February 22, 2019

Azerbaijan and the Ironic History of the Nobel Peace Prize

Soviet tanks in Baku, Azerbaijan in January 1990. Photo: RFE/RL

When the name Nobel comes to mind, most think of the famous Swedish chemist Alfred Nobel, the invention of dynamite and the prestigious prize awarded to some of the greatest innovators and activists in the world. But few know that Alfred Nobel had two brothers that amassed a major part of the family wealth from their dominance in the oil industry of Baku, the capital city of Azerbaijan, which, at the end of the 19th century was producing 50 percent of the world’s oil.

Alfred Nobel never actually visited Azerbaijan, but his brothers, Robert and Ludvig, and their descendants, spent decades living there, on a mansion called Villa Petrolea, surrounded by their fruitful oil fields. It was clear that the Nobel brothers didn’t simply view Azerbaijan as a place to do business; they were known to love Baku and the unique history of Azerbaijan.

It’s somewhat ironic to recall the October 1990 Nobel Peace Prize Committee announcement that Mikhail Gorbachev, president of the Soviet Union at the time, would be awarded the most prestigious Nobel Peace Prize. Ironic because of the violence and criminality associated with his leadership. In Azerbaijan, hundreds of innocent, civilian lives were lost to the actions of Gorbachev, and our nation is not alone in that. Ten months before the prize was awarded, Gorbachev sent 26,000 Soviet troops to Baku with orders to kill peaceful demonstrators indiscriminately, who were demanding freedom for Azerbaijan from the Soviet Union.

On that day, January 20, 1990, hundreds of men, women, children were slaughtered, and approximately 1,000 were wounded in a massacre, which the Human Rights Watch would later call a “collective punishment.” This marked the first time the Soviet Army took one of its own cities by force. Lives were stolen from Muslim, Christian and Jewish communities — nobody was safe during those most chilling days in Baku, when human beings were hunted on the streets and in their homes simply for their desire to be free.

The Soviet empire was collapsing, and Baku was Gorbachev’s last stand at exerting power and terror over the region. Fortunately, he failed, and in the days following the massacre, thereafter known to the world as “Black January,” more than 1 million Azerbaijanis flooded the streets of Baku to mourn the victims, to show to the world that despite Soviet aggression they would not live in fear, and stand up and celebrate the failure of the Soviets’ last attempt to stop them achieving the freedom of their nation.

The march and general strike in honor of those lives lost to tyranny lasted 40 days, and regenerated the spirit and resolve of the Azerbaijani people to continue embracing progress and peace and to stand bravely in the face of brutality. Later, Azerbaijan became one of the first Soviet republics to declare its sovereignty, and its independence was fully restored, following the collapse of the USSR in 1991.

I cannot imagine the reaction of Ludvig and Robert Nobel, were they still in the world, to learn that their Peace Prize had been awarded to a man who murdered and wounded so many civilians in a nation they not only called home for many years. A nation where they made a significant amount of their family fortune, much of which went to fund the Peace Prize, to the extent that the prize would not be possible without it. A nation that they spent their personal funds beautifying, where they built homes and dreams for the future, and where they lived among Azerbaijani people, side by side, as friends and neighbors.

Thankfully today, 29 years after the tragedy of Black January, Azerbaijan continues to thrive, in energy, technology, diplomacy and as a model for multicultural and multifaith harmony, where Muslims, Christians, Jews, Baha’is and others live in peace, dignity and mutual respect. The spirit of Nobel of innovation, courage, creativity and hope— is still embodied in Baku and across the entirety of our nation.

The Nobel brothers y would be so pleased with present-day Azerbaijan, as a leader in business and energy today, and undoubtedly a leader in what matters most of all peace.

Avram Hershko Talks Cancer Research, Winning the Nobel and His Grandchildren

Photo from Wikipedia

Prominent American and Israeli cancer scientists convened in November at City of Hope’s Duarte campus for a symposium to network, take part in lectures and share groundbreaking research. Through the Jacki and Bruce Barron Cancer Research Scholars’ Program, scientists funded by City of Hope and the Israel Cancer Research Fund (ICRF) work together regularly to combine forces in the fight against cancer.

Among the featured lecturers was Avram Hershko, 79, an Israeli Nobel laureate in Chemistry whose breakthroughs in the field of cell division have helped the medical community treat certain forms of cancer. The Journal spoke with Hershko about his research and its applications, and the value of international collaboration in the field of cancer research.

Jewish Journal: How did your research help with understanding cancer?

Avram Hershko: I was working on a basic science problem, which is how proteins degrade in cells. It turned out to be very important in understanding health and cancer because proteins control cell division and cancer is actually uncontrolled cell division. So if protein degradation is not working well, then cell division is not working, or working too well. That’s what cancer is.

JJ: What about the drug Velcade?

AH: It was not developed by me, but developed by the pharmaceutical industry. But it was based on our research. This drug inhibits a certain enzyme in the protein degradation system called the ubiquitin system. It’s very effective in fighting some cancers, like multiple myeloma and bone marrow cancer. It made a huge change in the treatment for those cancers. Now, many people can have many more years of good-quality life.

“Remember, cancer is not one disease. It’s thousands of different diseases.”

JJ: Why did you want to come to this symposium?

AH: There are collaborations happening between City of Hope scientists and Israeli scientists, and I was very curious to hear about everything they are doing. It’s always good in science to have interaction. Science is very international. That’s how science progresses, like we have here with City of Hope scientists working with Israeli scientists promoted by the ICRF. Also, I wanted to see Los Angeles again. It’s always nice to come back here.

JJ: Are you still performing research?

AH: I’m still doing research and being supported by ICRF. I have an active laboratory at the Technion medical school. I’m not retired, which is an achievement in and of its own. I like to do experiments myself. I do a couple every week. I have a research group of students and technicians who help me in my research. I’m still working mostly on the role of the ubiquitin system and its controls on cell division.

JJ: Many call Technion the MIT of the Middle East. So, Technion or MIT?

AH: Well, the Technion is better than MIT because it has a medical school. Otherwise, MIT is quite good. It’s OK.

JJ: Moving forward, what’s the next big step in your field of research? What are you working toward?

AH: Remember, cancer is not one disease. It’s thousands of different diseases. But they have a common denominator and that is uncontrolled cell division. If I go after more knowledge in cell division, it may lead in the future to some common treatments for many cancers. That is my idea, anyway.

JJ: What was it like winning the Nobel Prize?

AH: Normally, I’m not one for ceremonies, but it’s the highest recognition of achievement in science. It was very pleasant. People in Israel watched it on live television. That was a very proud moment for Israel and for my family. It was very nice to share it with my wife, three kids and all my grandchildren.

JJ: What do you do for fun when you’re not in the laboratory?

AH: I spend time with my six grandchildren. I won’t tell you about them because if I start I won’t stop.

Q&A with Barry Barish on His Nobel Prize — and Why He Never Wrote That Novel

California Institute of Technology physicist Barry Barish poses outside his home after winning the 2017 Nobel Prize for Physics, which he shares with Caltech's Kip S. Thorne and MIT's Rainer Weiss, in Santa Monica, California, U.S. October 3, 2017. REUTERS/Patrick T. Fallon (Newscom TagID: rtrlnine183133.jpg) [Photo via Newscom]

Albert Einstein published his theory of general relativity in 1915. But it would take the work of a soft-spoken Jewish physicist and Caltech professor from Santa Monica to help prove the most significant implication of that theory.

In recognition of the discovery, Barry Barish, 81, was awarded the Nobel Prize in physics on Oct. 3, along with colleagues Kip Thorne of Caltech and Rainer Weiss of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Their accomplishment: observing gravitational waves, phenomena that Einstein predicted in his 1915 theory. Scientists say the discovery has changed how they study the universe.

Jewish Journal: What’s the significance of your discovery?

Barry Barish: After 100 years, we have for the first time shown that one of Einstein’s main predictions is true — that there are gravitational waves. Einstein had two new predictions from general relativity. One was that light would bend. That was tested in 1919, and basically, he was proven right. The second prediction was gravitational waves, which took us 100 years to prove. The theory itself, which is thought by most to be rather obscure, you use every day, probably. Your GPS on your cellphone wouldn’t work without general relativistic

JJ: How so?

BB: The satellites are high up, so the gravitation field where they are is about a quarter of what it is for us on the Earth. And they’re going at a reasonable fraction — about a quarter — of the speed of light. So, basically, there are general relativistic corrections for that. If you didn’t make that correction and you started on the road, you’d drift off the road within a minute or two.

JJ: How is your discovery going to change the way we study the universe?

BB: Everything we know about the universe is studied by using telescopes or other instruments that look at visible light, infrared, ultraviolet or X-ray — different wavelengths of electromagnetic interactions. Only 4 percent of what’s in the universe gives off electromagnetic radiation, so we don’t have any handle on the rest. Now, we have a new way to look at the universe, looking at gravitational effects instead of electromagnetics. That’s the long-term future.

JJ: Your son, Kenneth Barish, is also a physics professor. Is he upset that he has bigger shoes to fill now?

BB: No, he’s thrilled. He works in a different field of physics, teaching at UC Riverside, so I think for him it’s all very good. I don’t think all of a sudden my shoes have gotten too big for him.

JJ: When do you go to Sweden to accept the prize?

BB: The Nobel ceremony is always on Dec. 10, no matter what day of the week it falls on. And you have to go about a week early because they have an infinite number of events. I have to wear coattails and all that kind of stuff.

JJ: Is there part of you that would rather just have a quiet ceremony and get back to work?

BB: You’ll have to ask me afterward. At this point, it sounds overwhelming. I have a hand-me-down tux that I’ve used, but I never bought one. I never have owned a suit until now.

JJ: Would you rather just be left alone to do science?

BB: Well, look, if it goes on too long, I think it will get tiring. I mean it’s tiring anyway — it’s so much. But it’ll take time to tell. Right now, it’s kind of stimulating. I’m happy to ride the wave at this point.

JJ: What keeps you busy when you’re not in the laboratory?

BB: I live on the Santa Monica Beach and bike up and down almost every day. I like exercise, and I like literature a lot and plays and things like that. When I was really young, my ambition wasn’t to do science. I didn’t really know that I could. It was to write a great novel.

JJ: Did you ever start writing it?

BB: No. Too busy doing science.

Rainer Weiss, scientist who fled Nazis, among Nobel Prize in Physics winners

Physicist Rainer Weiss at his home in Newton, Mass., on May 13, 2016. Photo by Craig F. Walker/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Three American scientists were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics, including one who fled the Nazis with his parents and another whose grandparents were Polish immigrants.

Rainer Weiss, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Kip Thorne and Barry Barish, both of the California Institute of Technology, were awarded the prize on Tuesday for the discovery gravitational waves, which were predicted by Albert Einstein a century ago.

Gravitational waves are ripples in space and time that help scientists explore objects in space.

Weiss won half of the $1.1 million prize, with Barish and Thorne sharing the other half.

The Nobel winners and the late Ron Dreyer, also of Caltech, founded the international collaboration of physicists and astronomers known as LIGO, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory. In February 2016, they announced that they had recorded gravitational waves emanating from the collision of a pair of black holes a billion light years away.

Drever died this year; the Nobel Prize is not awarded posthumously.

Weiss, 85, was born in Berlin to a non-Jewish mother and a Jewish father. The family fled Berlin for Prague when Weiss was a baby because his father was Jewish and a member of the Communist Party. After the Munich agreement in 1938, the family left Prague for the United States. Weiss earned his doctorate from MIT and in 1964 joined its faculty.

