture icon, and has been awarded with such honors as being named one of Forbes' 100 Most Powerful Women (2009), one of Glamour Magazine's Women of the Year (2012), and one of Time Magazine's 100 Most Influential People (2015).

Text courtesy of the National Museum of American Jewish History

Courtesy of the Jewish Women's Archive  

Betty Friedan 1921-2006

Betty Friedan was an American writer, activist and feminist best remembered for starting the "second wave" of the Women's Movement in the United States. Bettye Naomi Goldstein grew up in Peoria, Illinois where her immigrant father owned a jewelry store and her mother gave up her position as editor of the women's page of the local paper to raise her family. Friedan attended Smith College, majoring in psychology and editing the college newspaper. Under her stewardship, the paper became a forum for the fight against fascism abroad and in favor of union organizing at home. In 1957, Friedan began a series of studies of her female peers that resulted in her most influential book, The Feminine Mystique (1963). She argued that women were victims of "the problem that has no name" that forced them into marriage and motherhood, falsely promising a fulfilling and meaningful life. The book was an immediate best seller but also roused considerable controversy. Friedan went on to co-found the National Organization for Women (NOW) in 1966 and the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws in 1968, now known as NARAL Pro-Choice America. Friedan served as a founding member of the National Women's Political Caucus in 1971.

Text courtesy of the National Museum of American Jewish History

Courtesy of the American Jewish Historical Society  

Molly Picon 1898-1992

Born in New York City, Molly Picon began acting on the Yiddish stage at age five and became so popular by the 1920s that many shows she acted in included the name Molly in their title. Picon's most famous film, Yidl Mit'n Fidl (1936), was filmed on location in Poland. On Broadway, she starred in Neil Simon's Come Blow Your Horn and the Jerry Herman musical Milk and Honey, both in 1961. In 1971, she portrayed the matchmaker, Yente, in the film adaptation of the Broadway hit Fiddler on the Roof. At one time, an entire room was filled with her memorabilia at the Second Avenue Deli in New York. Her name remains synonymous with the heyday of New York's Yiddish theater.

Text courtesy of the National Museum of American Jewish History

Courtesy of the American Jewish Historical Society  

Emma Lazarus 1849-1887

The daughter of Sephardic Jews whose ancestors settled in New York in the colonial period, Emma Lazarus was a writer and a scholar of literature and languages. Even before Zionism became a cohesive movement, Lazarus's poetry and essays protested the rise of antisemitism and called on Jews to create a homeland in Palestine. "Give me your tired, your poor, / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free" are two famous lines of her sonnet, "The New Colossus," which was affixed to the Statue of Liberty in 1903. Lazarus was at the peak of her career when she died of cancer in 1887, at the age of 38.

Text courtesy of the National Museum of American Jewish History

Courtesy of the American Jewish Historical Society  

Uriah Levy 1792-1862

Uriah Phillips Levy was born in Philadelphia and began his naval career at the age of 14. Although well acquainted during his long career with antisemitism, which contributed to his six courts-martial, Levy went on to become the first Jewish commodore of the United States Navy. During his tenure, he ended the Navy's practice of flogging as punishment, which he had long opposed. Levy is also known for his purchase and restoration of Thomas Jefferson's estate, Monticello, near Charlottesville, Virginia. He was the first president of the Washington Hebrew Congregation in DC, and in 1854 he sponsored the new seminary of the B'nai Jeshurun Educational Institute in New York.

Text courtesy of the National Museum of American Jewish History

Courtesy of The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives  

Jonas Salk 1914-1995

Virologist Jonas Salk was born in New York to Russian-Jewish immigrants. In 1947, he accepted an appointment at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, where, working with the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, he launched his quest for a vaccine against polio, a virulent disease that primarily afflicted children. When news of his discovery of a vaccine was made public on April 12, 1955, Salk was hailed as a miracle worker. In 1963, he founded the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California, a center for medical and scientific research. Salk spent his last years searching for a vaccine against AIDS.

