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.”
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-Gurion, responding 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.
Shaul Paul Ladany (b. 1936) was born in Belgrade, Yugoslavia. When he was 5, the Nazis bombed his hometown and his family fled to Hungary. A few years later, with nowhere else to turn, his parents hid him in a monastery. The plan failed and the whole family was caught and sent to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp where they spent six months. Many of them died there, but Ladany and his parents were lucky to be saved by a group of American Jews who ransomed out 2000 prisoners. In 1948, the family made aliyah to Israel. There, Ladany earned a Master’s in Engineering from Technion. He later got a Ph.D from Columbia University. During his studies, Ladany trained himself to become a marathon runner, then switched to race-walking. He would go on to win 38 national titles globally, and set a new world record that stills stands to this day (50 miles in under 7 and a half hours). He participated in his second Olympic games in Munich in 1972, wanting to make a statement as a Holocaust survivor competing in Germany. The night after his race, Palestinian terrorists broke into the Israeli quarters. Ladany managed to escape by jumping out of his window, and rushed to notify the authorities of the attack. Sadly, 11 of the 16 Israelis were killed. Ladany went back to race-walking soon after, winning a gold medal at the World Championships the same year, then breaking more records, and becoming the first person to ever win both the American Open and American Masters championships. Despite his age, Ladany continues to compete, setting another record in 2006 as the first 70 year-old to walk 100 miles in under 24 hours. He recently swam across the Sea of Galilee, and did a 300 km walk across Europe. It is estimated that he has walked over half a million miles over his life. On top of this, Ladany was a professor of industrial engineering for over 30 years, publishing over 120 scholarly books and articles (in addition to an autobiography), and has lectured in universities around the world. He holds eight patents, speaks nine languages, and has been inducted into the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame. Unbelievably, he has also defeated both skin cancer and lymphoma – no wonder that he has been nicknamed “the Ultimate Survivor”. He still walks at least 15 kilometers every day.
Words of the Week
A person should have two pockets in his coat. One should contain the Talmudic saying: “For my sake was the world created.” In the second pocket he should keep the Torah verse: “I am but dust and ashes.” – Rabbi Simchah Bunim of Peshischa