Stamp of Approval


A picture may be worth 1,000 words — but it will only cost you 37 cents. This month the U.S. Postal Service is issuing American Scientists commemorative stamps honoring two of the keenest Jewish minds of the 20th century: physicist Richard P. Feynman and mathematician John von Neumann.

Feynman, a free-spirited scientist, musician, linguist and bon vivant, shared the 1965 Nobel Prize in Physics for his contributions to quantum electrodynamics.

A native of Far Rockaway in Queens, New York, Feynman helped develop the atomic bomb during World War II, while still in his 20s. For nearly 30 years, he was a professor at Caltech, where he was equally famed for his path-breaking research as his spellbinding classroom lectures. He was also the subject of the movie “Infinity” and the play “QED.”

Caltech will celebrate the stamp issue on May 20 by screening a documentary featuring Feynman, who died in 1988 at the age of 69, and display his memorabilia and books, including his popular “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman.”

Feynman was honored in Far Rockaway on May 11 when the Postal Service released his stamp in a ceremony featuring drumming (one of his favorite recreations), readings from his popular works and the “renaming” of Comaga Avenue to Richard Feynman Way.

Von Neumann, born into a Jewish family in Budapest, was an innovator in quantum mechanics and game theory and is considered a chief architect of the computer age. He joined the Princeton Institute for Advanced Study in 1933 as one of its original faculty and led the team that developed the pioneer IAS computer in the late 1940s.

A secular Jew, Von Neumann — who married his first wife, a Catholic, in 1930, and converted to her faith to placate her parents — passed on the specifications for his creation to the Weizmann Institute of Science, allowing it to build the first computer in Israel and the Middle East.

He played influential roles in the development of the atomic and hydrogen bombs, and died in 1957 at the age of 53.

Also being recognized with his own stamp is lyricist E.Y. (“Yip”) Harburg, who is being honored in a separate Art series for “writing the lyrics to more than 600 songs distinguished by their intelligence, humanity and inventiveness,” according to the citation.

Born on New York’s Lower East Side of Russian Jewish immigrant parents, Harburg is best known for his lyrics to “Cabin in the Sky,” “Bloomer Girl,” “Wizard of Oz” and “Finian’s Rainbow.” Among his most memorable songs are “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?” “April in Paris” and “It’s Only a Paper Moon.”

Each of the stamps features a portrait of the honoree and drawings illustrating his or her major contributions.