Text courtesy of the National Museum of American Jewish History

Courtesy of The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives  

Abraham Joshua Heschel 1907-1972

A descendant of two Hassidic dynasties and one of the leading Jewish theologians of the twentieth century, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel was born in Warsaw, Poland. After a thorough Jewish education, Heschel received his doctorate from the University of Berlin. Three years later he became Martin Buber's successor at the Judisches Lehrhaus in Frankfurt, but was deported by the Nazis to Poland the following year. Heschel managed to immigrate to the United States in 1940 to teach at the Hebrew Union College. In 1946, Heschel became a professor of Jewish ethics and mysticism at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America and began to publish influential works on Jewish observance and ethics, including the seminal book, God in Search of Man (1976). Heschel also became a central Jewish voice in the civil rights movement, developing a close relationship with Martin Luther King, and spoke out vehemently against the Vietnam War.

Text courtesy of the National Museum of American Jewish History

Courtesy of The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives  

Joachim Prinz 1902-1988

Rabbi Joachim Prinz came to the United States in 1939 after the Nazi government formally expelled him from Germany. In addition to his congregational work, Prinz was active in national and world affairs, joining the executive board of the World Jewish Congress in 1946. He also served as president of the American Jewish Congress from 1958-1966. Prinz was active in the civil rights movement throughout the 1960s, being one of ten founding chairman of the 1963 March on Washington for civil rights. Prinz spoke at the August rally, appearing on the podium just moments before the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech. Earlier, in April 1960, Prinz led a picket line in front of a Woolworth store in New York City, protesting discrimination against African Americans at lunch counters in Southern states.

Text courtesy of The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives

Courtesy of The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives  

Riegner Telegram

Scholars consider the Riegner telegram to be the first official statement regarding the implementation of Hitler's Final Solution. This famous telegram was found in the World Jewish Congress (WJC) Collection, which was donated to the American Jewish Archives in 1983. It tells of Hitler's efforts to eradicate the Jews of occupied Europe using poison gas. In August 1942, Geneva-based WJC representative, Gerhart Riegner, cabled his New York and London offices to report the Nazi mass murder. Riegner's alarming statement was cabled to Jewish leader Rabbi Stephen Wise by Samuel Sidney Silverman, a member of the British Parliament. Wise, in turn, alerted the State Department and other American Jewish leaders. Thereafter, with mounting evidence, public knowledge of Hitler's Final Solution intensified.

Text courtesy of The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives

Courtesy of The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives  

Manischewitz Family: Dov Behr and Nesha Manischewitz

For most of Jewish history, matzah (the unleavened bread used during Passover) was round, made by hand, and produced locally, often in the synagogue or in a communal oven set aside for this purpose. This was also true in America during the early years of the Jewish community. But as the Jewish population increased and synagogues diversified, independent matzah bakeries assumed this task. Dov Behr Manischewitz, an immigrant from Lithuania, entered the matzah business in Cincinnati in 1888. He soon introduced a series of improvements and inventions that revolutionized the process of matzah baking the world over. Building on machines that had been developed in Europe, Manischewitz yoked modern technology to the service of religion by introducing such newfangled ideas as the more easily controlled gas-fired matzah baking oven and the enormously important (and patented) "traveling carrier bake-oven," a conveyor belt system that made it possible to automate the whole process of matzah baking. Today, The Manischewitz Company is the largest baker of matzah in the world.

Text courtesy of The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives

Courtesy of The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives  

Florence Prag Kahn 1866-1948

The first Jewish woman to serve in the United States Congress, Florence Prag Kahn was a teacher, a politician, and a dedicated Jew. Born in Salt Lake City and raised in San Francisco, she taught high school English and history before marrying German-born Julius Kahn in 1899. When her husband, a Bay-area Republican congressman, died in 1924, she won his seat in a special election and was then re-elected on her own for five terms. A steadfast voice for the military installations of her district, Kahn was the first woman to serve on the House Military Affairs Committee. She was active with Hadassah and the National Council of Jewish Women.

Text courtesy of the National Museum of American Jewish History

Courtesy of the Maidenform Collection, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution  

Ida Cohen Rosenthal 1886-1973

The co-founder of Maidenform, the first company to make modern bras, was born in Tsarist Russia. Shortly after immigrating to New Jersey in 1904, she married William Rosenthal. With little money in her pocket, she bought herself a Singer sewing machine on the installment plan and began working as an independent seamstress.

Ida's sewing business boomed during World War I, and soon she and her husband, along with business partner Enid Bisset, opened a custom dress shop.The popular "flapper" style of the day demanded a flat-chested look, which women achieved by wearing uncomfortable bandeaux. But the Rosenthals disliked the way their dresses fit women with artificially flat chests, and so they developed a new undergarment that would support and accentuate a woman's natural figure: two cups connected by shoulder straps and a band that fastened in the back. At first, the partners simply gave the new bras away with each dress they sold. As the popularity of their new undergarment grew, however, they gave up dressmaking altogether and focused exclusively on producing and selling bras, calling their new garment "Maidenform." In 1930 the Enid Manufacturing Company became the Maiden Form Brassiere Company to be more identified with its principal product. The firm survived both the Great Depression and Bisset's retirement and, by the end of the 1930s, department stores across the country and around the world were selling Maidenform bras.

While William focused on design-inventing standardized cup sizes, maternity and nursing bras, and adjustable straps-Ida ran the business, negotiating with unions and introducing assembly-line production. A marketing genius, she began an aggressive print and radio ad campaign, making Maidenform the first intimate apparel company to advertise. In 1949, Ida came up with the now-famous "I dreamed I... in my Maidenform bra" campaign, depicting brassiered women in a range of unexpected settings (like driving a chariot), which ran successfully for 20 years.

After William's death in 1958, Ida became the company's president and then chairman of the board. She continued working until she suffered a stroke in 1966, after which she stayed on as honorary chairman of the board until her death in 1973. Her daughter, Beatrice, inherited the multimillion dollar family company. Maidenform is now run by Ida's granddaughter, Elizabeth Coleman.

Text courtesy of the Jewish Women's Archive

Courtesy of NASA  

Garrett E. Reisman (Ph.D.) b. 1968

Born in New Jersey, Reisman studied at the University of Pennsylvania, and at California Institute of Technology, where he earned a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering in 1997. While at Caltech, his multiphase fluid mechanics research provided the first experimental evidence of the presence of shock waves in unsteady cloud cavitation. While employed at TRW in Redondo Beach, California, Reisman designed the thruster-based attitude control system for the NASA Aqua Spacecraft. Reisman was selected by NASA as a Mission Specialist in June 1998. In June 2003, he was a crewmember on NEEMO V, living on the bottom of the sea in the Aquarius habitat for two weeks. During his first space mission in 2008, Reisman served with both the Expedition-16 and the Expedition-17 crews as flight engineer aboard the International Space Station. Most recently, he served as Mission Specialist 1 aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis which launched on May 14, 2010. During this mission, Reisman operated the Space Station robotic arm and installed the Russian-built Mini Research Module to the Space Station. He also carried with him the 2006 presidential proclamation declaring May Jewish American Heritage Month. Upon its return from space, the document was given by the Jewish Museum of Florida to the National Museum of Jewish American History in PhiladelphiIn 2011 Reisman joined SpaceX as a senior engineer working on astronaut safety and mission assurance. He is currently the director of crew operations at SpaceX.

Courtesy of Jewish Historical Society of Greater Hartford  

Sophie Tucker 1884-1966

Sophie Tucker, known as the "Last of the Red Hot Mamas," was a popular vaudeville performer during the early and mid-twentieth century. Her humorous, slightly bawdy renditions of Yiddish and English songs captivated large audiences on the stage, radio, and television. Tucker was born in Russia and grew up in Hartford, Connecticut. Her musical career was launched when she began singing for customers in her parents' kosher restaurant. After marrying Louis Tuck in 1903, she changed her name to "Tucker." During World War II, copies of Tucker's recordings of "My Yiddishe Momme" were destroyed by the Nazis in an effort to wipe out any traces of nostalgia for Jewish culture. Although she is less well-known today, Tucker provided the inspiration for comedian Bette Midler's stage persona and performance style.

