Category Archives: Science & Technology

Jews in the World of Science and Technology

Jew of the Week: Anatoliy Daron

The Jew Who Made Space Flight Possible

Anatoliy Davidovich Daron (1926-2020) was born in Odessa, Ukraine. An avid pianist, he initially wished to become a musician. At age 12, he read a book about space and was inspired to become a rocket scientist, with the hopes of one day flying to Mars. That same year, World War II broke out and the family fled to Russia’s Stavropol region. A few years later, the Nazi invasion came to his town just as he was graduating high school—he got his diploma, written by the principal on a scrap piece of paper, while everyone was fleeing! Doron went on to study rocketry in Moscow, and soon joined OKB-456, the Soviet state institution tasked with missile and rocket development, under the leadership of Valentin Glushko. There, Daron worked on the USSR’s first intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). When the anti-Semitic Doctor’s Plot hit, Daron lost his job because he was Jewish. Thankfully, Stalin was soon out of the way, and Daron returned to his previous position. Daron’s team of engineers proposed that they could put a satellite in space using rockets similar to the ICBMs. They began working on the designs, but encountered serious problems. Then, while lying ill in bed with a high fever, Daron had an idea. It was the breakthrough the engineers were looking for, and ended up putting Sputnik, humanity’s first artificial satellite, in space in 1957. Historians mark this moment as the birth of the “Space Age”. It was in response to this event that the US government formed NASA (as well as what became DARPA). Not surprisingly, Daron became a Soviet hero and his family was moved out of their cramped one-bedroom, shared apartment to their own two-bedroom suite, together with a state-provided car and television. Daron continued to work for the Soviet space agency, and played a key role in making Yuri Gagarin the first human in space. He was the lead designer on the R-7, R-9, and UR-700 rockets, among others. All in all, he worked as a rocket scientist for more than 50 years, authored some 300 articles and patents, and was awarded the Order of Lenin. In 1998, Daron moved to the United States and spent the rest of his life there. When he passed away last year, he was described as one of the most important “unwritten figures in the history of space.”

Words of the Week

The Palestinians are always coming here and saying to me, ‘You expelled the French and the Americans. How do we expel the Jews?’ I tell them that the French went back to France and the Americans to America. But the Jews have nowhere to go. You will not expel them.
Vo Nguyen Giap, infamous Vietnamese general

Top left: Daron in the design room. Bottom left: The team that put the first man in space – Yuri Gagarin, sitting third from right, Daron standing, centre. (Image Source)

Jew of the Week: Shlomo Gur

The Man Who Helped Save Countless Israeli Lives

Shlomo Gerzovsky (1913-1997) was born in Uman, Ukraine. When the Communist Revolution began, the family fled to Romania, and eventually made its way to the Holy Land. Gerzovsky, now with the Hebraized last name “Gur”, started studying at the Mikveh Israel Agricultural School. In 1936, the Arab Revolt began, with Arab mobs attacking both British nationals and Jewish residents. In response, Gur was among the co-developers of the Homa u’Migdal (“Wall and Tower”) system, a method of building settlements with pre-fabricated protective walls and a watchtower—quickly assembled, sometimes overnight. Gur co-founded the first such settlement, Kibbutz Tel Amal, then helped to establish a whopping 56 others. All settlements were built legally according to existing Ottoman law, on land purchased by the JNF. They served as safe havens for Jews during the violent Arab pogroms, and ensured that Jewish life in the Holy Land would continue to flourish. In 1945, Gur travelled to the US to further his scientific studies. He returned in 1947 to fight alongside the Haganah, and was placed in charge of overseeing weaponry. Soon after, he established and directed Israel’s new Science Corps (heil hamadah), the focus of which was developing new weapons to protect the State of Israel. Together with Itzhak Bentov, they built Israel’s first rockets. The Science Corps later became RAFAEL, which developed the Iron Dome and David’s Sling, currently saving countless lives in Israel. In his later years, Gur moved to Tel Aviv and worked in the high-tech sector. He also oversaw the construction of several important building projects, including the Hadassah Medical Center, the Knesset, and Tel Aviv’s city hall.

Shavuot Begins Sunday Night – Chag Sameach!

Words of the Week

The power of resistance which has enabled the Jewish people to survive for thousands of years has been based to a large extent on traditions of mutual helpfulness. In these years of affliction our readiness to help one another is being put to an especially severe test. May we stand this test as well as did our fathers before us.

Albert Einstein

Jew of the Week: Renata Reisfeld

The Renowned Chemist Who Survived the Holocaust—and Entebbe

Renata Sobel (b. 1930) was born in Chelm, Poland. Orphaned at a young age, she was raised by her grandparents. When the Nazis occupied Poland, the family managed to escape and spent the war years in the harsh conditions of Siberia. Young Renata was unable to receive a formal education. After the war, she was engaged to Eliezer Reisfeld—on the condition that he allow her to pursue an education. As a child, Renata was inspired by a biography of Marie Curie and wished to become a scientist, too. The young family made aliyah to Israel in 1950 and settled in Jerusalem. There, Renata Reisfeld took up studies at the Hebrew University. Despite having no knowledge of Hebrew or English, she was the first to complete the entrance exam into the prestigious chemistry program that had only 23 spots. Reisfeld earned her Ph.D, then went to Oregon State University for post-doctoral work. One of Reisfeld’s main areas of research has been photovoltaic cells, and she played a big role in helping to bring down the cost of solar panels to make renewable solar energy possible on a large scale. She is also an expert on nanotechnology and solid state lasers. By 1975, Reisfeld had become the head of the chemistry department at Hebrew University. The following year, she was invited to speak at a conference in Paris. Her flight from Tel-Aviv made a stop in Athens, where Palestinian and German hijackers took control of the plane and diverted it to Entebbe, Uganda. Because she was one of the few hostages that spoke English, she represented the group of 102 passengers, and spoke with Idi Amin. The dictator took a liking to her, and when she asked him to take the hostages out on a tour of Uganda, Amin agreed! Eventually, the hostages were rescued in a daring raid by Israeli commandoes (which took the life of Yoni Netanyahu, brother of Benjamin Netanyahu). All in all, Reisfeld has published a whopping 532 scientific papers, together with four books, and her work has been cited over 30,000 times, making her among the world’s most prolific and renowned chemists. She has been awarded multiple honorary doctorates and scientific medals from around the world. Although officially retired, and now in her 90s, Reisfeld is still coming up with new inventions, the most recent being her fluorescent-transparent glass.

Words of the Week

Sometimes things happen about which the leaders of the generation remain silent. This does not mean that nothing is to be done… On the contrary: when aware that you are able to do something about it, you are obligated to do so.

Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe