Veterans: A colorful life

Samuel Dershowitz, 84, from Brookline, Massachusetts, to Jerusalem, 1971.

Samuel Dershowitz (photo credit: ABIGAIL KLEIN LEICHMAN)
Samuel Dershowitz
Thanks to a wise grandfather who urged five of his sons to leave Czechoslovakia in 1938, Samuel Dershowitz arrived in New York as a six-year-old and was raised in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn.
When they were adults, he and his older sister both moved to Israel and raised their own families not far from each other in Jerusalem.
Throughout his working life on both continents, Dershowitz has made lasting contributions to the scientific understanding of color and the chemistry of dyes.
After earning a doctorate in chemistry from Columbia University, he was employed by Polaroid in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to help in the landmark adaption of the instant photography process from black and white to color.
Today, still working part time for the Office of the Chief Scientist of the Economy Ministry at the age of 84, Dershowitz spends many hours every week adding to his vast online collection of paintings hanging in the world’s major museums. A couple of years ago, he donated a set of compact discs of his well-organized archive to the Youth Wing of the Israel Museum.
“I started collecting the images in 1999, and now I have close to 300,000 on my computer,” he says. “It was a hobby that became an obsession.”
He also has an impressive stamp collection on the shelves of his apartment in the Rehavia neighborhood. The walls are lined with artwork of a more personal nature, most notably the needlecraft done by his late wife, Barbara.
He and Barbara met as children in Williamsburg – her brother went to elementary school at Yeshiva Torah Vodaath with Sam – and they married in 1956, moving to Brookline, Massachusetts, in 1958.
Dershowitz was in the first class of the Yeshiva University High School for Boys in Brooklyn along with the future influential rabbis Meir (then known as Martin) Kahane and Yitz Greenberg. He continued at Yeshiva for college, earning his bachelor’s degree in 1949.
Dershowitz vividly recalls that after Israel’s inspiring victory in the Six Day War in June 1967, “I ran to the bank and gave 10 percent of my savings to Israel.”
However, he did not actively contemplate aliya until a job offer lured him to Jerusalem in 1971. At that time, he had left Polaroid and was directing research and development at a textile company in Massachusetts.
“I came to Israel not because of a lifelong dream but because I was involved in a job change,” he says. “I had three offers – in New York, Philadelphia and Jerusalem – and I decided to try the Jerusalem one, and it worked out.”
The position was at the Israel Fiber Institute, which in its heyday employed 120 scientists researching myriad aspects of developing synthetic and natural textiles for military, medical and biotechnological purposes. As part of his job, Dershowitz also taught applied sciences at the Hebrew University.
“At the Fiber Institute I became chairman of the workers’ committee in order to learn how things worked there from the inside,” he says. “You have to make an effort to learn the system, how to work in it and how to get around it, rather than insisting on a standard you did not have in America.”
The Dershowitz children were eight, 11 and 13 when the family made aliya.
His daughter, Dvora Ben Zvi, is assistant director of nursing at Alyn Pediatric and Adolescent Rehabilitation Hospital in Jerusalem; his son Joseph is a consultant following a career at Bezeq; and his son Zvi works in hi-tech. Dershowitz has six grandchildren.
“Aliya was most difficult on my wife because I was working and the kids had school. She had been a math teacher in the States and here she taught herself bookkeeping and worked in that capacity for two nonprofit organizations,” he says.
In 1975, the Jewish Agency sent Dershowitz and 29 other American expats back to the United States for a month to serve as aliya emissaries (shlihim).
“They felt we would have more of a common language with Americans than the Israeli shlihim did,” explains Dershowitz. “I found it exhilarating.”
To this day, whenever someone asks why he came to Israel, he tells them that the more important question is why he stayed. “And the answer is that aliya is like marriage. They are both basically irrational decisions, and in order to make it work you need goodwill on both sides,” he says.
“I overcame many obstacles, I made a living, my children adjusted and my wife was happy. I made a tremendous effort not to get frustrated. And I never came across any situation I couldn’t find a way out of.”
In 1984, Sam and Barbara Dershowitz traveled to Russia to meet with refuseniks as part of a clandestine Mossad program.
“We met quite a few people who are in Israel today. We gave lectures and ran house meetings; we relayed confidential information in conversations on the street because the apartments were assumed to be bugged by the government.”
At one point during the trip, Dershowitz was to convey information to Yuli Kosharovsky, a prominent refusenik who later made aliya and died two years ago. Dershowitz was told to show Kosharovsky a picture of a baby with a pacifier to signal that he was the contact. However, the inclement weather that day forced them to have their “conversation” indoors. They used their ingenuity to keep the encounter silent.
“We spent hours writing notes to one another on a magic slate,” he says.
In 1980, Dershowitz left the Fiber Institute to take a position at the Office of the Chief Scientist. Over the next 12 years, he supervised all binational collaborations for joint R&D projects. His present responsibilities involve writing position papers and translating.
Dershowitz says that one reason he has stayed with the chief scientist’s office is his feeling that he is part of something historic, perhaps even epic.
“I think the fact that Israel is in the forefront of industrial R&D and so many major developments is a fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy,” he explains.
“The hi-tech industry here is largely the result of taking technologies developed for the military and converting them into civilian projects. This is a modern realization of his prophecy that ‘they shall beat their swords into plowshares.’ “In addition, if you look at the second part of that verse – “a nation shall not lift a sword against a nation, neither shall they learn war anymore” – this could be our peace plan for our neighbors, to use our technology to bring the Arab world into the 21st century and raise their standard of living. That’s my dream.”