Barish, 81, was born in Omaha, Nebraska, and grew up in Los Angeles, the son of Lee and Harold Barish, the children of Polish immigrants to the United States. He earned his doctorate in 1962 from the University of California, Berkeley, and joined Caltech in 1963.

Thorne, 77, received his doctorate from Princeton University in 1965 and joined Caltech in 1967.

Listen to Bob Dylan’s epic Nobel Prize award lecture

Bob Dylan on Feb. 6, 2015. Photo by Michael Tran/FilmMagic

Bob Dylan waited over six months after winning the Nobel Prize in Literature to give a lecture to the Nobel’s Swedish Academy — a requirement of receiving the award. But his talk does not disappoint.

The academy released Dylan’s nearly half-hour lecture in full on Monday. In it, the Jewish folk rocker dissects three of the many works of literature that have informed his view of the world over the years: “Moby Dick,” “All Quiet on the Western Front” and “The Odyssey.” The whole thing is delivered in vintage Dylan rasp over a backing soundtrack of soft piano music — in other words, it should be immensely satisfying to most Dylan fans.

Listen to the speech on YouTube.

Bob Dylan gets his Nobel diploma and gold medal in small Stockholm ceremony

Bob Dylan on Feb. 6, 2015. Photo by Michael Tran/FilmMagic

American singer-songwriter Bob Dylan has received his Nobel diploma and his gold Nobel medal in Stockholm.

The Swedish Academy met on Saturday with Dylan in a private ceremony in order to present him with the trappings of his Nobel Prize for Literature, Sara Danius, secretary of the Swedish Academy, said Sunday in a blog post.

“Spirits were high. Champagne was had. Quite a bit of time was spent looking closely at the gold medal,” Danius wrote.

The small and intimate ceremony without media present was requested by Dylan, who shuns the spotlight.

Danius and several other members of the Swedish Academy attended one of Dylan’s two sold-out concerts on Saturday night at the Waterfront concert house in Stockholm.

Dylan must deliver a Nobel lecture by June, or forfeit the $927,740 prize, though he will still be considered the laureate. Danius said in a blog post last week that he will likely send a taped version of his lecture to the Academy at a later date.

After the announcement in October that he had been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, Dylan told the Swedish Academy that he would be unable to travel to Stockholm for the December ceremony to receive his Nobel Prize, citing “pre-existing commitments.”

Dylan’s prize was announced on Oct. 13 “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.” The academy said later that after five days of trying to contact Dylan to inform him of the award, it had given up. Dylan acknowledged the prize two weeks later.

Born Robert Allen Zimmerman and raised Jewish in Minnesota, Dylan wrote some of the most influential and well-known songs of the 1960s. His hits include “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “Like a Rolling Stone” and “The Times They Are a-Changin’.”

Dylan, 75, was the first artist seen primarily as a songwriter to win the literature award, a fact that has stirred debate in literary circles.

Bob Dylan speech at Nobel: Never had time to ask myself if my songs were literature

Singer-songwriter Bob Dylan said in a speech read at the Nobel Prize awards presentation that he “never could have imagined” that he would receive the Nobel Prize for Literature.

“If someone had ever told me that I had the slightest chance of winning the Nobel Prize, I would have to think that I’d have about the same odds as standing on the moon,” Dylan wrote in the speech read Saturday night by the U.S. ambassador to Sweden, Azita Raji, in Stockholm. “I recognize that I am in very rare company, to say the least.”

Dylan, who last month told the Swedish Academy in a letter that he would be unable to travel to the Swedish capital to receive his Nobel Prize, citing “pre-existing commitments,” said in the letter that “I’m sorry I can’t be with you in person, but please know that I am most definitely with you in spirit and honored to be receiving such a prestigious prize.” He said it took him “more than a few minutes to properly process” the fact that he won the prize.

He said he thought that William Shakespeare would have thought of himself as a dramatist – wondering where he could procure a human skull for Hamlet and how to stage his plays — rather than considering if what he wrote was literature.

Singer Patti Smith performed Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” in an arrangement for the Royal Philharmonic by Hans Ek, but had to apologize after blanking out on some of the lyrics due to nervousness.

Born Robert Allen Zimmerman and raised Jewish in Minnesota, Dylan, 75, wrote some of the most influential and well-known songs of the 1960s. His hits include “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “Like a Rolling Stone” and “Times They Are a-Changin’.”

Dylan in his speech said when he started writing songs as a teenager, his big dream was to make a record and hear his songs on the radio.

“I’ve made dozens of records and played thousands of concerts all around the world,” he said. “But it’s my songs that are at the vital center of almost everything I do. They seemed to have found a place in the lives of many people throughout many different cultures, and I’m grateful for that.

“Not once have I ever had the time to ask myself, ‘Are my songs literature?'” he added, concluding: “So, I do thank the Swedish Academy, both for taking the time to consider that very question, and, ultimately, for providing such a wonderful answer.”

Dylan is still required to deliver a Nobel lecture in order to receive the $927,740 prize. The lecture must be given within six months starting from Dec. 10, and can be given at the place of Dylan’s choosing. The academy has indicated that the lecture could be a concert.

Also speaking at the banquet, the Swedish Academy’s literary historian Horace Engdahl said Dylan “gave back to the language of poetry its elevated style, lost since the Romantics.”

Faith and doubt: S.Y. Agnon’s Nobel Prize, 50 years later

On Dec. 10, 1966, Shabbat in Stockholm ended at 3:55 p.m. This gave Israeli writer S.Y. Agnon; his wife, Esther; and their daughter, Emunah, exactly 35 minutes to travel from the Grand Hotel to the Stockholm Concert Hall, where Agnon would receive the Nobel Prize in Literature. 

As Shabbat ended, Agnon prayed the evening Maariv service, made Havdalah for his family, and — being that it was the fourth night of Chanukah — lighted four candles and recited all of the accompanying blessings. He rushed to get dressed in his tuxedo and tails, and the family then met the limousine driver who hurriedly drove them to the ceremony. To save time, Agnon shaved in the limo. 

When Agnon arrived and ultimately took the stage to receive his Nobel Prize from Swedish King Gustav VI Adolf, the audience noticed that in place of a top hat, Agnon had a black velvet yarmulke perched atop his head. Upon receiving the prize from the king, Agnon recited the Hebrew blessing traditionally said upon seeing a king. He then delivered his acceptance speech in an ancient Hebrew dialect, staking his claim as a Hebrew writer representing the continuity of a canon of sacred literature: 

“Who were my mentors in poetry and literature? First and foremost, there are the Sacred Scriptures, from which I learned to combine letters. Then there are the Mishnah and the Talmud and the Midrashim and Rashi’s commentary on the Torah. After these come the Poskim — the later explicators of Talmudic Law — and our sacred poets and the medieval sages, led by our Master Rabbi Moses, son of Maimon, known as Maimonides, of blessed memory.”

On this night, the European-born boy originally known as Shmuel Yosef Czaczkes became the first-ever Hebrew language writer to be awarded a Nobel Prize. Moreover, he did so as a citizen of the State of Israel, becoming the country’s first Nobel Prize winner in any category (and to this day, its only winner in literature).

When reading Agnon, who moved to Palestine as a young immigrant in 1908, one is treated to a unique and unprecedented literary experience, where modern-day stories are composed in a Hebrew that is entirely ancient, with the narrative and dialogue creatively woven from phrases lifted directly from biblical, talmudic and rabbinic literature. This, along with Agnon’s observance of Jewish law, paints the portrait of what one might call a “religious writer.” 

But was Agnon a religious writer?  

In her memoir, Emunah Yaron (Agnon’s daughter) addresses the question of her father’s religiosity and faith: “There are many who did not believe that my father was an observant Jew, even though a big black kippah always covered his head. There are those who said that this kippah was simply a mask, a deceiving appearance intended to fool the public into believing that he was actually a religious Jew who observed the commandments.”

What could possibly account for this widely held perception among many of Agnon’s readers? Yaron continues: “Perhaps the lack of belief by many in my father’s religiosity stems from the fact that in reading my father’s works, they often detected in his plots and characters subtle or even overt theological speculations into religious matters, which many of his readers interpreted as outright heresy.”

In Agnon’s story “The Dust of the Land of Israel,” the narrator proclaims: “The doubters and skeptics, and all who are suspicious of things — they are the only people of truth, because they see the world as it is. They are unlike those who are happy with their lot in life and with their world, who, as a result of their continuous happiness, close their eyes from the truth.”

Agnon’s masterpiece novel, “A Guest for the Night,” is full of cynicism toward God. The novel grew out of Agnon’s visit in 1930 to his birthplace in Buczacz, Poland (now part of Ukraine).  The narrator returns to visit his hometown, Shibush (a sarcastic play on Buczacz — the Hebrew word “shibush” means “disorder” or “confusion”), and finds it completely desolate, bearing the evidence of the ruins of war and pogroms. 

The people he meets in Shibush are crippled physically and emotionally, including Daniel Bach, whose brother has recently been killed and who has himself seen a corpse, wrapped in a prayer shawl, blown up. Bach declares, “I’m a simple person, and I don’t believe in the power of repentance … I don’t believe that the Holy One, Blessed be He, wants the best for his creatures.” Later in the novel, the narrator echoes Daniel’s bitter reflections: “If it is a question of repentance, it is the Holy One, Blessed be He — if I may say so — who ought to repent.”

Agnon (center) at the 1966 Nobel Prize ceremony. Photo courtesy of Zion Archives

Although “A Guest for the Night” could easily be understood as Agnon’s post-Holocaust lamentation on the destruction of Eastern European Jewry, he actually wrote the novel in the 1930s, and it was published in 1939 — all before the Shoah. Agnon’s novel foresaw the dark fate of Eastern European Jewry, including the last remaining Jews of Agnon’s hometown Buczacz, where he was born in 1888. As such, Agnon’s bitter indictments of God take on somewhat of a prophetic tone.

In Amos Oz’s semiautobiographical “A Tale of Love and Darkness,” the Israeli author devotes an entire chapter to Agnon, where he writes, “Agnon himself was an observant Jew, who kept the Sabbath and wore a skullcap. He was, literally, a God-fearing man: in Hebrew, ‘fear’ and ‘faith’ are synonyms … Agnon believes in God and fears him, but he does not love him.”

Oz also explored these issues in “The Silence of Heaven: Agnon’s Fear of God,” where he writes that Agnon’s heart was “tormented by theological doubts” and that Agnon’s characters often treat their challenges in life as “religious issues — providing that the term ‘religious’ is broad enough to encompass doubt, heresy and bitter irony about Heaven.” 

When asked if Agnon was a “religious writer,” Emunah Yaron writes that her father’s response was that he was “an author of truth, who writes things as he sees them, without any ‘make-up or rouge’ camouflaging the face of things, without any décor trying to deter the eye from the core issues.”

“For these very reasons” writes Yaron, “my father — who was a religiously observant Jew — refused to join the Union of Religious Writers in Israel.” 

As an observant Jew writing from within the tradition, Agnon reminds us that it is possible to observe God’s commandments and pray to God while simultaneously struggling with God.

In the story “Tehilah,” Agnon has the narrator standing at the Kotel — Judaism’s holiest site — contemplating prayer: “I stood at times among the worshippers, and at times among those who question.”

That’s life in an Agnon story. Indeed, 50 years after Agnon’s Nobel Prize — that’s life.

