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WN-WZ Archives | Shengold Jewish Encyclopedia
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WOUK, HERMAN (1915-2019).

American author. Best known for The Caine Mutiny and writing about Judaism for the secular public.

Born into an Orthodox Jewish immigrant family from Minsk, Belarus. The middle of three children, his younger brother Victor was a brilliant electrical engineer.

When Wouk was 13, his grandfather, Rabbi Mendel Leib Levine, immigrated to America and this had a strong impact in Wouk’s Jewish education and inspired Wouk’s lifelong dedication to Judaism. Wouk said “When my grandfather came he brought a whole different attitude into our lives … What he said was in his action. There is nothing more important than being a Jew. Nothing.”

For much of his life, Wouk studied the Talmud daily and led a weekly Talmud class. Wouk attended and supported many synagogues throughout his life. Kesher Israel Georgetown Synagogue in Washington D.C. is known as “Herman Wouk’s synagogue.” Wouk called it “the best little shul in America.” Later he attended Chabad of Palm Springs. Wouk was a dedicated supporter of Israel and was awarded the Bar-Ilan University Guardian of Zion Award in 1998.

He attended Columbia University and studied psychology and literature, graduating in 1934. While at Columbia he wrote a humor column for the campus newspaper and edited the Jester, a humor magazine. He later received an honorary degree from Yeshiva University in 1954.

Wouk started his writing career in radio. From 1936-1941, he wrote jokes and sketches for radio host Fred Allen. After Pearl Harbor, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy and served as a radio officer aboard two destroyer minesweepers in the Pacific where he participated in eight campaigns, won several battle stars, and achieved the rank of lieutenant. Wouk’s experiences in the U.S. Navy strongly influenced his later writings, and he was presented with the United States Navy Lone Sailor Award in 1987.

Herman Wouk was a prolific author and he remained an immensely popular and influential author throughout his life. The Caine Mutiny won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1952. Wouk appeared on the cover of Time magazine in 1955 when Marjorie Morningstar was published. He won the Jewish Book Council Lifetime Literary Achievement Award (1999), and the Library of Congress Lifetime Achievement Award for the Writing of Fiction (2008).

Many of his books became bestsellers and Book of the Month Club selection. Among his most popular novels are The Winds of War (1971), and War and Remembrance (1978). His autobiography and last book, Sailor and Fiddler: Reflections of a 100-Year Old Author, was published in 2016.

Herman Wouk helped adapt several of these books into movies, television, or theatre. In 1952, The Caine Mutiny was made into a movie starring Humphrey Bogart and was adapted into a Broadway play “The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial.” Marjorie Morningstar was adapted into a movie in 1958 starring Natalie Wood and Gene Kelly. The Winds of War and War and Remembrance were both turned into television miniseries.

Wouk also wrote non-fiction, most notably This is My God: The Jewish Way of Life (1959) which is an attempt to explain Judaism to Gentiles and more secular Jews. It is still popular today.

His Judaism and Jewish background was important and made significant appearances in his other works as well as he tapped into his own heritage and Orthodox Jewish upbringing. This makes him fairly unique among popular writers.

WOLFSON, SIR ISAAC (1897-1991).

British businessman and philanthropist. Born in Glasgow, Scotland, of Eastern European immigrant parents, he has worked since age 14 and now heads a chain of 2,600 retail stores in Great Britain, Canada, and South Africa; he controls the largest mail-order enterprise outside the U.S. Wolfson is active in innumerable Jewish organizations, and has contributed more than $1 million to the Weizmann Institute of Science, as well as considerable funds to Youth Aliyah and other institutions. Heichal Shlomo, a religious center in Jerusalem, was built by him as a memorial to his father. In 1955, he set up the Isaac Wolfson Foundation which has since donated more than $15 million to worthy British causes. He was created a baronet in 1962 “for philanthropic services.” Wolfson was an observant Jew and served as president of the United Synagogue. In March 1963, Sir Isaac made a contribution of rare munificence in the sum of $2 million to help develop community projects in Acre, Israel. The unparalleled extent and variety of his benefactions places him in the foremost ranks of philanthropists in Jewish history.

WOMEN'S AMERICAN ORT.

See ORT.

WOMEN’S LEAGUE FOR CONSERVATIVE JUDAISM.

Previously known as National Women’s League of the United Synagogue of America. An organization of women belonging to sisterhoods of the Conservative synagogues throughout the United States and Canada. Founded in 1917 by the wife of Solomon Schechter, the organization totals more than 800 sisterhoods with a membership of more than 200,000 women affiliated with the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.

The goal of Women’s League is to bring the ideas of Conservative Judaism to the attention of the American Jewish woman. For this purpose, the organization fosters study courses, Judaism-in-the-home Institutes, and synagogue libraries. It publishes books for children, education and program kits, a magazine called The Outlook. The organization sponsors a comprehensive Leadership Training Program to prepare leaders for local sisterhoods. Its Social Actions Committee seeks to give American Jewish women a better understanding of their civic responsibilities. The League helps to support the Jewish Theological Seminary of America through the Torah Fund. It is one of the sponsors of the United Synagogue Youth and cooperates with other organizations in civic welfare and Israel projects.

WORKMEN'S CIRCLE.

