Contributions of Jews to the Modern World

Some Jewish contributors to Humanity

The site of the Jewish Museum of Spain tells its visitors a story in its final room.

Main contributions of the Jews to the modern world (19th, 20th and 21st centuries).

It is well known that Western Civilization is based on the union of two intertwined pillars, the Greco-Latin and Judeo-Christian. In turn, the Hebrew people, People of the Book, who have bequeathed us the Bible and the Kabbalah, among other wonders, arise from the confluence of various civilizations, beginning with Sumeria (in Mesopotamia) and Egypt.

The novel approach of this museum content, undoubtedly revealing, is not to analyze the Jewish people in terms of their religious Judaism – the creator of monotheism – and enormous historical relevance (something that develops in the first seven parts of the museum), but relying on personalities of Jewish origin as individuals, men and women whose enormous contributions to the world today have served to transform our societies and our lives.

Science and humanities, philosophy, literature, cinema, art and culture, political movements, commerce and economics, business and finance, sport, journalism, media, marketing and advertising, inventions, high technology, the Internet, etc. Jews have been ubiquitous in all areas of humanity since they achieved their legal emancipation, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. To the abilities and talents of people of Jewish origin we owe a debt of gratitude.

To the abilities and talents of the Jewish we owe, among thousands of ideas and things in all areas of our daily life, the weekly day of rest – initially a Saturday or Sabbat –, –the ten commandments– including the most sacred: thou will not kill – the end of human sacrifices (Abraham and Isaac, Genesis 22), the invention of cement more than nine thousand years ago (in Jericho, the oldest city in the world), exchange papers (Chinese medieval Jews), money in bills since the XVIII century and also bearer checks, vaccines and medical advances of all kinds,

such as various treatments in the fight against cancer, hepatitis or AIDS (Gertrude B. Elion, Bruce Beutler, Ralph Marvin Steinman), the first treatment against leukemia, modern immunology (Paul Ehrlich), the first effective medicinal treatment for syphilis, the discovery of vitamins (Kazimierz Funk), cholesterol (Konrad Emil Bloch), blood groups (Karl Landsteiner), arsphenamine (Salvarsa), the structure of DNA (Rosalind Franklin), antibiotics, polio vaccines (Jonas Salk), oral contraceptive pills (Gregory Pincus), quantum physics (Albert Einstein, Niels Bohr, Wolfgang Ernst Pauli, John von Neumann), the first Big Bang Theory (Alexandre Friedmann), topology and topography (Solomon Lefschetz, Felix Hausdorff), psychology and psychoanalysis (Viena Psychoanalytic Society: Freud, Alfred Adler, Karl Abraham, Sándor Ferenczi, Wilhelm Reich, Sabina Spielrein), sociology and modern anthropology (Claude Levi-Strauss), statistics, cybernetics (Norbert Wiener), neurology and neurophysiology (Otto Loewi, Abraham Low, Rita Levi-Montalcini, Karl Pribram), the initial development of nanotechnology (Richard Feynman), plastic surgery and rhinoplasty (Irving B. Goldman), the first immunosuppressive agent to transplant organs