Report: Bob Dylan still has not mentioned Nobel Prize

American singer and songwriter Bob Dylan has not been in contact with the Swedish Academy since it awarded him the Nobel Prize for Literature last week.

Dylan also has not made a public statement about the honor, the New York Times reported Tuesday.

Sara Danius, the permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, told Swedish public radio on Monday that the academy has been in contact with an associate of Dylan, but not with Dylan himself. It is not known whether Dylan will attend the award ceremony with the other Nobel laureates in Stockholm on December 10.

“I have called and sent emails to his closest collaborator and received very friendly replies. For now, that is certainly enough,” Danius said, according to the newspaper.

Dylan and his band played a concert in Las Vegas hours after the announcement on October 13, and did not mention the honor. On Friday he performed at Desert Trip, the classic-rock festival in Indio, Calif., and also did not mention the Nobel Prize.

Dylan is well known for giving few interviews and not interacting with his audiences, according to the Times.

Dylan, 75, was recognized for “having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition,” the Swedish Academy, which is responsible for choosing the Nobel laureates in literature, announced last week.

Several writers have called on Dylan to turn the prize down, which Jean-Paul Sarte did in 1964.

Born Robert Allen Zimmerman and raised Jewish in Minnesota, Dylan wrote some of the most influential and well-known songs of the 1960s. His hits include “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “Like a Rolling Stone” and “Times They Are a-Changin’.”

Dylan is the first American to receive the prize in more than 20 years. He will receive the $927,740 prize in Stockholm on Dec. 10, which is Alfred Nobel’s birthday.

Online streaming of Dylan music jumps 500 percent

Online streaming of Bob Dylan’s music has increased by more than 500 percent since announcement of his 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature.

The Spotify digital music platform said Friday, a day after the prize was announced, that streams of Dylan songs increased by 512 percent and the most listened to song was “Like a Rolling Stone,” the Associated Press reported.

Dylan, 75, was recognized for “having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition,” the Swedish Academy, which is responsible for choosing the Nobel laureates in literature, announced  Thursday.

Born Robert Allen Zimmerman and raised Jewish in Minnesota, Dylan wrote some of the most influential and well-known songs of the 1960s. His hits include “Blowin’ in the Wind,” and “Times They Are a-Changin’.”

Bob Dylan and Philip Roth bring it all back home

As a fan who runs the “Bob Dylan: Tangled Up in Jews” website, I should be ecstatic at the Nobel Prize in Literature awarded to the writer whose words have been the soundtrack to my life since I first sang them at a Jewish summer camp some 40-odd years ago.

However, as an editor of a New Jersey Jewish newspaper located just 23 miles from the Newark neighborhood of Weequahic where Philip Roth grew up and placed so much of his fiction, I should be heartbroken that Roth, also rumored to be a contender for the prize, lost out — again.

So, to quote the laureate, how does it feel?

Roth, 83, and Dylan, 75, have a great deal in common.

Both are the grandchildren of Jewish immigrants. Their fathers were middle class: Herman Roth was an insurance salesman. Abe Zimmerman had an appliance store in Hibbing, Minnesota.

Each was an early herald of the escape from middle class norms that defined the 1960s.

Young Robert Zimmerman dropped out of college, moved to New York City, sought out folk singer Woodie Guthrie as an inspiration and role model, made up fantastical stories about running away from home as a child, and changed his name to Bob Dylan. He would soon be dubbed “the voice of his generation” for warning “mothers and fathers throughout the land” that “the times they are a-changin’.”

Young Philip Roth graduated college, attended graduate school, became a teacher and earned literary respectability with stories in The New Yorker in the late 1950s. But his first short stories told of Jews who refused to either fully assimilate or to behave: Jewish soldiers who lied about Yom Kippur to get an extra pass from the army; a child who refused to except Hebrew school dogma; and, perhaps most presciently, a suburban Long Island householder who becomes a Hasid.

Even before he portrayed an unmarried nice Jewish girl worrying about birth control or a not-so-nice Jewish boy soiling the family dinner, Roth’s willingness to tell the story of his Jewish community in public earned anger and disapproval, perhaps most famously when he appeared on a 1962 panel at Yeshiva Collegealongside Ralph Ellison. The tone of the evening was summed up in the words of a Yeshiva educator who wrote, in a letter to the Anti-Defamation League, “What is being done to silence this man?”

For Roth’s and Dylan’s Eastern European forebears, the choice was simple if not always easy: You were either in the community or out. Were you a Jew or did you abandon the faith? The dilemma was not unique to America: “Fiddler on the Roof” captures the mood of Russian Jews worried about their children’s fate more than a century ago. Would they fall in love with a Christian and convert out? Would they fight for a tradition-annihilating Communist revolution?

In the postwar American Jewish community, these concerns were expressed in the language of sociology. Assimilation or continuity? Exogamy or endogamy? But really the question came down to a phrase of black dialect, set down in a story by a Jewish writer, and popularized in a song the senior Roths and Zimmermans possibly danced to during World War II: “Is You Is or Is You Ain’t My Baby?”

Looking at young Philip and young Robert, say, a decade after their bar mitzvahs, it is easy to imagine the dismay of a generation of Jewish mothers and fathers. Their sons and their daughters — certainly Philip and Robert — were beyond their command.

What did that bode for the Jewish people?

The answer turned out to be blowing through the words they wrote and the lives they lived. They were not, despite the very Jewish blessing contained in a song Dylan wrote for his son Jakob, forever young. Instead, they matured and grew, coupled and uncoupled and recoupled, even matured into nostalgic elders, and along the way chronicled and contributed to the mixed-up confusion that is contemporary American Jewish life.

Dylan felt the surrealistic quality of the present while yearning deeply for the past. He tells of devouring Civil War newspapers in the New York Public Library when he was first living on borrowed sofas in Greenwich Village. His most recent 21st-century songs mashed up phrases from 19th-century poets and prewar blues singers into a timeless collage.

This mix of past and present works with a spirituality that is largely absent from the work and life of Roth, a proud atheist. Each man toyed with the question of making his life in Israel. (Dylan started filling out paperwork to move to a kibbutz; Roth imagined a counterlife where he was Israeli.) But it was Dylan who was photographed at the Western Wall for his son’s bar mitzvah; who became a born-again Christian follower of the evangelist Hal Lindsey; who performed on a Chabad telethon; who showed up on Yom Kippur at Chabad houses across the country, and who was seen occasionally at student performances at his grandchildren’s Jewish day school.

The question of in or or out, whether for an individual or a generation, has no easy answer because people are never static. The enfant terrible matures, kicking and screaming, into the elder statesman. It was 50 years ago that Dylan “went electric” and embraced rock ‘n’ roll; who can count the stages between then and his present status as a gravelly voiced interpreter of Frank Sinatra songs? Roth began as a naughty young Jewish writer, became a champion of Eastern European authors and let his early ambition to be a great American novelist play out as the grand chronicler of lives lived amid historical moments, capturing the eras of his lifetime, including the McCarthy era, the ’60s counterculture, the presidency of Bill Clinton and, in his 2004 novel of alternate history, “The Plot Against America,” World War II. That book is a prescient depiction of the temptations and consequences of America First nativism and anti-Semitism and features not only a conspiracy-mongering President Charles Lindbergh but a bullying developer who is described as a “cheapskate,” “screamer,” “shouter” and “a man without a friend in the world.”

For that reason, a Nobel nod to Roth right now might have been seen as more Swedish meddling in American politics, akin to President Obama’s peace prize. Yet Dylan, too, is a rebuke to the Trump moment — not only for his youthful support for the civil rights movement as a songwriter and performer (he professed to abandoning politics back in 1964, singing that he was “younger than that now” and has, with a handful of exceptions, remained apolitical since), but for showing that singing American and being American is as rooted in the language and songs of the African slaves as it is in the folk immigrants from England and Scotland, and that a grandson of Russian Jewish immigrants can nurture himself and his country by grafting on to these deep roots.

In awarding a literature prize to a songwriter for the first time, the Nobel Committee honored Dylan for the boundaries he broke in the genre of popular song. Surrealism, anger, confusion — again and again Dylan found words with old echoes for ideas new to the radio and record player.

And it is for this, for using old words in new ways, that I come down on the side of Dylan over Roth. Roth beautifully, masterfully chronicles the life of American Jews. But in recombining old texts for new times, Dylan hearkens back to the most ancient Jewish way of reading and writing, from the first compilers of the Bible, through the rabbis of the Talmud and the Zohar, to the Yiddish and Hebrew writers of the past two centuries.

In that, Dylan puts me in mind of the Jewish writer who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1966, Shmuel Yosef Agnon. Like Roth, Agnon chronicled the lives of Jews in their times. Like Dylan, Agnon creates something new from old language, using the words and phrases and images from the prayer book and midrash to tell his tales — with more than a touch of the mythical and surreal thrown in for good measure.

Roth, for all his brilliant sentences and psychological awareness, is a writer of Jews.

In making newspaper headlines sound like ancient wisdom, Dylan is a Jewish writer.

The German Nobelist who defied Hitler

The auction of a Nobel Prize gold medallion on Thursday (4/30) has brought unexpected attention to a German professor who shielded Jewish students during the Hitler era and defended anti-Nazi resistors.

The Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded in 1927 to Heinrich Otto Wieland, a biochemistry pioneer, for his research on the constitution of bile acids. Subsequently, he determined the chemical structure of cholesterol.

After the passage of the racist Nuremberg Laws in 1935, which called for the expulsion of all Jewish, or partially Jewish, students, Wieland used his prestige and position as professor at the University of Munich to retain his Jewish students as his “personal guests.”

One of his protected students was the half-Jewish Hans Conrad Leipelt, a member of the White Rose anti-Nazi resistance group, who was denounced to the Gestapo.

In a rare display of civic courage, Prof. Wieland testified on behalf of Leipelt, who was nevertheless condemned by a Nazi court and decapitated in early 1945. Wieland’s position and prestige saved him from a similar fate.

The Nobel medal, whose gold value alone stands at about $8,700, was put on the market by the late scientist’s grandson through Nate D. Sanders Auctions of Los Angeles.

Bidding started at $325,000 and closed at $395,000, according to Sanders spokesman Sam Heller. In line with company policy, Heller did not disclose the name of the successful bidder.

Since 1901, a total of 889 Nobel Prize medals have been awarded, of which only eight were sold or auctioned off by the recipients or their descendants. The prize for Wieland’s 23-karat medallion is in the middle range of the eight sold.

The Nobel Peace Prize awarded in 1903 to Britain’s William Randal Cramer for his work in promoting arbitration of international disputes, fetched only $17,000. On the other end of the scale, the medal awarded British scientist James Watson, the co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, was bought for $4.76 million by a Russian billionaire, who then returned the medal to Watson.

Illustrating the vagaries of the market, Francis Crick, the co-discoverer with Watson of the DNA structure, got only $2.3 million for his Nobel medallion.

The heirs of William Faulkner, winner of the 1949 Nobel Prize in Literature, withdrew the medallion from bidding when the highest auction bid got stuck at $425,000.

Albert Einstein bequeathed his 1921 Nobel Prize medal in Physics for display at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

Modiano, writer of memory and guilt under Nazi occupation, wins Nobel literature prize

French writer Patrick Modiano has won the 2014 Nobel Prize for Literature for works that made him “a Marcel Proust of our time” with tales often set during the Nazi occupation of Paris during World War II, the Swedish Academy said on Thursday.