Jewish fraternal order organized in 1892 to protect working immigrants in the U.S. and assist them in times of illness or unemployment. These arrivals, mainly in New York‘s East Side, who became needle workers, carpenters, painters, laundryman, and cleaners, were immediate beneficiaries of the new order. In 1984, there was a membership throughout the U.S. and Canada of 50,000, in more than 280 functioning branches. The Circle operated a system of medical aid, hospitalization, and various forms of insurance and direct benefits. It had summer camps, women’s clubs, homes for the aged, burial grounds, high schools and teachers’ seminaries, educational publications, and other periodicals in English and Yiddish. Aid has been extended to Yiddish schools in South America and other centers. Notably, the Circle supported Jewish and non-Jewish victims of need and discrimination in the Americas and abroad.

WORLD JEWISH CONGRESS.

Founded at Geneva in August 1936, the World Jewish Congress (WJC) assumed responsibility for consultations on behalf of persecuted Jews in various countries and in the councils of the League of Nations. It was active in the planning of the Evian Conference on Refugees in 1938. Following the failure of that conference, it continued to work to save Jews from the clutches of the Nazis and their allies. At the end of World War II, the WJC worked with and on behalf of the survivors of Nazi terror, the Jewish displaced persons all over Europe and Africa. During the Nuremberg war crimes trials the WJC served in a consultative capacity, supplying factual dossiers from its files. The WJC has also consistently helped Israel.

Representatives of the WJC attended the founding conference of the United Nations at San Francisco in 1945. They worked for the inclusion of rights planks in the UN charter and for the most democratic structure possible for the UN. The WJC serves as a consulting organization for the UN and its specialized agencies, concerning itself with such matters as human rights, genocide, and cultural affairs.

The WJC was active in the negotiations which resulted in the agreements by Germany and Austria to pay collective restitution to Jews for damages done by the Nazis. It is a member of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.

WJC offices in various countries represent Jews individually and Jewish communities collectively in negotiations with governments with regard 10 various political and related problems.

Sixty-six countries have affiliates of the WJC. There were regional councils in the Americas and Europe. Full Congress meetings were held at Montreux, Switzerland, in 1948 and in Geneva in 1953.

In recent years the WJC was active in uncovering the war crimes of Kurt Waldheim, who, while becoming president of Austria, also was proclaimed a persona non grata in the U.S. It also became involved in claims against Swiss banks which kept accounts deposited by former Nazis, consisting of funds stolen from Jewish victims of the Holocaust.

The official aims of the World Jewish Congress are coordination of the efforts of its affiliated organizations in respect to the political, economic, social, and cultural problems of the Jewish people; securing and defending the rights, status, and interests of Jews and Jewish communities throughout the world; assisting their creative development; and representing and acting on their behalf before governmental, inter-governmental, and international authorities.

WORLD ZIONIST ORGANIZATION.

Organized in 1897, the 204 delegates to the first Congress represented many Zionist societies in 17 countries. The Congress elected Theodor Herzl as the first president of the World Zionist Organization and worked out a constitution with the Basle Program as its basic plank. The constitution provided that any Jew could become a member of the World Zionist Organization by subscribing to the Basle Program and by paving the minimal dues, called a shekel. The Zionists of each country elected one delegate to the Zionist Congress for each unit of 1,500 shekel holders. The Congress in session served as the governing body of the Zionist movement. Each Congress elected two bodies: the general council, or actions committee, to determine Zionist policy between sessions, and the executive, to carry on day-to-day Zionist affairs. As the movement grew, right- and left-wing parties developed programs reflecting the times, conditions, and the thinking of the various groups within the Jewish communities. These parties, advocating their particular programs for the upbuilding of Palestine, became constituent organizations, elected delegates to the Congress, and were represented on the Actions Committee and on the Executive. (See also General Zionism, Mizrachi, and Labor Zionism.)

WOUK, VICTOR (1919-2004).

Electrical engineer. Considered the father of electric and hybrid cars.

The child of Russian-Jewish immigrants, Wouk is the brother of novelist, Herman Wouk.

After attending Columbia University, he received his  Ph.D. from the California Institute of Technology, which contains his archives. During World War II, he worked on the Manhattan Project, developing the nuclear bomb. After the war, he established and sold two electrical companies.

Wouk was a pioneer in developing and standardizing electrical and hybrid cars. Along with his colleague Charles Rosen, they created the first full-power, full-size hybrid car in 1972. Although their prototype exceeded the the EPA’s Clean Car Incentive Program’s standards, the EPA refused to produce or support the vehicle. It was not until 1997 that the first commercially produced hybrid car was released. It relied on Wouk’s principles and innovations.

Wouk was a philanthropist, and was a board member of the 92nd Street Young Men’s and Young Women’s Hebrew Association, a chairman of the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies, and a supporter of the Yeshiva University. He was also active in the New York Academy of Science and various technical committees.

Although he personally was not very religious, he regularly attended an Orthodox synagogue with his family.

In 2005 he was posthumously awarded the Elmer A. Sperry Award for Advancing the Art of Transportation.

WYOMING.

Of the state‘s 450 Jews, 230 live in Cheyenne. Jewish settlement dates back to the 1860’s, when Jewish peddlers and traders began to arrive in the state. The first congregation did not get organized until 1915.

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