Also inventions like the gasoline fueled car (Sigfried Marcus), or the first carburetor of gasoline and diesel engines, aspirin (something Bayer has not yet recognized) by Arthur Eichengrün, the first recording electricity consumption meter (Hermann Aron), first field-effect transistor and electrolytic capacitor (Julius Edgar Lilienfeld), the match (Sansone Valobra), artificial cardiac pacemaker and cardiac defibrillator (Paul Zoll), calculators, ballpoint pens (László Bíró), tomato consumption (John de Sequeyra: Dr. Siccary), ammonia synthesis –essential for the creation of fertilizers–, color photography (Gabriel Lippmann), instant photography, flash (Morris Schwartz) and Polaroid camera, color slides, the film industry and studios in Hollywood (Universal, Paramount, MGM, T.C.Fox, Warner Bros.), radio and television in the United States and Canada (David Sarnoff: RCA and RKO founder), musical records (Peter Carl Goldman), phonograph or record player (Emile Berliner), American record industry, color film and sound film, American newspapers and publishing companies (New York Times, Condé Nast, Random House, Hollywood Reporter, Rolling Stone…), preservation and distribution of yogurt, shopping carts (Sylvan Goldman), first supermarkets and malls, lipstick (Maurice Levy), condoms (Julius Schmit), diamond industry, nuclear power, radar (Heinrich Hertz) and weather radar (David Atlas), zeppelin (David Schwarz), the creation of the first reactors for NASA rockets (Theodore von Kármán), the first supersonic flights developed by NATO, the spread spectrum patent that allows wireless telecommunications (Hedy Lamarr), walkie-talkie (Alfred J. Gross), remote control (Robert Adler), pacemaker, first laser (Gordon Gould), nuclear magnetic resonance (Isidor Asaac Rabi), LED technology (Zhores Alfiorov), Duracell batteries (Samuel Ruben), the first videotape (Charles Ginsburg), the first videogames and game consoles (Ralph H. Baer), the USB memory or pendrive (Dov Moran, of the Israeli company SanDisk), the beginning of quantum computing, microprocessors that prevent  electronic and computer equipment from overheating and burning out, Internet protocols and World Wide Web (Bob Kahn), many technology companies like Google (owner of Youtube), founded by Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Facebook (Mark Zuckerberg, Eduardo Saverin, Dustin Moskovitz), WhatsApp (Jan Koum), Oracle (Larry Ellison), PayPal (Max Levchin, Dan Schulman), Dell, Android mobile system (Andy Rubin), SalesForce (Marc Benioff), Tinder, Getty Images (co-founder Jonathan Klein), TripAdvisor (Stephen Kaufer), BitTorrent protocol (Bram Cohen), the term “computer virus”, marketing as an academic discipline (Philip Kotler), first theory of public relations and propaganda (Edward Bernays), ecology and environmental activism (Irving and Dorothy Stowe, Greenpeace founders), American feminism (Emma Goldman, Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem), the origins of hundreds of brands, some as well-known as the cream Nivea (Oscar Troplowitz), Levi’s jeans (Levi Strauss), the first Mercedes-Benz cars (Mercédès Jelllinek, daughter of automobile entrepreneur Emil Jellinek), the Heineken beer yeast formula (Hartog Elion), the origin of companies such as Phillips (Benjamin Frederik Phillips, cousin o Karl Marx), Citröen (André Gustave Citröen), clothing brands, cosmetics companies and fashion retailers like Max Factor, Estée Lauder, Revlon, Fabergé (Samuel Rubin), Helena Rubinstein, Bobbi Brown, Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, Guess (Paul Marciano), Gap (Don and Doris Fisher), Michael Kors, Marc Jacobs, Donna Karan, Stuart Weitzman, Mango (Andic family), Pronovias (Palatchi family), food brands like  Danone/Dannon (Carasso family, Isaac Carasso and his son Daniel), Starbucks coffeehouse chains (Howard Schultz), ice cream Häagen-Dazs (Reuben and Rose Mattus), Dunkin’ Donuts (William Rosenberg), toys companys (Hasbro –Hassenfeld Brothers–, Mattel –Elliot and Ruth Handler–, Toys “R” Us –Charles Lazarus–),the Big Four advertising agencies (WPP, Omnicom, Publicis, Interpublic), or distribution companies such as Sears, Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s, Khol’s, Marks & Spencer, John Lewis, etc.

In short, Jewish talents gave a boost to the global art market (Solomon Guggenheim, Paul Rosenberg, Alfred Lindon, Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, Leo Castelli), linguistics (Émile Durkheim, Marcel Mauss, Roman Jakobson), modern philosophy (Edmund Husserl, Wittgenstein, Bergson, Levinas, Popper, Lévi-Strauss, Cassirer, Hannah Arendt, Derrida, Simone Weil, Walter Benjamin, Adorno, Marcuse, Martin Buber, Erich Fromm, Isaiah Berlin, Gershom Scholem, Raymond Aron, Zygmunt Bauman, Edgar Morin), modern literature (Proust, Kafka, Bruno Schulz, Stefan Zweig, Joseph Roth, Ana Frank, Iréne Némirovsky, Elie Wiesel, Asimov, Perec, Koestler, Arthur Miller, Saul Bellow, Philip Roth, Paul Auster…), great photographers (Andre Kertész, Man Ray, Alfred Stieglitz, Robert Capa and Magnum Photos, Richard Avedon, Annie Leibovitz), the great ballet dancers (Ida Rubinstein, Maya Plisétskaya, Alicia Markova), film directors (Eisenstein, Fritz Lang, Billy Wilder, Wyler, Cukor, Kubrick, Lumet, Polanski, Woody Allen, Spielberg, Coen brothers… more than three hundred great filmmakers), Classic music (Felix Mendelssohn, Johann Strauss, Mahler, Schönberg, Gerswin, Copland, Rubinstein, Leonard Bernstein, violinists Jascha Heifetz and Yehudi Menuhin) and pop music (Bod Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Lou Reed, Mark Knopfler, Neil Diamond, Simon & Garfunkel, Lenny Kravitz, Amy Winehouse, Billy Joel, Serge Gainsbourg, Marc Bolan from T. Rex, The Ramones, Beck, Adam Levine from Maroon 5), the invention of Esperanto (L.L. Zamenhof),

hundreds of Nobel Prizes, the creation of the Pulitzer Prizes and the Pritzker ((Nobel prizes of architecture, Pritzker family), the invention of UNICEF (Ludwik Rajchman), the NBA league (Maurice Podoloff) and American Hockey League (AHL), and even the comic superheroes of Marvel (Stan Lee), DC and others (Superman, Batman, Spiderman, X-Men), and of course the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 (written by René Cassin).

From Abraham to Moses, from Jesus Christ (Yehoshua) to Maimonides and Spinoza, from Marx to Freud, from Kafka to Einstein, Jews have almost always been great subjects of history. The Jewish Museum of Spain explains how, when and why.

© Diego Moldes González              © Fundación Hispanojudía

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