Jewish businessman brings kabbalah and quantum physics to children

Eduard Shyfrin, scientist, businessman, student of Jewish mysticism, and author, is a man of many parts — and is now branching out into children's books.

Eduard Shyfrin reading a book at his home (photo credit: Courtesy)
Eduard Shyfrin reading a book at his home
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Eduard Shyfrin, scientist, businessman, student of Jewish mysticism, and author, is a man of many parts. He traces his innate curiosity and thirst for knowledge to the 6,000 books that accompanied him growing up, crammed inside his parent’s small home in Ukraine. “We didn’t have money, but we had a lot of books,” he says, smiling. “My mother was crazy about books.”
Shyfrin was an outstanding physics student and earned a Ph.D. in metallurgy in 1991. A successful businessman, he became active in the reborn Russian Jewish community after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990, and sponsored the building of the Jewish educational center in Kyiv. Nevertheless, he says: “I was still far away from Judaism.” In 2002, as a result of a difficult business situation and health issues, he decided to change his personal lifestyle. “I was not the person that I was before. I realized that I had to answer certain questions for myself about life and death and God. After speaking with Rabbi Yaakov Dov Bleich, chief rabbi of Kyiv and Ukraine, he decided to become observant and began a course of Torah study that he has continued until today.
In early 2019, Shyfrin released his first book From Infinity to Man: The Fundamental Ideas of Kabbalah Within the Framework of Information Theory and Quantum Physics, which introduces readers to basic principles of Jewish mysticism and its relationship with quantum mechanics.
Later that year, his literary career took a decidedly different direction with the release of Travels with Sushi in the Land of the Mind, a children’s book that follows the adventures of young Aaron and Stella, siblings who are transported to the Land of the Mind, a fantasy kingdom based on mathematical principles and quantum physics. The story parallels several stories from the Bible and introduces children to positive values such as hope and courage and helps them deal with fear, indifference, and pride. A mash-up of morality, physics, and the Bible would seem to be an unlikely candidate for literary success, but the children’s book has enjoyed favorable reviews since its publication and received the Independent Press 2020 Distinguished Favorite award. Jewish book reviewers enjoyed both the story and the presence of Jewish elements, and reviewers at general children’s magazines gave it high marks.
National Geographic for Kids wrote: “This was an intriguing book, and I found every page a new mystery. I recommend it to older readers for its thrill and excitement and hope you enjoy it as much as I did.” The Financial Times added that “Shyfrin’s novel encompasses wormholes, suicide bombers, the Jewish Diaspora, wave-particle duality, the nature of God and a whole lot else besides,” and termed it a cross between Flatland and The Pilgrim’s Progress. The book is accompanied by pen and ink illustrations by Tomislav Tomic, a Croatian illustrator.
Why would Shyfrin write a children’s book? In explaining why, yet another part of Shyfrin is revealed – grandfather.
“I have three grandchildren,” he says. “I tell them fairy tales because I believe that teaching children morality in a straightforward way doesn’t work.  They get bored, so I tell them fairy tales, and inside the story, I always hide a moral lesson. I invent them myself, and it works.” Shyfrin decided to write down his stories for his grandchildren but was not initially planning on publishing them in book form. He published Travels with Sushi because of the importance of transmitting the lessons contained within the stories to a larger audience.
Judaism, says Shyfrin, has always valued reading and study. “Our cornerstone is education and knowledge,” he notes. “We don’t know what our children will become, but we have an obligation to introduce the world to them – the world of God, the world of the Torah, the world of Jewish history, the world of science and the world of art. Only then, will they will be able to choose what they will become.”
Real life, he adds, frequently comes with surprises, and parents need to prepare their children to be strong and resilient. The fantasy world of Travels with Sushi in the Land of the Mind, shows them the importance of adaptability and resilience.
“The children are appointed on a mission to save their country. They have to do their best to overcome difficulties and find inner strength in their souls. That’s what the book is about,” explains Shyfrin.
Interestingly, he confesses that writing a book for children was far more challenging than authoring the complex work on mysticism, From Infinity to Man. “I had never written fiction before,” he says. “It was extremely difficult.”
In his view, the life lessons that children will learn from Travels with Sushi in the Land of the Mind will help them better understand themselves and their lives. To illustrate this point, he recalls one of his visits to students at a Chabad institution in Moscow.
“I delivered a lecture,” he recalls, “and received a very positive response. Then, one student asked me, ‘How will studying Torah and Talmud help me decide which profession to choose?’ I replied, the Torah does not tell us if we should become engineers, economists, or writers, but by studying Torah, we will develop the correct attitude to the world around us, think logically and develop the ability to make the right judgments and correct choices. That is the point of my book.”
While the English version of Travels with Sushi has been available on Amazon – both in electronic and in hard-copy form – for some time, Yediot Aharonot Books has recently released a Hebrew translation that is now available in Israel, and a Russian version is also in the works. Shyfrin hopes that the Hebrew version will succeed among all sectors of Israeli youth – both observant and secular.
“This book is secular,” he says. “I am a secular Jew. God is in the book, but this is about our life. It is for everybody, and I didn’t write it specifically for religious Jews.”
Shyfrin concedes that children have less time to read these days – “because they spend a lot of time playing with gadgets, which is not good” – but he remains convinced that children will continue to read quality literature. 
Eduard Shyfrin is hard at work on a second children’s book as well as an extended version of his book on Jewish mysticism, using his many different parts to expand people’s understanding and appreciation of science, religion, and art.
This article was written in cooperation with Eduard Shyfrin.