Jew of the Week: Edith Stern

The Woman With 100 Patents and a 200 IQ

Edith Stern (b. 1952) was born in Brooklyn to impoverished Holocaust survivors who had married in the Warsaw Ghetto. Her father, Aaron Stern, had been a professor of languages (he was fluent in seven). When his daughter was born, he called a press conference – to which two reporters showed up – and declared: “I shall make her into the perfect human being.” Thus began what journalists at the time called “the Edith Project”. Stern immediately immersed his daughter in learning. He exposed her only to classical music, talked to her all the time, and taught her with flash cards. Suffering from jaw cancer and unable to work, Stern spent all of his time with Edith. By the age of 5, Edith had read through the entire Encyclopedia Britannica. Although her father did not believe in IQ tests, she nonetheless scored a 205 that same year. Edith enrolled in college at 12, earned her BS in mathematics by 15, and her Master’s at 18. By this point, she was already teaching at Michigan State University. She went on to defend her Ph.D and joined IBM’s R&D division. Today, Stern holds over 100 patents for technological innovations used in telephones, digital media, video conferencing, self-driving cars, and the internet. Stern is still a “distinguished engineer” at IBM, where she is a VP, and recently won the Kate Gleason Award for lifetime achievement in technology. Although her mother once disagreed with her father about his methods, she later concluded that it had made her a “very mature, compassionate, kind, intelligent and wise young woman.” Her father maintained that being a genius has little to do with genetics, and everything to do with how a child is raised and educated. He wrote in his 1971 The Making of a Genius: “I can foster the same meteoric IQ in the children of the Tasaday tribe, a Stone Age people living in the Philippines.”

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Words of the Week

We have 11 million Jews and from that we produced Einstein, and they couldn’t produce an Einstein from 170 million…it all depends on the head…the mind controls the muscles.
– David Ben-Gurionresponding to a question in 1957 of how the nascent Israeli soccer team might beat a professional Russian soccer team that chooses its players from 170 million citizens.

Jew of the Week: Edgar Davids

The Pitbull of Football

Edgar Steven Davids (b. 1973) was born in Suriname to an African-Surinamese father and a Dutch-Jewish mother. The family moved to the Netherlands when Davids was still a child, and the boy grew up immersed in soccer. By age 12, he signed on with Amsterdam Ajax, a team known for its “Jewish” character. (This is probably due to the team’s origins in pre-war Amsterdam, which had a huge Jewish population and was then nicknamed “Jerusalem of the West”. Today, Amsterdam is still known by the locals as “Mokum” from the Yiddish-Hebrew word meaning “place”). Davids soon led Ajex to three national championships. He also led the team to the finals in several UEFA tournaments. It was while playing for Ajax that he earned his nickname, “the Pitbull”. Davids moved to Italy in 1996 and played for AC Milan and Juventus. His greatest success was in Turin, where he led the team to multiple championships, and was described as a “one-man engine-room”. During this time, he underwent surgery on his right eye (for glaucoma from a previous injury), and henceforth wore his trademark protective glasses. In 2004, he joined Barcelona and immediately changed the team’s fortunes. The struggling club suddenly went on a hot streak, winning all but two games in the rest of the season, and going on to dominate the European football scene for a decade. Davids timely presence has been credited with this huge shift in the club’s history. Davids also played for the Dutch national team in multiple FIFA and Euro Cups, twice being named to the all-star “Team of the Tournament”. In 2002, he was chosen to be one of the stars in a Nike commercial for that year’s FIFA World Cup. The premise of the ad was a “secret tournament” for the world’s “24 elite players”. The video was hugely popular (as was its music, a remix of Elvis’ “A Little Less Conversation”). Towards the end of his career, Davids played in England for Tottenham Hotspur, famous for having a large Jewish fan-base. After a brief stint back in Ajax, he later managed London’s Barnet Football Club, representing an area that is also heavily Jewish. It seems he grew closer to his Jewish roots throughout these years, and once remarked before a big game: “Although I don’t go to synagogue, I will say a little prayer…” In 2004, Davids was ranked among the FIFA 100 World’s Greatest Living Footballers. The 2018 FIFA World Cup kicks off today.

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Words of the Week

Most men worry about their own bellies, and other people’s souls, when we all ought to be worried about our own souls, and other people’s bellies.
– Rabbi Israel Salanter (1809-1883)