Text courtesy of Jewish Historical Society of Greater Hartford

Courtesy of survey.nmajh.org
Courtesy of revolutionarywararchives.org

Haym Salomon 1740-1785

Haym Salomon was born in Lesno, Poland. His parents were refugees from Portugal, having escaped religious persecution there. Following a decade of travel through Europe in his early twenties, he returned to Poland to join in that country's war with Russia. After earning enough money to pay for his passage to America, he sailed in 1772, arriving in New York City during the winter. In 1772, New York was a thriving colonial city with a population of about 14,000. Salomon soon learned that the colonies were in political turmoil over the issue of taxation without representation. Salomon soon started a brokerage company which became very successful. He brokered many large financial transactions that kept American soldiers clothed and armed during the Revolutionary War. He went on to make numerous personal loans to members of the United States' fledgling government, and raised money to bail out the debt-ridden government.

In 1975, a year before our nation's bicentennial, the United States Post Office issued a commemorative stamp which honored Haym Salomon as a Revolutionary War hero. The front of the stamp depicted Salomon seated at his desk with the words "Financial Hero." For the second time in 143 years of U.S. stamps, a message appeared on the back of the stamp, in pale green ink, reading: "Businessman and broker Haym Salomon was responsible for raising most of the money needed to finance the American Revolution and later to save the new nation from collapse." Many historians who have studied the story of Haym Salomon suggest that without his contribution to the cause, there would be no America today.

Text courtesy of Dr. Alan Laskow; http://www.revolutionarywararchives.org/salomon.html; and I.C.H.S

Courtesy of The Jewish-American Hall of Fame  

George Gershwin 1898-1937

George Gershwin was a very normal boy - he was the undisputed roller-skating champion of his neighborhood on the lower East side of New York. But one day a young violinist, Max Rosen, played at PS 25. George had not been interested enough to attend the performance, but heard it through the assembly hall window. Gershwin later wrote: "It was, to me, a flashing revelation of beauty." Max opened the world of music to George, and George taught Max wrestling. Gershwin wrote his first songs while working as a pianist with a music publishing firm; and his first revue Half Past Eight opened in 1918. Tragically, George Gershwin did not live to be 40, but his music will live forever. Gershwin was equally at home writing "pop" tunes, such as Swanee, The Man I Love, 'S Wonderful, and I Got Rhythm; musical comedies like Oh Kay, Girl Crazy, and Of Thee I Sing; serious music: Rhapsody in Blue, Concerto in F, and An American in Paris; and he even pioneered in creating a genuine American folk opera: Porgy and Bess. Most of the lyrics for his revues and songs were written by his brother Ira (1896-1983). Rhapsody in Blue, commissioned by Paul Whiteman as a "jazz symphony," made jazz respectable for the American concert stage after it was performed in New York in 1924 ... and it made Gershwin famous. In less than two decades of productivity, George Gershwin left an indelible impression upon his country's culture. George Gershwin was inducted into the Jewish-American Hall of Fame in 1972.

Text courtesy of The Jewish-American Hall of Fame

Courtesy of The Jewish-American Hall of Fame  

Houdini 1874-1926

Houdini was born Ehrich Weiss on March 24, 1874 in Budapest, Hungary. His family emigrated to the United States while he was an infant, and his father became the first rabbi in Appleton, Wisconsin. They later moved to Milwaukee, and eventually settled in New York. Young Ehrich's life was transformed after he learned his first trick (the vanishing quarter). At the age of 17, he changed his name to Harry Houdini and began performing in medicine shows, circuses, theaters, etc. When 100,000 people watched "The King of Handcuffs" wriggle free while hanging from a building in 1916, a newspaper reported that this was "the biggest crowd ever assembled in Washington at one place except for the inauguration of the President." One of Houdini's most spectacular illusions was the "Vanishing Elephant," in which the pachyderm lumbered on to the stage and walked straight into a large cabinet. Almost simultaneously the cabinet's walls would be pulled back and the elephant had disappeared. Houdini said "Even the elephant does not know how it is done." Four years after the Wright Brothers flew the first practical airplane, Houdini bought a French plane and made his first flight. And just 5 months later, on March 16, 1910, he became teh first person to make a successful flight in Australia. Houdini was also a motion picture star, making his first appearance in 1918 in a serial "The Mastery Mystery." Son he set up the Houdini Picture Corporation where he wrote and starred in "The Man from Beyond" and "Haldane of the Secret Service." On October 31, 1975, Houdini's pioneering accomplishments earned him a star on Hollywood Boulevard. Houdini was inducted into the Jewish-American Hall of Fame in 1996.