Relatively unknown outside of France and a media recluse, Modiano's works have centred on memory, oblivion, identity and guilt. He has written novels, children's books and film scripts.

“You could say he's a Marcel Proust of our time,” Peter Englund, permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, told reporters.

The academy said the award of 8 million Swedish crowns ($1.1 million) was “for the art of memory with which he has evoked the most ungraspable human destinies and uncovered the life-world of the occupation”.

His first novel 'La Place de l'Etoile', published in 1968, remains probably his best known book and touched on many themes that he would return to throughout his career, including the fate of the Jews under the Nazis.

Little of his writing is available in English but his roughly 40 works include “A Trace of Malice”, “Missing Person,” and “Honeymoon”. His latest work is the novel “Pour que tu ne te perdes pas dans le quartier”.

Modiano, reacting to the award, said he felt like he had been writing versions of the same book for many years.

“What I am keen to see are the reasons why they chose me … One can never really be one's own reader,” he told a news conference in Paris. “Even more so because I have the impression of writing the same book for 45 years.”

The writer said he would dedicate the prize to his Swedish grandson.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said: “He is undoubtedly one of the greatest writers of recent years, of the early 21st century. This is well-deserved for a writer who is moreover discreet, as is much of his excellent work.”

Modiano, 69, was born in the Paris suburb of Boulogne-Billancourt in July 1945, several months after the official end of the Nazi occupation in late 1944.

His father was Jewish and his mother Flemish and non-Jewish. They met during the Occupation and that mixed heritage combined with moral questions about France's relations with Nazi forces have played an important role in his novels.

“Ambiguity, this is one of the characteristics of his work,” said Dr. Alan Morris, senior lecturer in French at Strathclyde University. “There is an attempt to try and reconstruct some kind of story from the past, but it inevitably proves impossible.”

Modiano was a protege of novelist Raymond Queneau, famous for his experiments with language. Modiano has already won France's prestigious Goncourt prize in 1978 for his work.

“Of the unique things about him, one is of course his style which is very precise, very economical. He writes small, short, very elegant sentences,” Englund said. “And he returns to generally the same topics again and again, simply because these topics cannot be exhausted.”

Modiano became a household name in France during the late 1970s but never appeared comfortable before cameras and soon withdrew from the gaze of publicity.

He is also known for having co-written the script of Louis Malle's controversial 1974 movie “Lacombe Lucien” about a teenager living under the Occupation who is rejected by the French resistance and falls in with pro-Nazi collaborators.

“After each novel, I have the impression that I have cleared it all away,” Modiano told France Today in a 2011 interview. “But I know I'll come back over and over again to tiny details, little things that are part of what I am.”

“In the end, we are all determined by the place and the time in which we were born.”

Jo Lendle, his German publisher at Hanser publishing house, said: ”He was an author that was on the list for a long long time.

“We waited with him and now he won the prize. We are overwhelmed.”

Bookies had made him one of the favourites along with Japanese writer Haruki Murakami and Kenyan writer Ngugi wa Thiong'o. U.S. writer Philip Roth, a perennial contender, was also overlooked.

The most number of winners of the literature prize have gone to authors who have written first in English, followed by French and German. Modiano is the 11th person from France to win the literature prize – the last was Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio in 2008.

Literature was the fourth of this year's Nobel Prizes. The prize is named after Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, and has been awarded since 1901 for achievements in science, literature and peace in accordance with his will. (1 US dollar = 7.1446 Swedish crown)

Additional reporting by Simon Johnson, Mia Shanley and Johan Ahlander in Stockholm; Mark John and Nick Vinocur in Paris,; Kirsti Knolle in Frankfurt, Editing by Crispian Balmer and Angus MacSwan

Gary Becker, Nobel Prize-winning economist, dies

Gary Becker, a Nobel Prize-winning economist, has died.

Becker, who won the Nobel in economic sciences in 1992, died Saturday in Chicago. He was 83.

A professor of economics and sociology at the University of Chicago, Becker also received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He was known for applying economic analysis to human behavior and daily life.

His teacher and mentor was Milton Friedman, also a University of Chicago economist and fellow Nobel Prize winner.

Becker, who was Jewish, was best known for his work in labor economics.

Year in Review: Highlights of 5773

From wars and elections to scandals and triumphs, here’s a look back at the highlights of the Jewish year 5773.

September 2012

Sept. 19: Islamists throw a homemade grenade into a Jewish supermarket near Paris, injuring one. The incident is part of a major increase in attacks on Jews in France in 2012.

October 2012

Arlen Spector

Oct. 14: Arlen Specter, the longtime moderate Jewish Republican senator from Pennsylvania whose surprise late-life party switch back to the Democrats helped pass President Barack Obama’s health care reforms, dies at 82 following a long struggle with cancer. During his time in the Senate, Specter offered himself as a broker for Syria‑Israel peace talks and led efforts to condition aid to the Palestinian Authority on its peace process performance.

Oct. 15: Alvin Roth and Lloyd Shapley, American economists with ties to Israeli universities, win the Nobel Prize for economics.

The Israeli Knesset votes to dissolve, sending Israel to new elections for the first time since 2009.

Oct. 17: Jewish groups pull out of a national interfaith meeting meant to bolster relations between Jews and Christians following a letter by Protestant leaders to Congress calling for an investigation into United States aid to Israel.

Women of the Wall leader Anat Hoffman is arrested at the Western Wall and ordered to stay away from the site for 30 days after attempting to lead a women’s prayer group at the holy site in violation of Kotel rules. The incident, which is witnessed by dozens of American participants in town for the centennial celebration of the women’s Zionist group Hadassah, stokes outrage among liberal American Jewish groups.

Oct. 22: Hurricane Sandy hits the East Coast, killing more than 100 and causing an estimated $50 billion in damages. The populous Jewish areas of New York and New Jersey see extreme damage, and a Jewish man and woman are killed by a falling tree in Brooklyn. Synagogues and Jewish organizations nationwide join efforts to raise money to help victims of the superstorm.

Mitt Romney, left, and Barack Obama

Oct. 25: Israel, a heated issue throughout the U.S. presidential campaign, is mentioned 31 times by Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney at the final presidential debate, which was devoted to foreign policy and held in Boca Raton, Fla. Both candidates sought to score points on the issue, but actual policy differences seemed to be in short supply.

With a charter flight of some 240 Ethiopian immigrants, the Israeli government launches what it says is the final stage of mass immigration from Ethiopia to Israel. The following summer, the Jewish Agency announces that the last Ethiopian aliyah flight will take place in August 2013.

November 2012

Nov. 11: Moscow’s Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center opens to great fanfare.

Nov. 6: Obama is re-elected, with exit polls giving the incumbent about 68 percent of the Jewish vote — down from the estimated 74 to 78 percent in 2008. Many of the campaign battles between Jewish surrogates were fought over Middle East issues, but surveys suggested that like most other voters, American Jews were most concerned with economic issues.

Nov. 7: Major League Baseball player Delmon Young pleads guilty to misdemeanor charges related to an incident in New York in which the Detroit Tigers’ designated hitter yells anti‑Semitic slurs at a group of tourists talking to a homeless panhandler wearing a yarmulke. Young is sentenced in Manhattan Criminal Court to 10 days of community service and ordered to participate in a mandatory restorative justice program run by the Museum of Tolerance in New York.

Nov. 14: After days of stepped-up rocket attacks from Gaza, Israel launches Operation Pillar of Defense with a missile strike that kills the head of Hamas’ military wing in Gaza, Ahmed Jabari. In all, six Israelis and an estimated 149 to 177 Palestinians are killed during the weeklong exchange of fire. Egypt helps broker the cease-fire between the two sides.

A constitutional court in Poland bans shechitah, ritual slaughter, along with Muslim ritual slaughter. An effort in July to overturn the ban fails.

Mohamed Morsi

Nov. 27: The decision by Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi to grant himself near-absolute powers dismays U.S. and Israeli observers just days after Morsi is lauded for helping broker a Hamas-Israel cease-fire. Morsi backtracks in December, but the move helps stoke popular discontent in Egypt with the country’s first democratically elected president.

Nov. 28: The United Nations General Assembly votes 138 to 9, with 41 abstentions, to recognize Palestine as a state. Passage of the resolution, which does not have the force of law, prompts condemnations from the United States and warnings of possible penalties, but none are invoked. Israel responds with its own dire warnings and announces new settlement constriction in the West Bank. Over the course of months, the change in status in the U.N. proves largely irrelevant.

December 2012

Dec. 4: After months of occasional cross-border fire on the Golan Heights, including errant Syrian and rebel shells landing in Israel, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says the Syrian government is violating a 1974 disengagement agreement with Israel by deploying military equipment and troops over the cease-fire line.

Ahmed Ferhani, 27, an Algerian immigrant living in New York, pleads guilty to planning to blow up synagogues in New York City.

Dec. 10: In a case that ignites passions in the Charedi Orthodox community in Brooklyn, Satmar Chasid Nechemya Weberman, an unlicensed therapist, is found guilty of 59 counts of sexual abuse. Days later, a Chasidic assailant throws bleach in the face of a community rabbi, Nuchem Rosenberg, who advocates for victims of sex abuse. In January, Weberman is sentenced to 103 years in prison.

Dec. 12: German lawmakers pass a bill enshrining the right to ritual circumcision but regulating how circumcisions are to be conducted. The law displaces a ban on Jewish ritual circumcision imposed by a court in Cologne in June.

Dec. 13: Yeshiva University President Richard Joel apologizes for alleged instances of sexual misconduct and harassment by two former faculty members — Rabbis George Finkelstein and Macy Gordon — at the university’s high school more than two decades earlier.

Dec. 14: Numerous Jewish groups call for stricter gun control regulations after a gunman kills 20 first‑graders and six adults in Newtown, Conn. The youngest victim is a 6-year-old Jewish boy, Noah Pozner.

Dec. 18: Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, the leader of one of London’s largest congregations and a former chief rabbi of Ireland, is named Britain’s chief rabbi-designate. This fall he is to succeed Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, who has served in the post since 1991.

A Paris court orders Twitter to monitor and disclose the identities of users from France who posted anti-Semitic comments online, including Holocaust denials. Twitter later appeals the decision but loses, and the U.S.-based company complies with the demand in July.

January 2013

Jan. 4: Video emerges from 2010 of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi — then a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood — calling Jews “bloodsuckers” and “descendants of apes and pigs.” Morsi tells U.S. senators that he gets bad press because “certain forces” control the media.

Jan. 10: Obama nominates Jacob Lew, his chief of staff and an Orthodox Jew who frequently serves as an intermediary with Jewish groups, to be secretary of the Treasury Department.

Jan. 18: Data released from a 2011 survey of New York-area Jews shows that two-thirds of the rise in New York’s Jewish population over the previous decade occurred in two Charedi Orthodox communities in Brooklyn — a sign that Orthodox Jews will constitute a growing share of America’s Jewish population.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in September 2012.

Jan. 22: Benjamin Netanyahu wins re-election as Israel’s prime minister, but his Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu faction suffers significant losses at the polls, falling to 31 seats. The big winners are two newcomer parties: Yair Lapid’s centrist, domestic-focused Yesh Atid, which comes in second with 19 Knesset seats, and Naftali Bennett’s nationalist Jewish Home, which wins 12 seats. Both later opt to join Netanyahu’s coalition government, which takes nearly two months to assemble.

