22 February 2018
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World famous Litvaks

Many famous Jewish people lived and created in Lithuania. It was not for nothing that Vilnius was called "Jerusalem of the North" - as the wealth of its sages and of its religious scholarship competed with that of Jerusalem. The Jews made a large cultural and economic contribution, to both the Jewish people and to Lithuanians.

During the 19th and 20th century, tens of thousands of Lithuanian Jews emigrated to the United States of America. Many Lithuanian Jews also emigrated to South Africa which became famous as a haven for its 120.000 Jews who were spared the Holocaust. A small number also emigrated to the British Mandate of Palestine. The rise of the Nazis in Germany and the ensuing Holocaust destroyed the vast majority of Jews who had not managed to leave Lithuania and its environs.

Jews of Lithuanian origin are today in leading roles and positions around all the world – some of our nowadays most famous politicians, scientists, businessmen, economists, actors, writers and singers have Litvak background.

The Gaon of Vilnius 

Elijah Ben Solomon (1720 - 1797).

The word "gaon" means genius and on no person could this title be more appropriately bestowed than on Rabbi Eliyahu of Vilna. Rabbi Eliyahu was probably the most influential Jewish leader in modern history.

Rabbi Eliyahu's great abilities began to show at a very early age. At the age of seven he gave his first public discourse and displayed a fully developed intellect. By the time he was ten he had advanced to the point where he no longer needed a teacher. When he was still a young man, Rabbi Eliyahu accepted upon himself "galus", self-imposed exile (a not unheard of practice at that time), in which he wandered from community to community as a beggar. This lasted for a period of some years whereupon he returned to Vilnius.

His diligence in learning was unsurpassable. The Gaon's son testified that for fifty years his father did not sleep for more than two hours in a twenty-four hour period. His breadth of knowledge was amazing, and he was knowledgeable in almost all secular fields and authored books on grammar and mathematics. His righteousness and kindness were also legendary. Despite his personal poverty he always gave 20% of his income to charity.

Possibly the Gaon's single biggest contribution to the Jewish people was his corrective notes on most of our ancient texts, particularly the Talmud.

The Gaon passed away in 1797 leaving behind a tremendous legacy, both from his vast and varied writings on all Torah subjects and from his outstanding students who went on to spread Torah throughout the people of Israel. After Solomon’s death, about 50 (out of surviving 70) of his works, mostly commentaries on the Bible and Talmud, were published, as well as The Principles of the Hebrew Grammar (1833), and the Fundamentals of Algebra, Geometry and Astronomy (1834).

Litvaks lead Israel


Benjamin Netanyahu

Prime Minister of Israel. Born 1949 in Tel Aviv, Israel. Grandson of Nathan MILEIKOWSKY from Lithuania, who changed his name to Netanyahu when he arrived in Tel Aviv from Lithuania in 1930. Mr. Netanyahhu‘s parents immigrated to United States, where he attended high school in Philadelphia, PA and later MIT and Harvard. A member of the conservative Likud party, he was Prime Minister from June 1996 to July 1999 and became the first (and to date only) Prime Minister of Israel to be born after the creation of the state. He was Finance Minister of Israel until August 9, 2005, when he resigned in protest of the Gaza Disengagement Plan advocated by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Mr. Nethanyahu is today the ninth and current Prime Minister of Israel, serving since March 2009. Netanyahu also serves as the current Chairman of the Likud Party, as a Knesset member, as the Health Minister of Israel, as the Pensioner Affairs Minister of Israel and as the Economic Strategy Minister of Israel.


Ehud Barak

Leader of Israel’s Labour Party and Minister of Defence and Deputy Prime Minister in Binyamin Netanyahu's government.

Born 1942 in Kibbutz Mishmar Hasharon, Palestine), former Prime Minister of Israel (1999-2001). Ehud Brog (he changed his name to Ehud 'Barak' -lightening- when he entered the army) was born in a kibbutz which his father, who emigrated from Lithuania, founded in 1932. Barak is the oldest of four brothers and remained on the Kibbutz until he joined the Army at age 17.  He Received a B.Sc. degree in physics and mathematics from Hebrew University in Jerusalem and a M.Sc. degree in 1978 in economic engineering systems from Stanford University in California. 

Famous Jews with Lithuanian origin or parentage

·         Roman AbramovichOligarch and owner of Chelsea F.C.

·         Moshe Arens, former Israeli defence minister and foreign minister

·         Naum Aronson, sculptor. Born in Kreslavka, worked in Paris. Moved to USA.