Text courtesy of The Jewish-American Hall of Fame

Courtesy of The Jewish-American Hall of Fame  

Golda Meir 1898-1979

Born in Kiev, Russia, Golda Mabovitch's (later Meir) family emigrated to the United States, settling in Milwaukee in 1906. From the time, at the age of ten, that she organized the American Young Sisters' Society to provide textbooks for the needy school children, Golda dedicated her life to solving the problems of others. An avowed Zionist since she settled in a kibbutz in Palestine with her husband Morris Myerson in 1921, Golda soon became involved in political activities. She served as an emissary to the Pioneer Women's Organization in the United States from 1932-4, and after her return to Palestine, joined the Executive Committee of the Histadrut, the General Federation of Israel Labor. Golda soon rose to become head of Histadrut's Political Department, and in 1946 served in the same role for the Jewish Agency until the establishment of the State of Israel two years later. David Ben-Gurion appointed Golda Meir as Minister to Moscow, and in 1949 she became Minister of Labor. She initiated large scale housing and road-building programs, and vigorously supported the policy of unrestricted immigration. As Foreign Minister (1956-1965), Golda was often Israel's spokesperson at the United Nations, were she pleaded for all of those who call the Holy Land home to "be united, fight poverty and disease and illiteracy." After the death of Levi Eshkol in 1969, Golda Meir became the fourth Prime Minister of Israel. She held this critical position, continuing to carry on indirect negotiations with Egypt through the outbreak of the Yom Kippur War in 1973. Despite her eminence, she was called simply "Golda" to everyone in Israel and on her frequent travels around the world. Golda Meir was inducted into the Jewish-American Hall of Fame in 1978.

Text courtesy of The Jewish-American Hall of Fame

Lou Jacobs Courtesy of State Library and Archives of Florida Courtesy of State Library and Archives of Florida  

Lou Jacobs 1903-1992

Lou was a Master Clown who performed for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus for 60 years (1925-1985). World-renowned as the most famous clown, he created his own costume with a red rubber ball nose, big shoes, baggy pants and a high collar below tufts of red hair and a tiny hat. He carried a small umbrella attached to a long handle and a feisty Chihuahua, Knucklehead, whom he trained, always, to steal the show. Developing his own acts, Jacobs is credited with originating the midget clown car, into which he contorted his 6-foot body. His labored emergence from the prop-- heralded by the appearance of an oversized clown shoe jutting into the air -- never failed to bring gasps of delight.

Born in Germany in 1903, his first performance was at the age of seven. He came to the U.S. in 1923. Circus performers have long argued that Lou Jacobs made more people laugh in live performances than anyone else in history. He was the first living person to have his portrait appear on a U.S. postage stamp (1966), pictured here.

Jacobs' wife and two daughters have all been circus stars. After retirement and with an inexhaustible supply of clown sketches he kept in a little black book, Jacobs taught clowning. Jacobs died in Sarasota, FL, where he had lived.

Text courtesy of Marcia Zerivitz

Fanny Brice Image Caption: Public domain. Courtesy of the Jewish Women’s Archive.  

Fanny Brice 1891-1951

One of America's great clowns, Fanny Brice built her career on a Yiddish accent and a flair for zany parody. In an era when ethnic comedy was the norm, she delighted audiences for more than forty years and won a following in almost every branch of American show business. During the fourth decade of her professional life, she became precocious radio brat "Baby Snooks," and that is the role for which she is most often remembered. Yet "Snooks" was only one of Brice's many inimitable characters in radio, the last of the entertainment forms in which her comic genius found expression. Before focusing exclusively on "the airwaves," she appeared in burlesque and vaudeville, drama, film, and musical revues (including nine Ziegfeld Follies between 1910 and 1936). Brooks Atkinson, longtime drama critic of the New York Times, called Brice "a burlesque comic of the rarest vintage" and acknowledged her achievement in comedy, a field men had previously dominated.