Jan. 29: Iran and Argentina sign an agreement to form an independent commission to investigate the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, which killed 85 people and was blamed on Iran. Argentinian and American Jews denounce the agreement as a farce. Iran’s parliament has yet to sign off on the pact.

Jan. 30: Amid concerns that Syrian President Bashar Assad may be transferring chemical weapons to Hezbollah, Israeli planes bomb a Syrian weapons transport on the Lebanese border. It is one of several Israeli strikes in Syrian territory during the year.

February 2013

Ed Koch

Feb. 1: Ed Koch, the pugnacious former New York City mayor whose political imprimatur was eagerly sought by Republicans and Democrats, dies at 88 of congestive heart failure. At his funeral, a cast of political luminaries remembers him as a friend of Israel and the Jewish people.

Feb. 5: Bulgaria affirms that Hezbollah was behind the attack in Burgas in July 2012 that killed six people, including five Israelis. The finding adds to pressure on the European Union to recognize Hezbollah as a terrorist entity. After concerns are expressed in the ensuing months that Bulgarian officials are backing away from their assertions, Bulgaria’s foreign minister reassures Israel on the attack’s one-year anniversary that Bulgaria still holds Hezbollah responsible.

Feb. 12: The Australian Broadcasting Corp. identifies a man known as “Prisoner X,” who hanged himself in a maximum-security Israeli prison in 2010, as Australian-Israeli citizen Ben Zygier. Zygier is said to have worked for the Mossad.

Feb. 21: A British court convicts three British Muslims of plotting to carry out terrorist attacks in the country, including on Jewish targets.

March 2013

March 4: Vice President Joe Biden tells thousands of American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) activists meeting in Washington that Obama is “not bluffing” when he says he will stop Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.

March 8: The U.S. State Department cancels plans to honor Egyptian human rights activist Samira Ibrahim after opponents note that anti‑Jewish tweets were posted on her Twitter account.

Doheny Glatt Kosher Meat Market

March 12: Mike Engelman, the owner of Doheny Glatt Kosher Meat Market in Los Angeles, is videotaped directing his employees to unload boxes of meat from his car while the store’s kosher supervisor is absent. The footage leads the Rabbinical Council of California to revoke the shop’s kosher certification the day before Passover, leaving many kosher consumers in the lurch.

March 20: Obama makes his first visit to Israel since taking office in 2008. In a speech upon arrival at the airport, Obama says the United States is Israel’s “strongest ally and greatest friend.” His trip receives widespread praise from Jewish groups.

March 22: Following prodding by Obama, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Netanyahu agree to resume normal ties after Israel apologizes for the deaths of nine Turks in 2010 during a clash with Israeli commandos aboard the Mavi Marmara, a ship attempting to break Israel’s blockade of Gaza. Erdogan later balks, saying normalization will not take place until Israel fulfills its obligations under the agreement.

Berlin’s Jewish Museum provokes controversy with its “Jew in a Box” exhibit (formally titled “The Whole Truth”), in which Jews spend a shift sitting in a glass box and answering questions from visitors.

March 28: A Lebanese-Swedish citizen is convicted in Cyprus on charges of spying on Israeli tourists for Hezbollah. The closely watched trial is a sign of Hezbollah’s expansion of terrorist activities into Europe and fuels calls for European Union countries to designate Hezbollah a terrorist organization.

April 2013

April 10: Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian Authority prime minister who was lauded for his technocratic approach toward state building in the West Bank, resigns. He is replaced in June by university president Rami Hamdallah, who announces after two weeks on the job that he is quitting.

French Chief Rabbi Gilles Bernheim

April 11: French Chief Rabbi Gilles Bernheim resigns following revelations that he plagiarized the work of others in his books and claimed unearned academic titles.

April 12: After being asked by Israel’s prime minister to come up with a solution to the Women of the Wall controversy, Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky proposes that the Robinson’s Arch area of the Western Wall be expanded and renovated to allow for egalitarian prayer there at any time. Reaction to his proposal is mixed.

April 15: Rabbi Michael Broyde, a prominent legal scholar in the Modern Orthodox community and professor at Emory University, is forced to step down from a leading religious court after admitting that he systematically used a fake identity in scholarly journals. The admission followed a report by The Jewish Channel exposing the ruse.

April 19: The Museum of the History of Polish Jews opens in Warsaw.

April 24: Bret Stephens, a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post and now deputy editorial page editor of The Wall Street Journal, wins the Pulitzer Prize for commentary.

April 23: The Jewish Museum of Casablanca reopens following a major renovation funded by the Moroccan government. The renovation is part of a broad effort led by Morocco’s king to restore Jewish heritage sites in the country, including an ancient synagogue in Fez and dozens of former Jewish schools.

May 2013

May 13: Following complaints from pro‑Israel groups, the Newseum in Washington cancels a planned honor for two slain Palestinian cameramen employed by a Hamas affiliate.

Eric Garcetti

May 22: Eric Garcetti, a veteran L.A. city councilman, becomes the city’s first elected Jewish mayor. With his victory, America’s three largest cities boast Jewish mayors.

The Claims Conference is embroiled in controversy after the public learns that officials at the organization failed to adequately follow up on allegations of fraud in 2001, missing an early chance to stop what turned into a $57 million scheme. The disclosure comes during the trial of the scheme’s mastermind, Semen Domnitser, who is found guilty. In July, the Claims Conference board agrees to some outside input in formulating plans for its future but votes to re-lect its embattled chairman, Julius Berman, who oversaw a botched probe in 2001 into the allegations.

Arvind Mahankali

May 30: A 13‑year‑old Indian‑American boy, Arvind Mahankali, spells the Yiddish‑derived word “knaidel” correctly to win the 2013 Scripps National Spelling Bee.

June 2013

June 3: U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg dies at age 89 after a long and accomplished career advocating for Jewish issues.

Jun. 10: Yeshivat Maharat, a women’s seminary started by Rabbi Avi Weiss in 2009, graduates its first class of Orthodox women clergy known as maharats.

June 14: The Canadian Jewish News decides to abort a plan announced in April to stop printing the newspaper.

June 21: Israel’s Ashkenazic chief rabbi, Yona Metzger, is arrested on suspicion of fraud and money laundering.

June 26: Liberal Jewish groups hail the Supreme Court decision striking down California’s ban on gay marriage, while Orthodox groups express muted disappointment.

July 2013

July 1: In a letter announcing his retirement, Yeshiva University Chancellor Norman Lamm issues an apology for mishandling sex abuse allegations decades earlier against faculty members at the university’s high school for boys. Days later, several former students file a $380 million lawsuit against the university.

July 5: Three campers at the Goldman Union Camp Institute near Indianapolis are injured, one critically, in a lightning strike. A few days later, a Jewish camp counselor is killed by a falling tree at Camp Tawonga, a Northern California camp located near Yosemite National Park.

Michael Oren

Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, announces he will return to Israel after four years in the position. He is to be replaced by Ron Dermer, a senior adviser to Netanyahu. Both ambassadors are American born.

July 9: Egypt’s army deposes President Mohamed Morsi, the country’s first democratically elected leader. The Obama administration stops short of calling the action a coup, avoiding an automatic cutoff in U.S. aid to Egypt. Morsi had become deeply unpopular among liberal and secular Egyptians but retained deep-rooted support among members of his Muslim Brotherhood.

July 11: Portugal enacts a law of return to make citizenship available to Jewish descendants of Portuguese Sephardic Jews. The move is intended to address the mass expulsion of Jews from Portugal in the 16th century.

July 18: The European Union issues new guidelines prohibiting grants to Israeli entities in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Golan Heights and eastern Jerusalem, prompting an outcry from Israeli officials.

July 22: The European Union designates the military wing of Hezbollah as a terrorist organization.

July 23: In New York, Jewish mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner admits to engaging in lewd online exchanges after his resignation from Congress amid a sexting scandal in 2011, but he declines to withdraw from the race. Meanwhile, San Diego’s Jewish mayor, Bob Filner, rebuffs calls to resign as he faces a barrage of sexual harassment allegations, including from staffers. Instead, Filner takes a two-week leave of absence to undergo sex therapy. Eventually, he agrees to resign, effective Aug. 30.

July 24: Rabbis David Lau and Yitzchak Yosef, both sons of former Israeli chief rabbis, are elected Israel’s Ashkenazi and Sephardi chief rabbis. Days later, Lau is caught on tape using a derogatory term to describe black basketball players.

19th Maccabiah Games

July 27: The 19th Maccabiah Games open in Israel with a record number of athletes.

July 29: After months of intense shuttle diplomacy by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Israelis and Palestinians restart direct negotiations for the first time in three years.

August 2013

Aug. 13: In a goodwill gesture to accompany renewed peace talks with the Palestinians, Israel releases the first 26 of 104 Palestinian prisoners, including terrorists convicted of murder.

William Rapfogel

Aug. 14: William Rapfogel, the longtime CEO of New York’s Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, is fired and apologizes for misconduct and alleged financial improprieties, including allegedly inflating insurance bills and pocketing the overcharges for himself.

Palestinian prisoners are released in advance of peace talks.

Aug. 19: As Egypt’s military rulers kill hundreds of civilians in a crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, Israel lobbies behind the scenes against a cut in U.S. aid to Cairo.

On Einstein and God

On October 8, 2012, a handwritten letter was set for auction on e-bay.  It sold, 10 days later, with a winning bid of over $3M.  The handwritten letter was penned by Albert Einstein to Jewish philosopher Eric B. Gutkind in January 1954, a year before Einstein’s death.  In the letter, the Nobel Prize winning physicist called religion childish and made light the idea of Jewish “chosenness.”

“For me the Jewish religion like all other religions is an incarnation of the most childish superstitions,” Einstein wrote.  “…As far as my experience goes, [the Jewish people] are no better than other human groups, although they are protected from the worst cancers by a lack of power. Otherwise I cannot see anything chosen about them.”

Einstein’s genius was, undoubtedly, his clarity.  Where scientists the world over struggled to explain phenomena which didn’t follow a trajectory, he sensed the framework which pulled them together.  He saw order where others saw confusion, rules where others saw chaos. His genius was more than mere brilliance – being able to compute facts and figures quickly.  It was his vision, sensing the sum where others saw parts, the end where others saw the process.  His discoveries were rightfully lauded because they uncovered physical order in a complicated world, and resolved age old dilemmas.  

Science is amoral; the splitting of the atom can be used for good or evil purposes.  It is also “areligious.”  Einstein had the equal opportunity to attribute the organization he discovered to an Organizer who purposefully desired for life to flourish, or to the random forces of happenstance.      

Religion and science are said to be the great rivals of the 19th and 20th Centuries.  But, in truth, they share significant points of agreement.  Both science and religion agree that God that cannot be seen under the microscope.  Both science and religion agree that God cannot be measured, charted or bent.  The debate is whether God can be experienced, spoken to, and connected with.  Judaism says that He can, via the soul, a spark of Divine within each one of us, the force the pulls us to the permanent, the force that pulls us to eternity, the force that pulls us to morality.  Science does not comment as it can only study physical phenomena.  Judaism says that the soul cannot be measured or charted, but that it is the most central part of our being, an idea that mirrors the experience of the majority of mankind.  Science does not comment, as it, by definition, recluses itself to assessments of entities within time and space. 

Einstein was raised secular, lived secular and was most animated by secular ideas; it is hard to imagine that he could have connected the dots from persistent design to purposeful Designer.  A cultural Jew, his comments on life and living, history and theology are those of one trying to make sense of the Jews in a god-detached world.  His understanding of anti-Semitism and the historical oddity of the Jew were spot on, but when he speaks of God he speaks, not of science which has no comment, but of his own experience. He did not have a relationship with God.