·         Aharon Barak, President of the Supreme Court of Israel from 1995–2006

·         Ehud Barak, Israeli Chief of Staff, foreign minister, prime minister, defence minister and Labour leader

·         Erran Baron Cohen, English-born trumpeter and composer

·         Sacha Baron Cohen, English-born entertainer

·         Jillian Becker, South African writer

·         Menachem Begin, Israeli Prime Minister from Brest-Litovsk

·         Dan Bern, American folk singer, poet, painter

·         Ben Bernanke, Chairman of the United States Federal Reserve

·         Michael Bloomberg, New York Mayor

·         Sydney Brenner, biochemist, Nobel laureate 2002

·         Eli Broad, American philanthropist and investor; founder of KB Home

·         Charles Bronson, American actor

·         Marc Chagall, Russian-born French painter

·         Leonard Cohen, Canadian singer-songwriter, poet and novelist

·         Aaron CoplandU.S. composer, original family name was Kaplan

·         Irwin Cotler, Canadian Minister of Justice and Attorney General from 2003–2006, and international human rights lawyer

·         Melvyn Douglas (Melvyn Hesselberg), American actor

·         Bob Dylan, U.S. singer-songwriter, author, musician and poet (original name was Robert Allen Zimmerman)

·         Yaffa Eliach, Author (wrote Hasidic Tales of the Holocaust)

·         Bernard Friedman, South African politician

·         Brian Epstein, The Beatles Manager

·         Harrison Ford, American film actor and producer

·         Massimiliano Fuksas, Italian architect

·         Romain Gary, French writer

·         Philip Glass, U.S. minimalist composer

·         Leopold Godowsky, composer and pianist

·         Emma Goldman, anarchist

·         Itamar Golan, pianist

·         Nadine Gordimer, 1991 Nobel Prize for literature

·         Bernard Gordon, South African businessman and philanthropist, Rand pioneer, founder of Kibbutz Mayan Baruch in Israel

·         Lauren Grant, modern dancer, Mark Morris Dance Group. Maternal grandfather from Lithuania, circa 1900.

·         Aron Gurwitsch, philosopher in the field of phenomenology

·         Laurence Harvey, British actor

·         Esther Hautzig, award-winning writer

·         Jascha Heifetz, acclaimed 20th century violinist born in Vilnius

·         Seymour Hersh, American journalist

·         Moe Howard (born Harry Moses Horwitz), Shemp Howard (born Samuel Horwitz) and Curly Howard (born Jerome Lester Horwitz) of the Three Stooges, a U.S. comedy trio

·         Jay M. Ipson, founder and president of the Virginia Holocaust Museum in Richmond

·         Al Jolson, singer-songwriter, dancer, entertainer

·         Mendel Kaplan, was a South African Jewish industrialist, philanthropist and community activist

·         Ronnie Kasrils, South African communist leader, minister of Intelligence Services

·         Sol Kerzner, South African casino magnate (Sun City)

·         Joseph Klausner, scholar of modern Hebrew literature and former Israeli presidential candidate

·         Aaron Klug, biophysicist, Nobel laureate 1982.

·         Hillel Kook, Revisionist Zionist activist, politician, and prominent member of the Irgun

·         Tony Leon, South African former opposition leader

·         Emmanuel Levinas, philosopher

·         Peggy Lipton, U.S. actress

·         Jacques Lipchitz, sculptor

·         Emmanuel Lubezki, 3 time Academy Award nominee, cinematographer

·         Sergio Lubezky, Latin American photographer

·         Alexander Ziskind Maimon, author and scholar

·         Benoit Mandelbrot, mathematician, regarded as the founded of fractal geometry

·         George Marcus, anthropologist

·         Michael Marks, founder of retail network Marks and Spencer

·         Sammy Marks, ‘father’ of Litvak South Africa, businessman, politician, entrepreneur

·         Walter Matthau, U.S. actor

·         Gideon Mer, Israeli scientist who worked on malaria research

·         Hermann Minkowski, mathematician (born in Kaunas)

·         Clara Nathanson, sculptor. Lithuanian (Vilnius, b.1887)

·         Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli Prime Minister, original family name was Milikowsky

·         Amos Oz, Israeli writer, novelist and journalist

·         Fanny Mikey, Colombian theatre impresario, daughter of a Lithuanian immigrant to Argentina

·         Pink (Alecia Moore), U.S. musician, mother is of Lithuanian Jewish ancestry

·         Maury Povich, U.S. talk-show host

·         Shloyme Zanvl Rappoport, author and Jewish folklorist who under the pseudonym, S. Ansky wrote the play, The Dybbuk

·         Winthrop Paul Rockefeller, Rockefeller family, U.S., Republican politician (his mother was a Litvak)

·         Willy Ronis, photographer

·         Jerome David Salinger, writer

·         Milton Shapp (b. Milton Jerrold Shapiro), cable TV pioneer and governor of Pennsylvania; parents were Lithuanian Jews

·         Ariel Sharon, former Israeli Prime Minister, from a family of Georgian Jews of Lithuanian descent

·         Joe Slovo, South African Communist and MK leader, minister of construction in Nelson Mandela's government

·         Chaïm Soutine, painter

·         John Stewart, U.S. TV comedian

·         David Suchet, famous English actor

·         Helen Suzman, South-African anti-apartheid activist

·         Moshe/Michael Tchaban, Lithuanian born singer-songwriter

·         Vilna Gaon, preeminent religious leader and Talmudist

·         Meir Vilner, Israeli communist leader, the last of the signatories of Israel's declaration of independence to pass away

·         Mary Louise Weller, U.S. actress and model

·         Harry Dexter White, economist

·         Lewis Wolpert, South African born geneticist

·         L.L. Zamenhof, founder of the Esperanto language

·         Paul Zukofsky, violinist and conductor from New York.


Lenoard Cohen

Bob Dylan

Harrison Ford

Charles Bronson

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