Here are our choices for this year’s Notable Jews of the Month Calendar. As you see, it’s an eclectic mix of good people and bad people, funny and serious, living and deceased, drawn from the worlds of show business, politics, sports, science, literature, magic, crime, and psychology. Just like life itself. Let us know who’d be on your Notable Jews of the Month Calendar and why.
January – Larry David: a grumpy whiner that we can’t help but love.
January – Larry David
He’s a grumpy whiner who’s by no means easy on the eyes and he plays clueless characters who appear stunned when their natural behavior blows up a situation – and yet we love him. Why? Because he’s darkly hilarious, creative, and, oh yes, did I mentioned he co-created “Seinfeld”? If an aging, balding, homely, rude guy can become fabulously wealthy and do whatever he wants whenever he wants – maybe there’s hope for the rest of us. Legend has it that when he did stand-up comedy, David would berate the audience for any of their behavior that ticked him off, and often stomp off the stage when it all became too much for him. How can you not love a guy like that?
February – Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein
Two fabulous gals for February. Feinstein and Boxer were elected on November 3, 1992, becoming the first Jewish women senators, the first female senators from California, and the first two women to represent any state at the same time. They are the Tina Fey and Amy Poehler of politics. A high point for Boxer: when she criticized then U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's judgment in relation to the war in Iraq: "I personally believe – this is my personal view – that your loyalty to the mission you were given, to sell the war, overwhelmed your respect for the truth." In 1961, Feinstein worked to end housing discrimination in San Francisco. Feinstein introduced the Federal Assault Weapons Ban which became law in 1994. Their hearts are truly in the right place, so we feature them in Valentine’s month.
March – Scarlett Johansson
Scarlett Ingrid Johansson was born in New York City. Her mother, Melanie Sloan, is from an Ashkenazi Jewish family, and her father, Karsten Johansson, is Danish, which makes Scarlett a Danish Jew, or a Dew. She is considered by many to be the single most beautiful woman in Hollywood and has modeled for Calvin Klein, Louis Vuitton, and L'Oreal, and in 2007 debuted her line of Reebok athletic shoes, allowing those who purchase them to say, “I think I’ll slip into my Johanssons.”
April – Mark Cuban
I know what you’re thinking: “All these acclaimed Jews are well and good, but where are the billionaires?” Mark Cuban is an American businessman, investor, married, the father of two girls and a boy, and, oh yes, a billionaire. He is the owner of the National Basketball Association's Dallas Mavericks, Landmark Theatres, and Magnolia Pictures, and the chairman of the HDTV cable network AXS TV. He is also a "shark" investor on the television series Shark Tank. Not bad for a former bartender. In 2011 Cuban wrote an e-book, How to Win at the Sport of Business, in which he chronicles his life experiences in business and sports. The surname "Cuban" was shortened from "Chabenisky" when his Russian grandparents landed on Ellis Island. He is the son of Norton and Shirley Cuban; Norton was an automobile upholsterer. It’s the American Dream, achieved. He can afford to super-size any of his orders at fast food places.
May – Alvin E. Roth
Who? Hey, this piece isn’t titled Celebrity Jews of the Month; rather, Notable Jews of the Month, and this guy is plenty notable. Does the Nobel Prize get your attention? Because Mr. Roth here has one at home on his mantle or wherever he chooses to display it. Alvin Elliot Roth is the Craig and Susan McCaw professor of economics at Stanford University and the Gund professor of economics and business administration emeritus at Harvard University. In other words, he’s got the brains of five people and no doubt they wish they had them back. Roth has made significant contributions to the fields of game theory, market design and experimental economics, and is known for his emphasis on applying economic theory to solutions for "real-world" problems. In 2012, he won the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences jointly with Lloyd Shapley "for the theory of stable allocations and the practice of market design.” I bet women are impressed when they read that on his JDate profile.
June – Bette Midler
During her more than forty-year career as a singer, actress and comedian, Bette Midler has been nominated for two Academy Awards; and won four Grammy Awards, four Golden Globes, three Emmy Awards, and a special Tony Award. And I thought I was special when my unemployment insurance was extended. The Hawaiian-born Jewish dynamo is no slouch. She has also sold over 54 million records as an artist. Midler built a successful stage, screen and recording career on the basis of her self-styled "Divine Miss M" character - a sassy, hip-wagging classic "broad" archetype. She was quick with the comebacks, took no guff and had a tendency to burst into tunes from the Great American Songbook. She also lent appropriately outrageous variations of Miss M to comedies including "Ruthless People", "Down and Out in Beverly Hills", and "The First Wives Club". In an era where stage, screen and recording crossover success was rare, only Liza Minnelli rivaled the Boogie Woogie Bugle Girl when it came to endless concert tour schedules and triumph in all genres. She is truly the wind beneath our wings.
July – Allen Ginsberg
Irwin Allen Ginsberg was an American poet and one of the leading figures of both the Beat Generation of the 1950s and the counterculture that soon would follow. Not bad for a guy named Irwin! He vigorously opposed militarism, economic materialism and physical repression. Known for his revolutionary poem "Howl," Ginsberg was a prolific writer who also championed anti-war movements, protesting the Vietnam War and coining the phrase "Flower Power," which became even more popular than its previous incarnation in the Jewish community: “Blintz Power.”