In a March 24, 1954 letter, he is quoted as writing, “It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly.

Einstein was perhaps the most famous agnostic of his time.  Yet, I would argue that he held an underlying appreciation of God in the most traditional Jewish way. 

In October 1933, Einstein took a position at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, New Jersey.  This was the final chapter is his research, and, coming at the height of his fame, a period that allowed him to expound upon any area of science he chose.

He chose to spend much of his time working on the Unified Field Theory.  Simply put, there are four interactive forces which keep the physical world together: strong interaction, weak interaction, electromagnetic interaction and gravitational interaction.  In the Unified Field Theory, Einstein worked to discover the force that holds it all together.  He spent all that time searching for unity because, undoubtedly, he intuited that there is a Unifying force.

Einstein spent 20 years trying to find the “one” in “four.”   Interestingly, the Torah speaks about the spiritual taking on physical form as one becoming four.  Genesis 2:10 recounts: And a river went out of Eden to water the garden; and from there it was parted, and became into four streams.

Man’s ability to connect to and speak to that God is the wonder that Judaism taught the world.  It is the gift that never stops giving.  The human is predisposed to this relationship and its soul craves it. In retrospect, it is unfortunate that Einstein, in a 20 year search for the idea that keeps it all together, failed to relate to the Hand that holds it all together.

As of October 18, the most expensive paper Einstein ever wrote is one that negates much of traditional Jewish belief. But to me, the most important paper he ever wrote is the one he never completed, the Unified Field Theory.  It is, in fact, the mission of the Jew that remains until this day: promoting monotheism, a United God, who is the source of all pleasure and challenge, hope and purpose. May we encourage the world to connect to the Force that, truly, holds it all together.

The author of two books and the  Director of The Jewish Centre’, Yaakov Rosenblatt is a rabbi in Dallas, Texas 

Jewish economist Alvin Roth ‘surprised,’ ‘delighted’ by Nobel Prize

U.S. economist Alvin Roth, winner of the 2012 Nobel prize for economics on Monday with colleague Lloyd Shapley, was “surprised” and “delighted” when he got the midnight call at his California home telling him he had won.

“I am having my first sip of coffee right now,” said Roth, who is Jewish, speaking to Reuters from his home before dawn. “I have mostly been celebrating by speaking on the telephone for the last hour. I am hoping that life will get back to normal pretty soon.”

Roth, a professor at Stanford University, and Shapley, a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, won the award for research on how to match different economic agents, such as students for schools or organ donors with patients.

“We were called in the middle of the night. We're in California, it's still pitch-dark here and we got a telephone call,” said Roth. “I'm delighted to have been selected.”

“It was very unexpected, not unimaginable,” he added. “So yes, I am very surprised.”

Shapley, a retired professor emiritus, could not immediately be reached for comment. A spokesman for the university said he had not taught a course there for some time.

Roth said he expects to travel to Sweden with his wife to pick up the prize. He says it is still too early to say what he will do with the prize money.

He will be taking his morning classes as usual at Stanford after holding a press conference.

“Scientific work is a team effort,” he said. “Lots and lots of people are represented by this prize and I imagine I'll be talking to some of them and it's a good thing for many young people who work in the area of market design, which is the area my colleagues and I are trying to develop.”

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, which made the award, said the 8 million crown ($1.2 million) prize recognized “the theory of stable allocations and the practice of market design.”

The award citation said Shapley had used game theory to study and compare various matching methods and how to make sure the matches were acceptable to all counterparts, including the creation of a special algorithm.

Roth followed up on Shapley's results in a series of empirical studies and helped redesign existing institutions so that new doctors could be matched with hospitals, students with schools or patients with organ donors.

“This year's prize is awarded for an outstanding example of economic engineering,” the committee added.

The economics prize, officially called the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel, was established in 1968. It was not part of the original group of awards set out in dynamite tycoon Nobel's 1895 will.

Reporting By Edward Krudy; Editing by Vicki Allen; Jewish Journal contributed to this story.

Two American economists win Nobel Prize

Alvin Roth and Lloyd Shapley, American economists with ties to Israeli universities, won the Nobel Prize for economics.

The professors won the prize, called the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, for their research in how to make economic markets work better by more precisely matching supply with demand.

Shapley, 89, used game theory to study the problem. Roth, 60, helped redesign the medical residents’ match program to make it more efficient for young doctors.

The prize was announced Oct. 15.

Shapley was awarded an honorary doctorate from Hebrew University in 1986 and has worked with Israeli Nobel Prize laureate Robert Auman, who won his Nobel for his work with game theory.

Roth, who is Jewish, was a visiting professor of economics at the Technion in Haifa in 1986, and a visiting professor at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv University in 1995. Roth frequently visits Israel, Auman said.

“I have been hoping for this for years,” Auman said of the award to Roth and Shapley. “It is absolutely the best choice that could be made.”

Roth is a professor at Harvard University in Boston, but will be leaving for Stanford University, where he is currently a visiting professor of economics, at the end of the year. Shapley is professor emeritus at the University of California, Los Angeles. 

Jewish doctor from New York co-recipient of Nobel Prize in Chemistry

Robert J. Lefkowitz, a Jewish physician and path-breaking biochemist from New York, has won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry jointly with Brian K. Kobilka, a researcher at California’s Stanford University.

The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2012 went to the scientists for “groundbreaking discoveries that reveal the inner workings of an important family … of receptors: G-protein–coupled receptors,” an Oct. 10 posting on the website of the Nobel Prize stated. Understanding how these receptors function helped further explain how cells could sense their environment, according to the text.

Lefkowitz –- who works at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute of Duke University Medical Center in North Carolina — and Kobilka worked together to isolate and analyze a gene which led them to discover that “the receptor was similar to one in the eye that captures light. They realized that there is a whole family of receptors that look alike and function in the same manner,” the Nobel Prize website said.

Lefkowitz, 61, and Kobilka, 57, will share a $1.2 million grant from the Nobel Prize Committee.

On Oct. 9. The Nobel Prize Committee in Stockholm announced that Serge Haroche, a French-Jewish physicist, had won the Nobel Prize in Physics jointly with David Wineland from the United States. The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2011 went to Dan Shechtman of Israel’s Technion.

In 2008, Lefkowitz received the US National Medal of Science. The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles reported at the time that he was one of three American-Jewish recipients that year of the nation's highest honor in science and technology.

In an interview with Emily Harris which appeared this summer on the website of Duke University, Lefkowitz is quoted as saying: “I was clearly destined to be a physician, I dreamed about it from the third grade on. Wouldn’t trade that part of my experience in for anything. I LOVED medical school.” He also said: “I do regret that my dad died thinking I would be a practicing cardiologist, never dreaming what the future held for me.”

Lefkowitz's father, who died at the age of 63, “never got to see any of this play out,” Lefkowitz said.

French Jew, American researcher share Nobel Prize in Physics

Serge Haroche, a French-Jewish physicist, has won the Nobel Prize in Physics jointly with David Wineland from the United States.

The Nobel Prize in Physics 2012 went to the scientists “for ground-breaking experimental methods that enable measuring and manipulation of individual quantum systems,” the website of the Nobel Prize said.
According to the BBC, the pair developed solutions to pick, manipulate and measure photons and ions individually, allowing an insight into a microscopic world that was once just the province of scientific theory.
Haroche, who was born 68 years ago in Casablanca, Morocco, told Le Figaro that he “had a hard time understanding” the news when a representative of the Nobel Prize committee called him on his cellular phone to say he had won what is considered the highest form of recognition of scientific excellence.
Haroche, of Collège de France and Ecole Normale Supérieure, will share a $1.2 million grant from the Nobel Prize Committee with Wineland, a researcher at the Maryland-based National Institute of Standards and Technology and at the University of Colorado.
Le Figaro quotes Haroche as saying he was walking with his wife down the street when he received the call from Sweden. He said he had to sit down on a bench before passing on the news to family.
Richard Prasquier, the president of CRIF, the umbrella organization of France's Jewish communities, told JTA: “The achievement belongs to the scientists, but a small part of me is also proud today.” Mutual friends described Haroche to Prasquier as “a truly brilliant thinker, known for his creativity,” Prasquier said.
Prasquier noted that Haroche had worked closely with Claude Cohen-Tannoudji – also a French Jew of North African descent – who won the Nobel Prize in physics in 1997.
The Algeria-born Cohen-Tannoudji, 79, is still an active researcher at Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris.

German poet Gunther Grass slams Israel in second poem

Gunter Grass, Germany's Nobel Prize-winning author, has published another poem criticizing Israeli policy.

The poem also praises Mordechai Vanunu, who served 18 years in prison after being convicted in 1988 of treason and espionage for leaking Israel's nuclear secrets to the British newspaper the Sunday Times of London.

The poem, called “A Hero in Our Time,” is part of a new book of Grass' poems, “Eintagsfliegen,” released in Germany on Saturday.

In the poem, Grass calls Vanunu a “modern-day hero” and writes that “heroes such as that are needed in the world, which utters words of peace while planning destruction.” The poem traces Vanunu's life story.

A Grass poem published in April in Germany's Suddeutsche Zeitung newspaper and other international papers claimed that Israel was endangering world peace by threatening Iran. The poem, titled “What Must Be Said,” also condemned the German government of Chancellor Angela Merkel for agreeing to subsidize the sale of additional submarines “from my country” to Israel “justified as reparations.”

Israel declared Grass a “persona non grata” following the publication of the poem.

In 2006, Grass admitted in an interview that he had joined the Waffen SS as a teenager at the end of World War II, and was accused at the time of having hidden the truth for decades while at the same time pointing the finger at others for hiding their Nazi past.

The week that was in Israel

Two Israelis made world headlines this week. In freezing Stockholm, Prof. Dan Shechtman of the Haifa Technion (Israel’s Institute of Technology) won the Nobel Prize in chemistry. In sunny Perth, Australia, Lee Korzits won the gold medal at the women’s Sailing World Championships, bringing her closer to the 2012 London Olympics.

While in both cases this is a huge personal accomplishment, I believe that it says something about the hotbed which has bred these two outstanding individuals: their country, Israel.

The 70-year-old Prof. Shechtman won the prestigious prize for discovering “quasicrystals”. Please don’t expect me to explain what those are. Even his wife, Prof. Tzipora Shechtman of Haifa University, has said she couldn’t. More than 40 years ago I tried to win acceptance to the department of chemistry at the Technion, but luckily for me, they rejected me. So I can’t interpret for you what the papers say about those mysterious “crystals whose atomic pattern is highly geometrical yet never repeats.”

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences (RSAS), on the other hand, tried its best. “Contrary to the previous belief that atoms were packed inside crystals in symmetrical patterns, Shechtman showed that the atoms in a crystal could be packed in a pattern that could not be repeated,” the RSAS said.

The Swedes, with understatement, added an interesting note. “His discovery was extremely controversial. In the course of defending his findings, he was asked to leave his research group. However, his battle eventually forced scientists to reconsider their conception of the very nature of matter.”

Let me tell you in an Israeli style what really happened. In 1982, while on sabbatical at Johns Hopkins University, Shechtman mixed in his laboratory aluminum with manganese and then chilled it and studied the atomic structure with the electron microscope. Instead of finding disorder, as expected, he saw concentric circles, each made of 10 bright dots the same distance from each other. Four or six dots in the circles would have been possible, but absolutely not 10. In an interview at the Technion he recalled that the finding had caused him to say out loud in Hebrew, “There can be no such creature.”