Joan Rivers Image Caption: Public domain. Courtesy of the Jewish Women's Archive.  

Joan Rivers 1933-2014

"Can we talk?" In the minds of millions of Americans, this common phrase conjures up the image of Joan Rivers, the woman who realized in the mid-1960s that the country was ready for something new - a woman comedian talking about life from a woman's point of view. In revues, nightclub acts, and concert halls (in the early 1960s), and to a vast new audience via television in the 1970s and 1980s, Rivers popularized and perfected a genre of comedy that challenged reigning social conventions. Her willingness to "say what is really on everyone's mind" was coupled with an ingenue quality. This made her a less-than-threatening figure and enabled her to popularize the type of monologue that had previously been the domain of male comedians. It was on the Tonight Show, in 1965, that Rivers got her big national break. Introduced as one of the writers for the show, she and Carson engaged in a hilariously funny dialogue. As Rivers remembered it, "at the end of the show he was wiping his eyes. He said, right on the air, 'God you're funny. You're going to be a star,'" Starting in 1995, Joan Rivers was a host for the E! Entertainment television network, where she and her daughter broadcasted their "Joan and Melissa's E! Fashion Reviews" from the scene of the annual Golden Globe, Emmy and Academy Award ceremonies. Rivers herself won the 1990 Emmy award for best daytime talk show host.

Irving Berlin Photo credit: American Jewish Archives  

Irving Berlin 1888-1989

Leave it to a Jewish immigrant from Russia to write the most popular Christmas song ever recorded. Indeed, extraordinary song-writing success followed Berlin throughout his career. Berlin grew up on New York's Lower East Side. He launched his career in 1911 with the Tin Pan Alley hit "Alexander's Ragtime Band," which stayed on the charts for five decades. Over the years he wrote more than 900 other songs, including "God Bless America," "There's No Business Like Show Business," "Easter Parade," and, of course, "White Christmas." Berlin also composed eighteen film scores and 21 Broadway scores, including Annie Get Your Gun (1946). His impact on culture and the art of popular songwriting endures to this day.

Text credit: National Museum of American Jewish History

Sarah Silverman Photo credit: Kevin T. Porter  

Sarah Silverman 1970-

Sarah Silverman has made a career of controversy and taboo. Silverman's satirical comedy takes on racism, sexism, and religion. She often plays a caricature of the Jewish-American princess, mocking bigotry and religious and ethnic stereotypes by having her comic character endorse them in an ironic way. She first received national attention as a writer and featured player on Saturday Night Live in the 1990s. She has appeared in films and TV shows, including her concert film, Sarah Silverman: Jesus Is Magic (2005). Her TV sitcom, The Sarah Silverman Program, ran on Comedy Central from 2007-2010. Her biography, The Bedwetter, made The New York Times Best-Seller List in 2010.

Text credit: National Museum of American Jewish History

Groucho Marx Photo credit: American Jewish Archives  

Groucho Marx 1890-1977

The zany, smart-alecky comedy of the Marx Brothers' movies still throws audiences into convulsions. Born in New York City, Groucho (Julius, 1890-1977), Chico (Leonard, 1887-1961), Harpo (Adolph, 1888-1964), Gummo (Milton, 1893-1977), and Zeppo (Herbert, 1901-1979) began their comedy career on vaudeville. When Gummo was drafted to serve during WWI, the remaining four brothers continued to perform on Broadway and in motion pictures. They grew in popularity throughout the 1930s and starred in many films, including Animal Crackers (1930), Monkey Business (1931), and Duck Soup (1933). According to Professor Quincy Adams Wagstaff, the American Film Institute selected five of their thirteen feature films as among the top 100 comedy films.

