Category Archives: Science & Technology

Jews in the World of Science and Technology

Jew of the Week: Moshe Safdie

Visionary Architect

Moshe Safdie (b. 1938) was born in Haifa to a Mizrachi Jewish family originally from Syria. He grew up on a kibbutz where he was a beekeeper and goatherd. When he was 15, the family moved to Montreal, Canada. Safdie went on to study architecture at McGill University. For his thesis, he came up with the idea of 3D, prefabricated modular units. Safdie quickly made a name for himself as a young architect and, at just 23, was invited to design Habitat 67 during Montreal’s World Expo. In 1970, Safdie opened a branch of his firm in Jerusalem to focus on restoring the Old City and building up the new city post-reunification. He designed the famous Porat Yosef Yeshiva (originally the vision of the great Ben Ish Chai), the beautiful Mamilla Center, as well as Yad Vashem, and Ben Gurion International Airport. Safdie achieved international renown, and went on to design some of the most iconic buildings in the world (see below). This includes the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore, the National Gallery of Canada, and the world’s longest “horizontal skyscraper” in China. Meanwhile, Safdie has taught at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, and directed it for a number of years. He has also published a dozen books, and has been featured in six films. Today, Safdie Architects has offices in Boston, Jerusalem, Toronto, Shanghai, and Singapore. Safdie is still deeply involved, and maintains a research fellowship at his firm to develop new architectural ideas and futuristic projects. He has won countless awards, including the Order of Canada, the Wolf Prize in Architecture, and multiple honorary doctorates. The Moshe Safdie Archive at McGill University is among the largest architectural collections in the world, with over 140,000 drawings, 100,000 photos, and over 2000 sketches.

*November is Mizrachi Heritage Month.*

Moshe Safdie at TED: How to Reinvent the Apartment Building

Words of the Week

Woe to mankind! For they see, but do not know what they see; they stand, but do not know upon what they stand.
Rabbi Yose (Talmud, Chagigah 12b)

Some of Moshe Safdie’s best-known projects, clockwise from top left: Porat Yosef Yeshiva in Jerusalem’s Old City, Kauffman Center in Kansas City, National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, Habitat 67 in Montreal, Jewel Changqi Airport in Singapore, and Marina Bay Sands in Singapore.

Jew of the Week: Ludwig Guttman

Founder of the Paralympic Games

Ludwig Guttman (1899-1980) was born to a German-Jewish family in what is now Poland. After serving in World War I, he volunteered at a hospital and first encountered a paraplegic patient. This inspired him to go to medical school and he went on to become a renowned neurosurgeon, specializing in spinal cord injuries and paralysis. He also taught at the University of Freiburg, where he supervised a Jewish fraternity that focused on fitness and physical training to give Jewish students more strength and confidence in the face of rampant anti-Semitism. When the Nuremberg Laws were passed by the Nazis, Guttman was stripped of his job and title. He was given an inferior position at the Breslau Jewish Hospital, where he eventually became the medical director. During Kristallnacht, Guttman witnessed the desecration of his synagogue and the abuse of his fellow congregants. That night, he admitted 64 Jewish patients that took refuge in his hospital, and was able to save 60 of them from deportation by the SS agents that came the next day. The following year, the Nazis gave him a visa and sent him on a medical mission to Portugal. Guttman never returned to Germany, and settled in England instead. He joined the Nuffield Department of Neurosurgery in Oxford. Guttman came up with the idea of turning paraplegic patients over in their beds every two hours to prevent bed sores, a small move that drastically cut the mortality rate. In 1943, the Royal Air Force asked Guttman to found and head the National Spinal Injuries Centre at Stoke Mandeville Hospital to look after injured pilots who commonly had spinal problems. It was here that Guttman realized how sports could be a powerful tool for rehabilitation. In 1948, he organized the first Stoke Mandeville Games for disabled war veterans, a huge success. Four years later, he turned it into an international event, and in 1956 was recognized by the IOC (International Olympic Committee) for his pioneering work. The Stoke Mandeville Games became an official part of the 1960 Rome Olympics, and by 1984 was known as the Paralympic Games. (When host city Mexico refused to hold the games in 1968, Guttman arranged for them to be held in Israel). Guttman founded what would become the English Federation of Disability Sport, as well as the International Spinal Cord Society. He was the first editor of the scientific journal Spinal Cord. The Guttmann Institute in Barcelona is named after him, as is the Ludwig Guttmann Prize awarded by the German Medical Society for Paraplegia. He was the subject of a BBC documentary called The Best of Men, and was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1966. There are currently over 4400 athletes competing at the Tokyo Paralympic Games, the largest ever.

Words of the Week

It might seem bizarre, but in my opinion science offers a surer path to God than religion.
Paul Davies, renowned physicist

Russian commemorative stamp of Ludwig Guttman, in its “Sports Legends” series released before the 2014 Sochi Olympics. 

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)