August – Harry Houdini: some people will do anything to get out of doing the dishes.
August – Harry Houdini
There is no question that Houdini (born Erich Weiss) is the most famous magician in history – unless you count how President George W. Bush made the weapons of mass destruction disappear. Houdini’s name is synonymous with escapes; his ability to get out of seemingly impossible situations- and his knack for publicizing these events- made him a legend in his own time. After a number of years struggling to succeed, Houdini finally hit the big-time when he was 24 years old with his Challenge Act in 1898, while he was making the rounds of vaudeville. Houdini's Challenge Act consisted of him escaping from a pair of handcuffs produced by an audience member. Eventually, this evolved into escapes from strait jackets, boxes, crates, safes, and other instruments and devices (such as his Water Torture Cell), as well as from jail cells. Houdini was also adept at escaping from being "buried alive". Hand-cuffed and strait-jacketed, he could escape while being hung upside down from a crane, or while lowered from a bridge, or even make his escape from padlocked crates lowered into a river. Some people will do anything to get out of doing the dishes.
September – Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel
One of the most ruthless killers in Mafia history and the man who 'built' Las Vegas, Bugsy Siegel was born in 1906 to poor Jewish parents originally from the Ukraine, Benjamin Hymen Siegelbaum began his gangster career as a teenager by setting up a "protection" racket. He established a partnership with another young mobster, Meyer Lansky. The "Bug and Meyer" syndicate moved into hot cars, bootlegging, and gambling rackets. It’s nice to have fulfilling work you truly enjoy. In the late 1930’s Siegel relocated to California where he setup bootlegging and gambling rackets and recruited mafia member Mickey Cohen (also Jewish) to be his second in command. Siegel led an extravagant life, buying real estate, throwing lavish parties and hobnobbing with the rich and famous of Los Angeles. In the mid-1940’s Siegel and Hall moved to Nevada at the request of Meyer Lansky. Siegel began working on plans to create a gambling center and eventually built The Pink Flamingo Hotel and Casino with funds pooled by the syndicate. At the time, Las Vegas was not a developed gambling center and Siegel envisioned a luxurious resort area where the wealthy could gamble away their money. In this way Siegel, Lansky and other mob members created the original casinos that paved the way for the Las Vegas we know today. Las Vegas built by mobsters; who knew? I thought it was built by poets.
October – Simon Wiesenthal
When one thinks of iconic men who’ve done good for the world, it’s not just Richard Simmons’ name that springs to mind. Simon Wiesenthal’s name is surely at the top of the list. Born in Buczacz, Galacia, on December 31, 1908, Simon Wiesenthal became an architect who was imprisoned in five different Nazi concentration camps during World War II. Wiesenthal devoted his life post-war to Holocaust memory and education, and founded the Jewish Documentation Center in Vienna. He also worked on investigations into locating Nazi criminals for prosecution. Wiesenthal has been credited with contributing to the capture of "final solution" coordinator Adolf Eichmann in 1961. He has also been credited with investigations that led to the capture of other war criminals, including death camp commander Franz Stangl and Gestapo worker Karl Silberbauer, who was responsible for the arrest of Anne Frank. In 2003, at the age of 94, Wiesenthal announced his retirement. One year later, he was knighted. Wiesenthal died on September 20, 2005, in Vienna, Austria. If any Jew approaches the stature of Nelson Mandela, it’s Simon Wiesenthal.
November – Sigmund Freud
Please relax on the couch as you learn that Sigmund Freud was born in Freiberg, which is now known as the Czech Republic, on May 6, 1856. Freud developed psychoanalysis, a method through which an analyst unpacks unconscious conflicts based on the free associations, dreams and fantasies of the patient. His theories on child desires, libido and the ego, among other topics, were some of the most influential academic concepts of the 20th century. And how does that make you feel? Regardless of the perception of Sigmund Freud’s theories, there is no question that he had an enormous impact on the field of psychology. His work supported the belief that not all mental illnesses have physiological causes and he also offered evidence that cultural differences have an impact on psychology and behavior. His work and writings contributed to our understanding of personality, clinical psychology, human development, abnormal psychology, and Mel Gibson. I’m sorry; our time’s just about up.
December – Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Ruth Bader Ginsburg is the first Jewish woman (and only the second woman) appointed to the United States Supreme Court. Joan Rivers, of course, failed in her bid to be appointed by the court. Then again, Ginsburg did not impress as a stand-up comedian. Rather, she graduated from Columbia Law School, going on to becoming a staunch courtroom advocate for the fair treatment of women and working with the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project. She was appointed by President Carter to the U.S. Court of Appeals in 1980. In her 13 years on the federal bench, she developed a reputation as a "centrist," a conciliator and a peacemaker on the court. Defying the labels "liberal" or "conservative," she expressed her admiration for judges who were "independent thinking individuals with open, but not drafty, minds." Ginsburg was appointed to the Supreme Court by President Clinton in 1993 and holds the distinction of being our smartest calendar girl.