On the day one scientist was born, another died

After receiving the prize, Schechtman realizing that it would come to him only once, decided that he was free to do whatever he wanted – and that was to travel to schools to promote science.

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March 15, 2018 05:52
On the day one scientist was born, another died

PRESIDENT REUVEN RIVLIN hosts an event yesterday, organized by the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities in honor of Einstein’s birthday at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem. (photo credit: Mark Neiman/GPO)

March 14 is in important date in the histories of two world famous scientists: it is the date theoretical physicist Albert Einstein was born, and the date theoretical physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking died.

Einstein was 76 at the time of his death in 1955, and Hawking was 76 at the time of his death in 2018.

Both were mentioned on Tuesday at the President’s Residence at an event organized by the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities in honor of Einstein’s birthday.

The event which was part of a nation-wide attempt to attract more students to scientific subjects was attended by 200 students and teachers – overwhelmingly female – from a number of schools. Approximately 25% of the females wore hijabs.

President Reuven Rivlin noted that two of his predecessors, Chaim Weizmann and Ephraim Katzir, had been scientists. Weizmann died in office, and prime minister David Ben-Gurion had wanted another scientist to succeed him. He had approached Albert Einstein who declined the offer, saying that he preferred to concentrate on science. Katzir, who had been the state’s fourth president, was the founder of the scientific unit of the IDF and was also a distinguished professor at the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot. After completing his term, he returned to the Weizmann Institute where he taught and conducted research, said Rivlin.

In reference to Hawking, Rivlin recalled that he had visited Israel on more than one occasion but regretted that Hawking had yielded to BDS pressure and had boycotted the presidential conference in Jerusalem, which had also been a celebration of the 90th birthday of then-president Shimon Peres.
Popular physicist Stephen Hawking dies at 76 (REUTERS)

HAWKING WAS also mentioned by Prof. Dan Shechtman, the 2011 Nobel Prize laureate in Chemistry. Shechtman said that Hawking had not been the greatest of scientists or physicists but despite the illness that crippled his body, his mind continued to work and through the books he wrote, he made science available to the masses.

As a result, the British made him a symbol of the strength of the human spirit. It was for that strength of spirit that he achieved international fame, said Shechtman.

Speaking of his own background, Schechtman who was born in Tel Aviv in 1941, said that it had been his childhood dream to be a mechanical engineer. His grandfather, who had a great influence on him, taught him rational thought and had spoken to him about scientific matters. For his seventh birthday, his grandfather had given him a magnifying glass which changed his life forever.

At the time, he lived in Ramat Gan’s Ramat Yitzhak neighborhood where there were open fields, which now no longer exist given the glut in real estate construction but as a boy, Schechtman used his magnifying glass on every plant, blade of grass and creepy crawly.
Later at school, the teacher announced that they had acquired a microscope. Schechtman had been entranced. But the microscope didn’t remain in the classroom. It was put into storage when not in use.  When Schechtman asked whether he could take it out, he was told that children were not allowed in the storeroom.

His penchant for mechanical engineering was enhanced by his reading of Jules Verne. He read every book of Verne’s that had been translated into Hebrew. After the army, he enrolled at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa and got his degree, but it was a time of austerity in Israel and he couldn’t get a job. So he went back to the Technion to study for a master’s degree, and simply fell in love with academia, and continued studying for a PhD.

“Science is the ultimate game for adults,” he said. He told the students that what they needed to become successful scientists was a background in mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology and physiology.

Something that was tough for him was not tell anyone for half an hour after he had been notified by the Royal Swedish Academy of Science that he had been selected for the Nobel Prize.

The academy wanted to make an announcement before he could tell anyone. But after 20 minutes he telephoned his wife and she came rushing to the Technion in a taxi.

The two of them sat in his office, waiting for the radio announcement. The corridor outside was deathly quiet, and then suddenly there was a stampede after the official announcement as people rushed in to congratulate and embrace him.

After receiving the prize, Schechtman realizing that it would come to him only once, decided that he was free to do whatever he wanted – and that was to travel to schools throughout Israel and promote the study of science. “And that’s what I’ve been doing ever since.”

PROF. MONA KHOURY-KASSABRI of the Hebrew University’s School of Social Work was born to illiterate parents and raised in one of the poorest crime and drug infested neighborhoods in Haifa. Not every youngster there was a juvenile delinquent. She wasn’t either.

Later, after developing expertise in school violence, juvenile delinquency, parental discipline and child welfare, she conducted a study among 2,300 Arab youth from socio-economically disadvantaged neighborhoods.

There’s a common misconception that poverty leads to crime, she said. Actually, this happens only when there is not a strong relationship between parents and children. She had a strong relationship with her parents and she discovered in her research that whenever there is a strong relationship, the young person is less likely to be caught up in crime.

She also discovered that young people who were devoutly religious, whether Arab or Jewish, were less likely to become criminals.
Although she is completely secular herself, she respects the impact of religion on peoples’ characters. and recognizes the importance of having respect for the other.

When one of the students asked Khoury-Kassabri, why, when Arab women were succeeding in many fields, they were unable to make much headway in local government, the answer was that 10 years ago, there were hardly any Arab women in academia in Israel. Twenty years prior to that there not many Jewish women in academia. Everything takes time, she said, but the time will come when Arab women will make their mark in politics.


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