Text credit: National Museum of American Jewish History

Bernard Baruch  

Bernard Baruch 1870-1965

Born in Camden, South Carolina, Bernard Baruch was one of four sons of Belle and Simon Baruch. In 1881, the family moved to New York City, and Bernard eventually studied at and graduated from City College of New York. Bernard became a stock broker and soon bought a seat on the New York Stock Exchange. He amassed a fortune before the age of 30. By 1903 he had his own brokerage firm and became known as "The Lone Wolf of Wall Street" because he refused to join any financial house. By 1910, he had become one of Wall Street's best-known financiers. In 1916, Baruch left Wall street to advise president Woodrow Wilson on national defense and terms of peace. In 1918 he became chairman of the new War Industries Board. Under his leadership, this body successfully managed the United States's economic mobilization during World War I. In 1919, as a staff member at the Paris Peace Conference, Baruch supported the creation of the League of Nations. Later, serving under president Franklin Roosevelt, Baruch was a member of the "Brain Trust" and helped form the National Recovery Administration. In 1946 Baruch was appointed by president Harry S. Truman as the United States representative to the United Nations Atomic Energy Commission. Baruch continued to advise on international affairs until his death on June 20, 1965, in New York City, at the age of 94.

Marshall Warren Nirenberg Photo credit: Courtesy of the National Institutes of Health  

Marshall Warren Nirenberg 1927-2010

Nirenberg was a biochemist and geneticist who received the 1968 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for describing the genetic code and how it operates in protein synthesis. Born in New York City, h developed an early interest in biology. He received a B.S. degree and master's degree in zoology from the University of Florida, and a Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of Michigan. IN 1957, he began his postdoctoral work at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in 1957 as a fellow of the American Cancer Society. He eventually studies the steps that relate DNA, RNA and protein, and his groundbreaking work led him to become the head of the Section of Biochemical Genetics in 1962. In addition to the Nobel Prize, Nirenberg received the National Medal of Science in 1966 and the National Medal of Honor in 1968. He was elected to the American Philosophical Society in 2001.

Dr. Aaron Kellner

Hematologists Hematologists testing donated blood at the MDA National Blood Center in Ramat Gan.

Dr. Aaron Kellner 1914-1992

Aaron Kellner established one of America's largest blood banks in 1964. Little did he know, he'd help repeat this same feat 23 years later in a country thousands of miles away.

From the beginning, Dr. Kellner was a visionary when it came to blood banking. When the New York Blood Center opened in 1964, Dr. Kellner said, "We want to be far more than merely a drugstore for blood."

Within the walls of the blood center's research institute, the American hepatitis B vaccine was first tested. The center also revolutionized blood storage and preservation by freezing components with liquid nitrogen, a practice that is still used today.

When Israel needed advice on blood banking before the 1967 war, they contacted Dr. Kellner, a well-known international authority on blood, hoping he could help. They had no idea how easy of a sell it would be. Dr. Kellner was a Zionist at heart. He felt it was his responsibility to export his expertise to the young State of Israel and provided advice that would help save countless lives.

He later began working with American Friends of Magen David Adom, helping establish the MDA Ramat Gan Blood Center in 1987, modernizing Israel's blood collection, testing, and distribution. Five years after the inauguration of the blood center, Dr. Kellner died of Lou Gehrig's disease at the age of 78. Today, MDA is able to provide 100 percent of the blood for the Israel Defense Forces and 97 percent of the blood for the Israeli population, largely because of Dr. Kellner's pioneering work.

His legacy also lives on at the New York Blood Center, which he served for 25 years, first as executive director and then as president. Today the New York Blood Center, one of the nation's largest blood banks, draws, processes, stores, tests, and distributes some one million components of blood to nearly 200 hospitals annually.

Born and raised in New York City, Dr. Kellner received his bachelor's degree in 1934 from Yeshiva College, followed by a master's degree in public health at Columbia University, and a medical degree from the University of Chicago, putting him on the path to a successful career in public health that would span the globe.

As a Jewish American, Dr. Kellner helped shape the future of hematology and provided an invaluable gift to the two countries he called home. His legacy will live on through each transfusion, donation, and life saved, both in America and Israel.


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