His colleagues took great pains in reassuring him that indeed, “There was no such creature.” One of them brought him a book. “Why don’t you read it, and realize it can’t exist?”

“I know it can’t exist,” replied Shechtman, “but here it is.” Then came ridicule and expulsion. The worst was Prof. Linus Pauling, the double-Nobel laureate who, until his death in 1994, kept saying that Shechtman was “talking nonsense.”

Lee Korzits’ hard road to the top was different. Nobody could say anything once she came in first, and the only hostility she encountered was that of winds and waves. Already in 2003, the 27-year-old Israeli became the youngest windsurfing world champion. In 2006, however, following a board-surfing injury and professional dispute with the national team coach, Korzits quit competing for several years. The interval was marred with personal difficulties. Yet recently she made a tremendous comeback, and now, more mature and seasoned, she is preparing for the London Olympics.

Apart from the natural national pride, there is something of these two heroes which is engrained in the DNA of every Israeli, and indeed, in the Israeli collective. Like in Prof. Shechtman’s case, for decades people looked at the State of Israel with wonder, some with hostility, saying “There can be no such creature.” For how can there be a Jewish and democratic state? An island of democracy in an ocean of tyrannical regimes or chaos? A country void of any natural resources and under constant mortal danger, which has nevertheless produced a stable economy, blooming culture and ten Nobel Prize laureates?

A case in point is the way Israel has been fighting Arab terrorism. From day one we have proclaimed that the old laws of war, enacted when uniform-wearing armies were fighting each other, turned obsolete once the enemy became elusive, using un-involved civilians as human shields. We were reprimanded for that, because like in the laboratory at Johns Hopkins, this was not what the books were saying. Took some time and painful lessons for the world to change its mind.

And the story of the young sailor, isn’t that the story of the Jewish state in the first place? Rising from the ashes and suffering harsh blows, yet with strong will and perseverance, always aspiring for new peaks?

In his speech at the banquet in Stockholm, Prof. Shechtman said that “It is therefore our duty as scientists to promote education, rational thinking and tolerance.” Upon returning to his hometown, Haifa, Mayor Yona Yahav took him at his word. Soon, the Nobel Prize Laureate will lead a program to promote the teaching of science and technology in the city’s kindergartens. Lee Korzits, meanwhile, serves as a sport model for young generation in our country.

So much for one week in Israel.

Uri Dromi is a columnist based in Jerusalem.

Nobel winner Shechtman stresses education, entrepreneurship

Accepting his Nobel Prize, Israel’s Dan Shechtman encouraged entrepreneurship among the young.

Shechtman, of the Haifa Technion, became the 10th Israeli to win the world’s most prestigious prize at Saturday’s annual Nobel ceremony in Stockholm.

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said Shechtman’s discovery of quasicrystals, long ridiculed by colleagues, “has created a new cross-disciplinary branch of science, drawing from, and enriching, chemistry, physics and mathematics. This is in itself of the greatest importance.”

“It has also given us a reminder of how little we really know and perhaps even taught us some humility,” said academy professor Sven Lidin.

Addressing the Nobel banquet, Shechtman said scientists have a duty “to promote education, rational thinking and tolerance.”

“We should also encourage our educated youth to become technological entrepreneurs. Those countries that nurture this knowhow will survive future financial and social crises. Let us advance science to create a better world for all,” he said.

Interviewed Sunday, Shechtman, 70, made clear he worried about education in Israel—specifically that of the haredi Orthodox sector, which sometimes places more a premium on religious studies than on core secular subjects.

“You can pray to the heavens, but it doesn’t put bread on the table or provide defense for the country,” he told Israel Radio.

Shechtman called for state funds to be denied to schools that neglect the core curriculum and for parents who deprive their children of a rounded education to be “punished under law.”

What is it about Israel that wins Nobels?

Dan Shechtman remembers the day he was kicked out of a research group because of the theory that last week won him the Nobel Prize in chemistry.

“Read this book. What you say is impossible,” the group leader at the National Bureau of Standards in Maryland, where Shechtman was doing his sabbatical in 1982, told him.

“I told him, ‘I know this book, and I know I have something new,’ ” Shechtman replied.

The response, recalls Shechtman: “You are a disgrace and I want you to leave my group.”

Schechtman joined another group, but the paper he wrote was rejected and he was ridiculed by many colleagues.

“My friends were nice to me, but kind of in the way that you’re nice to the retarded kid,” Shechtman recalled with a wry smile at a news conference this week.

Nearly 30 years later, Shechtman received the Nobel Prize for his work in quasicrystals, also called Shechtmanite.

Shechtman is the 10th Israeli to win a Nobel Prize, part of a chain that stretches back to S.Y. Agnon, who won the prize for literature in 1966. Of the 840 Nobel Prizes ever awarded, some 20 percent have gone to Jews. Israel, with its population of 7.5 million, has won the same number of Nobels as India, which was founded a year before Israel and has a population of 1.15 billion.

What is it about Israel—and Jews—that wins Nobels?

“Israeli universities, like my university, the Technion, are excellent,” Shechtman said of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa. “But there’s also an Israeli spirit of free thinking. Sometimes it leads to chaos because everyone has his own idea about everything, but free thinking encourages successful scientists.”

Since 2002, Israeli scientists have received six Nobels—two in economics and four in chemistry.

Some say Jews are uniquely suited to the study of science.

“For thousands of years, Jews have been brought up to question and to try to bridge the gap between existing knowledge and the prevailing reality,” Gidi Greenstein, the director of the Reut Institute think tank, told JTA. “You have the Torah and the Talmud, and then you have the reality, which keeps changing. The tension between what we know and what we experience is the secret of creativity.”

Others say there is something unique about the Israeli character.

“One of the things you need to do well in science and high tech is to think outside the box, and we as Israelis are not familiar with any boxes,” said Professor Dan Ben David, director of the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel. “We don’t understand lines, we don’t believe in lines and we always ask why when someone asks us to do something. That can be very aggravating, but it’s a great quality when it comes to doing research.”

Israelis also tend to be tenacious and obstinate. The saying “Right or wrong, but never in doubt,” could be a national slogan. Schechtman provides the perfect example: He was ridiculed for years but never gave up.

“Open societies that are self-critical can foster courage and an appreciation for the pursuit of truth,” said Daniel Gordis, president of the Shalem Foundation. “Israel, for all its faults, and there are many, has both intellectual openness and academic excellence.”

Others say that Israel’s overwhelming defense needs have boosted the state’s interest in science.

“An enormous amount of money has been invested here in security,” said Professor Yaron Oz, the dean of Tel Aviv University’s Exact Sciences Department. “A large number of people studied science or engineering relative to the population, and many of them studied in military related programs. It was seen as essential to Israel to develop its own weapons.”

Oz says that in many other Western countries, more students are going into fields like law or business, which are more lucrative than science. But in Israel, scientists are highly respected and salaries are competitive.

Many Israeli scientists worry that the level of Israeli students is slipping and call for more government spending on science education. In a study conducted by the Taub Center, Ben David compared the levels of science, math and reading in 25 developed countries, including Israel. Israel came in last place.

“We need excellent teachers who cannot only teach, but can be role models,” Shechtmann said. “In some countries, a teacher has prestige and a good salary. Here a teacher can’t support his family.”

At the same time, there is a trend of Israeli scientists from abroad returning to Israel to continue their research here. Oz came to Israel from Geneva 10 years ago. The latest Nobel Prize will only encourage that trend, some predicted.

“Every Israeli university has graduate students that can compete with the best students in the world,” Oz said. “You need talent and infrastructure, and I think we have both. I expect we will win many more Nobel Prizes.”

Israeli among 4 Jewish scientists to win Nobels

An Israeli scientist won the 2011 Nobel Prize for chemistry, and Jewish scientists also took prizes in physics and medicine.

Daniel Shechtman, 70, a distinguished professor at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, was announced as a Nobel winner on Wednesday for his discovery of quasicrystals, mosaics of atoms that form regular patterns that never repeat themselves.

Shechtman, who receives $1.5 million for winning the prize, also is an associate at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory and a professor at Iowa State University.

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said Shechtman’s 1982 discovery of quasicrystals changed the way chemists look at solid matter. His discovery had been rejected initially by the scientific community and caused him to be kicked out of his research group.

“I would like to congratulate you, on behalf of the citizens of Israel, for your award, which expresses the intellect of our people,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Shechtman in a congratulatory phone call. “Every Israeli is happy today and every Jew in the world is proud.”

Saul Perlmutter, a physicist at the University of California, Berkeley, was among three U.S.-born scientists who won the Nobel Prize in physics announced Tuesday. Perlmutter received the prize for his study of exploding stars that showed that the expansion of the universe is accelerating. He will receive a “coveted” lifetime parking permit on campus in honor of his prize, The Los Angeles Times reported.

Ralph Steinman and Bruce Beutler were named as Nobel Prize winners for medicine on Monday for discoveries on the immune system. Half of the prize money was awarded to Steinman, with the other half to be split between Beutler and biologist Jules Hoffmann. Israel National News reported that Steinman and Beutler are Jewish.

Steinman will receive the prize posthumously; he died three days before the Nobel committee made the announcement. Though he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer four years ago, Steinman was able to prolong his life by using new dendritic cell-based immunotherapy—the same discovery for which he was awarded the prize.

Only living scientists typically are considered by the Nobel committee, but because its members were unaware of Steinman’s death when the winning names were released, no substitution winner will be announced.

Two Jewish scientists win Nobel Prize for medicine

The Nobel Prize for medicine reportedly was awarded to two Jewish scientists, Ralph Steinman and Bruce Beutler.

The prize was given Monday for discoveries on the immune system, Israel National News reported. Half was awarded to Steinman, with the other half to be split between Beutler and biologist Jules Hoffman.

Steinman will receive the prize posthumously; he died three days before the Nobel committee made the announcement. Though he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer four years ago, Steinman was able to prolong his life by using new dendritic cell-based immunotherapy—the same discovery for which he was awarded the prize.

Only living scientists typically are considered by the Nobel committee, but because its members were unaware of Steinman’s death when the winning names were released, no substitution winner will be announced.

Baruj Benacerraf, 90, Nobel Prize winner

Baruj Benacerraf, who shared a Nobel Prize in 1980 for medicine for breakthroughs in immunology, and later headed Boston’s Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, died Aug. 2 at 90.

Benacerraf and other researchers discovered that immune reactions are controlled by genes. The Nobel committee noted that “While fighting off infectious agents, our immune defenses must take extreme care not to avoid harming any cells belonging to its own host. Achieving this requires a sophisticated self-identification system, and this is centered on a collection of genes called the major histocompatibility complex. … Uncovering such a complex system involved piecing together observations from unconnected areas over the course of decades, and the 1980 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine rewarded these achievements.”

Benacerraf’s work “explained why some people were better able to defend themselves against infection than others and why certain people were at greater risk than others of contracting multiple sclerosis, lupus and other autoimmune diseases, in which the body’s immune system attacks its own tissues,” and “extended to understanding immunological reactions in organ transplants, explaining why the body would often reject a foreign organ and offering insights on the likelihood of success in transplantation.”

He took over the Sidney Farber Cancer Institute (now the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute) in 1980 “at a time of administrative turmoil” and brought it back to research and organizational prominence.

