In honor of Labor Day, we compiled a short-list of noteworthy hard-laboring Jews since the dawn of time.
Noah is the tenth of the pre-flood Patriarchs. The story of Noah’s Ark is told in the book of Genesis flood narrative; because God saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become, his heart became deeply troubled, and he wanted to wipe the human race from the world. However, Noah was a righteous man and found favor in the eyes of God. He was commanded to build an Ark for he and his family:
“...make yourself an ark of cypress wood; make rooms in it and coat it with pitch inside and out. This is how you are to build it: The ark is to be three hundred cubits long, fifty cubits wide and thirty cubits high.] Make a roof for it, leaving below the roof an opening one cubit high all around. Put a door in the side of the ark and make lower, middle and upper decks.” (Genesis)
This labor and preparation of the ark for certain animals, Noah and his family, was the foundation of the new world that God created. This work led God to promise that he would never send another flood.
"Let me now go to the field, and glean ears of corn after him in whose sight I shall find favor."
The Book of Ruth is one of the Five Megillot in the Hebrew Bible. It tells the story of Ruth accepting the Israelite God as her own, while she stayed with her mother-in-law Naomi after her husband . While Ruth lived with her mother-in-law, she took part as an agricultural worker in the field of Boaz, which led her to ultimately marry him.
While the Book of Ruth is traditionally told during Shavuot which celebrates the wheat harvest in the land of Israel, the themes focus heavily on the importance of an all inclusive attitude towards foreigners as suggested by Ruth’s transition into the Israelites, and Boaz’s kindness towards her.
Judah Maccabee is one of the great warriors of history who is celebrated on Hanukkah where we commemorate the restoration of Jewish worship at the temple in Jerusalem in 164 BCE. He laid the foundation of the future Hasmonean state, after he removed the Hellenistic statuary.
Judah received his surname - Maccabee - in the early days of rebellion. While there are many different explanations offered for this derivation, some claim that it stems from the Aramaic maqqaba, which is makebet in modern Hebrew, meaning “hammer” or “sledgehammer.” This name is symbolic of Judah's hard work and fierceness in battle, which he demonstrated in building a foundation for the Jewish people.
Theodor Herzl (May 2nd, 1860 - July 3rd, 1904)
“If you will it, it is no dream”
Theodor Herzl was an Austro-Hungarian journalist, playwright, political activist, writer, and builder of the State of Israel. He is one of the fathers of modern political Zionism, and formed the World Zionist Organization. He outlined his vision for a Jewish state in Der Judenstaat (The Jewish State, 1896), where he expressed that diplomacy offered the most efficient path to achieving the dream of Jewish statehood. Herzl pursued meetings with heads of state and other leaders from the Jewish community, in order to ensure that they would have the proper resources necessary to form a Jewish state. Although he did not live to see all that his accomplishments lead to, Herzl built the country from the ground up and devoted his life to this pursuit.
Theresa Wolfson (1897-1972)
Theresa Wolfson was an economist and educator, who taught at Brooklyn College from 1929 until her retirement in 1967. She published works in the fields of labor economics and industrial relations. As early as 1916, Wolfson was focused on the barriers to advancement of women in the workplace as well as the unequal treatment women experienced within trade unions. She taught adult students in the educational department of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU) and Headgear Workers Union (1921-1927), and many more.
Even as the Jewish labor movement was being harrowed due to political divisions, many Jewish women such as Theresa Wolfson worked hard to encourage and provide benefits for women workers.
Okay, so he isn’t exactly a laborer but this Jewish, American comedian volunteered at the age of 17 in Kibbutz Sa’ar in 1971. His reflection on this time: “I didn’t like the kibbutz. Nice Jewish boys from Long Island don’t like to get up at six in the morning to pick bananas.” We applaud him for trying!