Tag Archives: Columbia University

Jew of the Week: Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein

In Memory of the Man Who Helped A Million People a Year

Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein

Yechiel Eckstein (1951-2019) was born in Massachusetts and raised in Canada, where his father served as a rabbi in Ottawa. Eckstein studied at Yeshiva University, starting with its high school program, and all the way through to earning his Master’s and his rabbinic ordination. He also held a Ph.D from Columbia University. After several years working with the Anti-Defamation League, Rabbi Eckstein founded the Holyland Fellowship of Christians and Jews in 1983. The main aim of this organization was to raise funds to support impoverished Jews all over the world, especially in Israel and the Soviet Union. The organization also promoted and funded aliyah, took care of Holocaust survivors, and supported the IDF’s lone soldiers. Originally, nearly all of his donors were Jewish. However, within a decade he had raised a huge amount of support from American Christians. The organization, now known as the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ) would go on to raise over $1.6 billion to help needy Jews in 58 countries. By 2003, it was the second largest charity operating in Israel, and some estimate it is the largest humanitarian organization in Israel today. In 2010, Eckstein was ranked among the Top 50 Most Influential Rabbis in America, and a few years later among the Top 50 Most Influential Jews in the world. IFCJ currently provides aid to over one million people each year, and has a base of 175 million donors. Rabbi Eckstein was known to be at the front lines of the work himself. He was an avid musician, and would often take his guitar with him on trips to play for kids and the elderly in camps and nursing homes. (In fact, he was once part of a Jewish band, and even recorded four albums of Hasidic music.) Eckstein was beloved by all those whom he met and assisted. It wasn’t only Jews who benefited from his work. Eckstein and the IFCJ also helped Arab Christians fleeing war-torn countries like Iraq, and supported Israel’s Christian minorities. He traveled to China to fight for the release of imprisoned pastors. He has been credited with being a major force in improving Jewish-Christian relations. He is also the author of eleven books, and his radio program had over 23 million listeners globally. Sadly, Rabbi Eckstein unexpectedly passed away last week from a heart attack. Russia’s chief rabbi, Berel Lazar, who worked closely with Eckstein, said of him that “He really cared for every single Jew. He had a special warmth, a warm heart, a special ability to feel someone else’s plight… We could have a discussion about a particular story, and he would break down crying. He wasn’t faking; that was the secret to his success—he really cared.”

Words of the Week

Where there is a soul, there cannot be a clock.
– Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzkthe Kotzker Rebbe

Jews of the Week: Lederman and Ashkin

Two 96-Year Old Nobel Prize Winners

Leon Lederman in 1988

Leon Max Lederman (1922-2018) was born in New York to Ukrainian-Jewish immigrants. After serving in World War II, he returned to work on a PhD in physics at Columbia University. He would become a distinguished physics professor there before taking a leave to join the world-renowned CERN in Switzerland. There, he discovered the muon neutrino in 1962. For this, as well as developing the “neutrino beam method”, he would later win the Nobel Prize in Physics. Lederman also discovered the bottom quark. In 1979, Lederman became the director of the prestigious Fermilab, running the world’s most powerful particle accelerator. After retiring in 1989, he was an occasional teacher at the University of Chicago and the Illinois Institute of Technology. He was also president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. In 1993 he published his bestselling book, The God Particle (coining that now-famous term). Lederman won countless awards and inspired a generation of physicists. Sadly, he was diagnosed with dementia, and the illness took a toll on both his health and his finances. He was forced to sell his Nobel Prize gold medal in order to pay for his medical bills. He passed away last week, at age 96.

Arthur Ashkin

Another 96-year old Jewish scientist who made headlines last week is Arthur Ashkin (b. 1922). He won a Nobel Prize in Physics for his invention of optical tweezers. Like Lederman, Ashkin was born in New York to Ukrainian-Jewish immigrants, and also attended Columbia University. During World War II, he was asked to stay in his lab to build magnetrons for US Army radars. After earning his PhD in nuclear physics at Cornell, Ashkin was hired by Bell Labs. He first worked on microwave technology, then moved on to lasers. After some two decades of work, Ashkin created a working optical tweezer, described as “an old dream of science fiction”. This allows tiny things like atoms, viruses, and cells to be grabbed, moved and manipulated. Today, it is an indispensable tool for countless research facilities around the world. Ashkin also co-discovered the photorefractive effect, and holds a whopping 47 patents. In addition to his many awards, he has been inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame. His Nobel at age 96 makes him the oldest person ever to win the prize.

Words of the Week

An honest man, armed with all the knowledge available to us now, could only state that, in some sense, the origin of life appears at the moment to be almost a miracle.
– Francis Crick, Nobel Prize-winning biologist