“Immediately, everybody fell in line, and there were no more troubles,’’ said Dr. David Nathan, then the institute’s chief of pediatric oncology and later its president.

Benacerraf was born in Caracas, Venezuela, to Sephardic Jewish parents and moved to Paris with his family in 1925. In an autobiography he wrote for the Nobel organization, Benacerraf said that “My primary and secondary education was in French, which had a lasting influence on my life.” The family fled France at the beginning of World War II, and Benacerraf was sent to college in the United States. He received his bachelor’s degree at Columbia University in 1942 and a medical degree from the Medical College of Virginia. He was rejected by top U.S. medical schools because of their quota systems against Jews, but later served on the faculty of two of them.

He conducted medical research in Paris, and then back in the U.S. at New York University, the National Institutes of Health and Harvard before going to the Farber Institute.

Benacerraf wrote that he went into immunology for a personal reason: “Motivated by intellectual curiosity, (I) decided upon a career in medical research at a time when such a choice was not fashionable. My interest was directed, from my medical student days, to Immunology, and particularly to the mechanism of hypersensitivity. I had suffered from bronchial asthma as a child and had developed a deep curiosity in allergic phenomena.”

In his early years as a researcher, he also conducted the family’s banking business in Venezuela. An art collector and flutist, he also oversaw a family banking business during the 1950s while conducting medical research.

“He was very efficient,’’ said his daughter, Dr. Beryl Benacerraf, a professor at Harvard Medical School, noting that he would run the bank for two days a week and devote the rest of the week to the lab. “He was a very natural businessman.”

In his 1998 autobiography, “From Caracas to Stockholm,’’ Benacerraf wrote that his training as a banker was helpful during the years he ran Dana-Farber. A full list of his numerous awards and honorary doctorates can be found here.

Briefs: Krugman wins Nobel Prize, UWash cops sue for discrimination

Krugman Wins Nobel for Economics

Paul Krugman, a columnist for The New York Times, won the Nobel Prize for economics. Krugman, who also teaches at Princeton University, won for his analysis of international trade patterns, the newspaper reported Monday.

Krugman, who is Jewish, has been among the Bush administration’s toughest critics in the Times, excoriating its economic and foreign policies in particular. He was one of the first economists to anticipate the bursting of the U.S. housing bubble and the resulting reverberation on international markets. Krugman stirred outrage in 2003 when he said Mahathir Mohamad’s claim that “Jews rule the world as proxy” was the Malaysian prime minister’s way of appeasing Muslim anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism that had been stoked by Bush administration policies. Krugman suggested that Mahathir might have felt the need for such a gesture in a speech that otherwise condemned Islamist excesses.

“Thanks to its war in Iraq and its unconditional support for Ariel Sharon, Washington has squandered post-Sept. 11 sympathy and brought relations with the Muslim world to a new low,” Krugman wrote.

The columnist also wrote that Mahathir’s remarks were “inexcusable” and “calculating,” but the column drew strong Jewish responses.

“In his obsession with criticizing U.S. policy, Paul Krugman underestimates the significance of the anti-Semitic diatribe by Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad before the Organization of the Islamic Conference,” Glen Tobias, the Anti-Defamation League’s national chairman, wrote in a letter to the Times.

University’s Cops File Bias Suit

A Jewish officer was among six current and former University of Washington police officers who sued the department for discrimination. The lawsuit, which was filed Oct. 9 in U.S. District Court, alleges that the university’s Police Department was rife with racial slurs, and that management decisions were motivated by the ethnicity and gender of the employees, according to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

Officer Andrew Cohen alleges that a co-worker said Cohen could not be Jewish because he did not have numbers tattooed on his arm, the Post-Intelligencer reporter. Cohen also said that swastikas were placed around the office.

— Courtesy JTA

Happy birthday to me

Not long ago, a guy I know, a good guy who to all outward appearances seems happy and successful, replied to a birthday e-mail I sent him at work — “go
home and blow out some candles” — with this:

“I’m 40-f—ing-8, give me a break. They tell me that’s close to 50, but I refuse to believe it.” (Only he didn’t leave any letters out of “f—ing.”)

I wrote back: “you’ve got your hair, a flat stomach, and a wife. I’d say life is good.”

To which he replied: “At 20 you won’t settle for less than several million, two best-sellers and a house in Majorca. At 48, what you said sounds really good.”

Expectations are strange things. When we’re kids, and when we’re parents of kids, we have no compunction about shooting for the stars. Every child is encouraged to believe that becoming a Michael Phelps or a Golda Meir, or however your tribe fills in the blank, is within the realm of possibility. B’nai mitzvah speeches and commencement addresses are universally about holding fast to your dreams.

But nevertheless, somewhere along the line we’re supposed to learn that the secret to happiness is adjusting our expectations to reality. Maturity means accepting that failing to get the gold or the Golda isn’t the same thing as failure. The good life is to be found in wanting what you have.

To be sure, the self-help sections of bookstores are filled with inspirational messages and 10-point-plans to the contrary. If only we visualize what we want, if only we believe in ourselves, if only we buy this book, then love and riches, fame and health, six-packs and serenity will be ours, no matter how far along in the life cycle we are.

But by and large, despite those enticing pitches, adulthood turns out to mean acceptance — of how you played the hand you were dealt, of mortality, of beshert — even if it sometimes includes flashes of 40-f—ing-8-like fury at the way the world turns out to work.

I wonder whether that rage would be mitigated if, instead of everyone being brought up to think we could be president, we were raised to believe, as Buddhists are, that desire is the source of suffering. I wonder if the gross domestic product would really shrivel, or the upward mobility of classes would stall, or the amount of art and justice in the world would decline, if we grew up already knowing how things more often than not turn out to be — if we understood early on the unreliability of the meritocracy, and the odds against our dreams, and the huge role in life of dumb luck — if the rough passage signaled in the cry of “40-f—ing-8” were not something kept hidden from children, like the true identity of the tooth fairy, the mutability of beauty, the lifelong wrestling with the meaning of existence that lies ahead of them.

In “The Uses of Enchantment,” child psychiatrist Bruno Bettelheim explains that the purpose of fairy tales is to give children an arena — a proxy world — in which to come to grips with evil, to come to terms with loss, to train their emotions for the inevitable struggles and disappointments of life. Anyone who has read the cruel original fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm will recognize the sense of this. But anyone who knows these stories only from their Disney versions will recognize how diligently we now go out of our way to insulate kids from the disturbing stuff that Bettelheim says is good for them.

Yes, I know that Bambi’s mother is killed, and plenty of other modern classics include scary separations from parents. The murder of Harry Potter’s parents by Lord Voldemort is of course the setup for the series. But (spoiler alert) no one in those seven volumes is forced to reconcile with the whole panoply of less lethal but no-less-soul-crushing disappointments — being downsized, pink-slipped, passed over, left — of which many, maybe most, lives are constructed. We are all broken vessels.

Recently I found myself reading the ” target=”_blank”>jewishjournal.com/sowhatsnew. He can be reached at martyk@jewishjournal.com.

Why is this award different from all others?

I’m sitting with my husband in the packed and darkened auditorium at Royce Hall in UCLA. It’s the night of the LA Times Book Prizes, but we might as well be at some Hollywood awards show: The stage is decorated like the set of a movie — Sean Penn is sitting two seats to my right; Bruce Dern and Mike Farrell are rumored to be somewhere in the audience; and a tall, slim woman with long, dark hair and very pronounced curves has just appeared from stage left, surrounded by a halo of light, to bring to the presenter a sealed envelope bearing the name — not of “the winner,” but of “the person to whom the award goes.”

Earlier, master of ceremonies Jim Lehrer asked the audience to think of him as an author first, and everything else second, because he has written and published for far longer than he has had a television career.

Now, M.G. Lord opens the envelope. The Science and Technology award, she says, goes to Eric R. Kandel, author of “In Search of Memory: The Emergence of a New Science of Mind.” Music blares, the spotlight abandons the curvaceous presenter in favor of the section in the audience where finalists from each category are seated, and Kandel makes his way up the steps and to the podium.

He looks somewhere in his late seventies. He’s wearing a very sharp gray suit and a red bow tie, and he appears every bit as distinguished and scholarly as you might expect from a Columbia University professor. He says he’s genuinely pleased to be receiving this award — which is nice of him, I think, given that this isn’t the first time he has found himself on a stage delivering an acceptance speech: Before making his way to Los Angeles and Royce Hall, Kandel has garnered the National Medal of Honor, the Wolf Prize, the Gairdner International Award, and, in the year 2000, the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

When he says that this award means as much to him as the Nobel, a chuckle rises from the audience and quickly spills into applause. But Kandel isn’t joking. “I’ve been asking myself,” he says, “what the difference is between being here and being in Stockholm.” Again, there’s laughter from the audience.

For one thing, he says, he knew ahead of time to prepare an acceptance speech for Stockholm; for another, here he is among authors who write not just about science, but about everything else in the world as well. In other words, this, to him, is a more intimidating crowd than a room full of fellow Nobel winners.

Not that any of the writers in the audience believes him, but I think we’re grateful for the complement nevertheless.

I go home that night and look up Kandel’s history online. I learn that he was born in Vienna in 1929, escaped the Nazis in 1939. I read about his many degrees and countless achievements, about his research and writings in scientific fields the names of which I can barely pronounce. Forget Sean Penn and Bruce Dern, I tell my kids. Eric Kandel was by far the biggest hit of the evening.

The next day, in the green room, I’m sitting with two friends when Kandel walks up and asks if he can join us at our table. It’s lunch hour, the place is packed, and he needs to share a table with someone, but I still think this is an act of God — like when Michael Jordan appeared out of thin air on a basketball court in an inner-city neighborhood in the middle of a sweltering summer afternoon, and passed the ball to the wide-eyed children in those television ads for some sporting good or other. I tell Kandel as much, and he laughs, puts his plate down and starts asking about me and the others at the table — what we write and where we come from, if we like our agents and publishers.

I ask him what book he’s working on, and I gather from his response that it has something to do with Freud and European Expressionism, but he’s more interested in finding out how many children I have than in explaining the subject matter of his book. I ask how long he’s staying in Los Angeles — only till Sunday, and then he’s off to New York, Paris, then Vienna, where he is to receive another award.

He offers that he has a son in New York, and a daughter — Minoosh — in San Francisco. He says he likes his children’s spouses, thank God; they’re good people and responsible parents. He has four grandchildren, and he doesn’t see them as often as he would like, what with his teaching schedule and all the traveling he has to do, but they all make a point of getting together for the holidays.

People come up to him every few minutes and ask him to sign their books, and he interrupts what he’s saying, engages in cordial conversation with the fans, then picks up with me where he left off. Two agents, an editor, a pair of newspaper reporters stop by to pay their respects, and end up staying. Before I know it, we’re all exchanging high holiday stories and talking about our children, how quickly they seem to have grown up, how we wish they wouldn’t take off for the other side of the country every time the wind blows, how we hope that they will observe Jewish traditions whether or not we’re there to enforce it.

“When he was alive,” Kandel says, “my father had us all at his home for every Jewish holiday. After he died, it fell upon me to do the same.”

What is the difference between being here and in Stockholm? I wonder. At the end of the day, between one Jew and another, perhaps not very much.

Gina B. Nahai is an author and a professor of creative writing at USC. Her new novel, “Caspian Rain,” will be published this fall. Gina Nahai’s column appears monthly in The Journal.