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Dembitz, Lewis Naphtali (03 February 1833–11 March 1907), attorney and activist in public affairs, was born in Zirke, Prussia. His father, Sigmund Dembitz, was a surgeon whose degree from a Prussian university precluded his practicing in Austria, which required an Austrian degree. He, his wife Fanny Wehle, and their three children therefore led a wandering existence throughout other parts of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, particularly Poland, while Sigmund unsuccessfully sought a profitable practice in various small towns. The young Dembitz attended schools in Munchenberg, Brandenburg, Frangbord, and Sagan and graduated at age fifteen from the Gymnasium of Glogau University in Frankfort-on-the-Oder. Dembitz’s family did not observe religious rituals. A schoolmate at Glogau introduced him to Orthodox Judaism when Dembitz was thirteen, however, and as an adult he adhered strictly to its tenets and rituals. His one semester of legal studies in Prague was interrupted by the unsuccessful political uprising of 1848. Although neither he nor his family were active participants, they found that the combination of their sympathy for the uprising’s libertarian goals and their Jewishness, assimilated though it was, made life in the Empire uncomfortable. Thirty-five members of the interrelated Wehle, Dembitz, and Brandeis families therefore immigrated to the United States in 1849....

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Hirsch, Emil Gustave (22 May 1851–07 January 1923), rabbi and civic leader, was born in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, the son of Samuel Hirsch, a rabbi, and Louise Michols. In 1866 Hirsch immigrated with his family to Philadelphia, where his father had been called to the pulpit of Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel. Upon graduation from the University of Pennsylvania in 1872, he returned to Europe to pursue advanced work in philosophy and theology at the University of Berlin and then at the University of Leipzig, where he received a doctorate in 1876. At the same time, he embarked upon rabbinical training at the Hochschule für die Wissenschaft des Judentums in Berlin, studying with such prominent liberal Jewish scholars as Abraham Geiger and Moritz Lazarus. Upon completion of his studies, Hirsch briefly served congregations in Baltimore (1877–1878) and Louisville (1878–1880), before being called to the prestigious pulpit of Sinai Congregation in Chicago, a position he held until his death. In 1878 he married Mathilda Einhorn in Louisville; her father was Rabbi ...

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Kahane, Meir (01 August 1932–05 November 1990), rabbi and militant Jewish nationalist, was born Martin David Kahane in Brooklyn, New York. He grew up in a home that emphasized traditional Judaism and right-wing Revisionist Zionism. His father, Rabbi Yechezkel (Charles) Kahane, had studied in several rabbinical schools in Poland and Czechoslovakia, befriending there the Revisionist Zionist leader Ze’ev (Vladimir) Jabotinsky....

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Magnes, Judah Leon (05 July 1877–27 October 1948), rabbi, communal leader, and first chancellor and first president of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, was born in San Francisco, California, the eldest of five children of David Magnes and Sophie Abrahamson. His father had emigrated from Poland at age fifteen in 1863 and his mother from eastern Prussia in 1872. When Magnes was five, the family moved to nearby Oakland, California, where his father opened a dry-goods store. The Magneses were a close-knit family. English was the language of the home, although Magnes’s mother and maternal grandmother insisted that the children learn German. The family belonged to the local Reformed congregation, where Magnes received his early religious education. From his father he gained an empathy for the Jewish religious traditions and Yiddish culture of Eastern Europe and from his mother a grounding in German culture. In later life his appreciation for both religious-cultural strands in American Jewish life made him an ideal mediator between the two....

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Mendes, Henry Pereira (13 April 1852–20 October 1937), rabbi and communal leader, was born in Birmingham, England, the son of Rev. Abraham Pereira Mendes, a religious leader, and Eliza de Sola. He attended University College of the University of London from 1870 to 1872 and received private instruction in Jewish studies. A descendant of a long line of religious leaders on both his paternal and maternal sides, he decided early in life to minister to the religious needs of his people. Also interested in medicine, he received an M.D. from New York University in 1884....

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Noah, Mordecai Manuel (19 July 1785–22 March 1851), politician, playwright, and Jewish communal leader, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of Manuel Mordecai Noah, a failed businessman, and Zipporah Phillips. He was orphaned at the age of seven and was raised by his grandparents Jonas and Rebecca (Machado) Phillips. In his youth, first in Philadelphia and later in Charleston, South Carolina, he published journalistic pieces, a political pamphlet, a critique of Shakespeare ( ...

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Peixotto, Benjamin Franklin (13 November 1834–18 September 1890), diplomat and Jewish community leader, was born in New York City, the son of Daniel Levi Maduro Peixotto, a physician, and Rachel Seixas. In 1836 Peixotto’s family moved to Cleveland, Ohio, where he received an elementary education and then engaged in the retail clothing business and several speculative enterprises. Active in public and Jewish affairs, Peixotto was a follower and correspondent of ...

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Proskauer, Joseph Meyer (06 August 1877–11 September 1971), judge, political adviser, and Jewish communal leader, was born in Mobile, Alabama, the son of Alfred Proskauer, a bank cashier, and Rebecca Leinkauf. Born into a southern Jewish family of German and Hungarian descent, Proskauer was educated at Columbia College (B.A., 1896) and Columbia Law School (LL.B., 1899) and began practicing law in New York City in partnership with college friend James Rosenberg in 1900. Two years later both men entered the well-known firm of James, Schell & Elkus, which eventually became Elkus, Gleason & Proskauer. In 1903 Proskauer married Alice Naumburg. ...

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Silver, Abba Hillel (28 January 1893–28 November 1963), rabbi and Zionist leader, was born Abraham Silver in the Lithuanian village of Neustadt-Schirwindt, the son of Rabbi Moses Silver, a proprietor of a soap business, and Dina Seaman. The family immigrated to the United States in stages, settling on New York City’s Lower East Side in 1902, when Silver was nine years old. He attended public school in the mornings and Jewish religious seminaries in the afternoons yet still made time for his growing interest in the fledgling Zionist movement. He and his brother Maxwell founded the Dr. Herzl Zion Club, one of the first Zionist youth groups in America, in 1904. On Friday evenings, Silver attended the mesmerizing lectures of ...

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Stephen Samuel Wise Photograph by Pirie MacDonald, 1913. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-75146).

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Wise, Stephen Samuel (17 March 1874–19 April 1949), rabbi, reformer, and Jewish communal leader, was born in Erlau, Hungary (near Budapest), the son of Aaron Weisz (later Wise), a rabbi, and Sabine de Fischer Farkashazy, the daughter of a baron. Aaron Weisz immigrated to the United States in 1874 and fifteen months later sent for his wife and children. The descendant of six generations of rabbis, Stephen Wise never considered any other career. He studied first with his father, then simultaneously at both the new Jewish Theological Seminary and Columbia University (graduating from Columbia in 1892). In 1893 he took his rabbinical ordination in Vienna from Adolf Jellinik, the renowned Jewish rabbi and scholar....

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Zhitlowsky, Hayim (1865–06 May 1943), philosopher and theoretician of Jewish socialism, diaspora nationalism, and Yiddish culture, was born in Uschatchi, a small town near Vitebsk, Russia, the son of Yosef Zhitlowsky, a successful flax merchant, and Hava Hasia Weinstein. His father, a child prodigy, combined rabbinical learning with hasidic pietism and business acumen with devotion to modern Jewish enlightenment. Zhitlowsky disliked the traditional Jewish elementary education he received in ...