Tag Archives: Harvard

Jew of the Week: Chuck Schumer

America’s Top Senator

Charles Ellis Schumer (b. 1950) was born in Brooklyn to a Jewish family with Russian, Ukrainian, and Polish ancestry. He scored a perfect 1600 on his SAT and went to Harvard, where he first studied chemistry before switching to law. He passed the bar in 1975, but went right into politics, having once been inspired when volunteering on a presidential campaign. Schumer was elected to the New York State Assembly straight out of law school. After three terms, he won a seat on the US House of Representatives. He served on the House for nine terms until 1998, when he ran for a Senate seat instead and won again. He has since been re-elected to the Senate three times, with consistently high approval ratings. In 2016, he was voted head of the Senate Democrats, making him the minority leader. Earlier this year, when the Democrats took control of the Senate, he became the majority leader. In both cases, Schumer became the first Jew (and first New Yorker) to hold the Senate leader title. Impressively, Schumer visits every single one of New York’s 62 counties every year to meet with his constituents. He has been praised for helping average New Yorkers deal with even minor issues that are not the role of a senator to address. Over the years, Schumer has worked hard to keep jobs and factories in America, and has been fiercely critical of China. In 2017, he tried unsuccessfully to get Trump to impose a ban on Chinese buyouts of American companies. (This week, he finally pushed through a massive $250 billion “China competition bill”.) Schumer has also been praised for his assistance to veterans and for lowering healthcare costs. In 2001, together with John McCain, he introduced a bill to open the prescription drug market to more generic, cheaper versions, resulting in savings of billions of dollars. Schumer has fought for net neutrality, and criticized Republicans for allowing the FCC to pass new internet restrictions in 2018. While Schumer is pro-choice, he has also supported Efrat, an Israeli anti-abortion organization. He is currently trying to push legislation to ban BPA, cadmium, and other toxins. Over the years, Schumer has fought for tougher sanctions on Iran, Russia, and North Korea, and is one of the few Democrats that continues to oppose a nuclear deal with Iran. He is a huge supporter of Israel, defending both its blockade of Gaza, and its settlements. Schumer cosponsored a 2017 bill making it illegal to boycott Israel. He praised Trump for finally moving the US embassy to Jerusalem. Schumer has voted for more gun control and more college tuition credits, as well as stricter regulation of Wall Street. He has developed a “Marshall Plan for Teachers” to revamp education in America. Schumer is an avid cyclist. He has never lost an election in his life, and has always sought to be a balanced voice of reason in Congress.

Words of the Week

You can be a Jew and care about Israel and it does not make you any less American. You can be a Jew and lobby for Israel and it does not make you any less American. You can be, all at once, completely Jewish, completely pro-Israel and completely American.
– Chuck Schumer

Jew of the Week: Jeff Hoffman

NASA’s First Jewish Astronaut

Jeffrey Alan Hoffman (b. 1944) was born in Brooklyn. He was always fascinated by outer space, and went to study astronomy at Amherst College in Massachusetts. Hoffman went on to get a PhD in astrophysics from Harvard, researching cosmic x-rays and gamma rays. He built one of the first aerial gamma ray telescopes. After this, he did postdoctoral work in the UK, eventually working as a project scientist for the European Space Agency. In 1975, Hoffman returned to the US to work at MIT. His main area of focus was x-ray bursts, and he authored over 20 papers on the subject, becoming the world expert on it. One time, he heard his wife reading a passage in a book saying that there will never be a Jewish astronaut. This inspired Hoffman to pursue just that, and he applied to NASA. In 1978, he was selected for NASA’s astronaut training program, together with Judith Resnik. The two became NASA’s first Jewish astronauts. Hoffman went on his first mission in 1985 aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery, during which the crew deployed two satellites and conducted numerous scientific experiments. At this point, Hoffman became just the second Jewish man in space (following Russian cosmonaut Boris Volynov). During his fourth trip to space, Hoffman was responsible for repairing the Hubble Space Telescope. Before that flight, his rabbi asked him if he would take some Judaica with him, and Hoffman happily agreed. He took a mezuzah—which he affixed to his cabin with Velcro—a tallit, as well as a dreidel and mobile menorah, since it was during Chanukah. (Click here to see Hoffman spin a dreidel in space!) On another flight, Hoffman took a Torah with him and made sure to read it while flying over Jerusalem. During his last mission in 1996, Hoffman set a new record, becoming the first astronaut to spend 1000 hours aboard space shuttles. All in all, he spent more than 50 days in space, and logged over 21 million space miles travelled. Since retiring as an astronaut, he has been teaching as a professor at MIT, and visiting professor at the University of Leicester. He has also written a book called An Astronaut’s Diary.

When Jews and Greeks Were Brothers: The Untold Story of Chanukah

Words of the Week

…Science can only be created by those who are thoroughly imbued with the aspiration toward truth and understanding. This source of feeling, however, springs from the sphere of religion.
Albert Einstein

Jew of the Week: Steven Weinberg

Architect of the Standard Model of Physics

Steven Weinberg

Steven Weinberg (b. 1933) was born in New York to Jewish parents of Romanian and German heritage. He studied at the Bronx High School of Science, then did his undergraduate studies in physics at Cornell. After a brief stint at the Niels Bohr Institute in Denmark, he earned his PhD at Princeton in 1957. Weinberg first did research at Columbia University, then became a professor at UC Berkeley. While there, he started writing one of his most famous books, The Quantum Theory of Fields, as well as the popular textbook Gravitation and Cosmology. In 1966, Weinberg moved back east to teach at Harvard. The following year, as a visiting professor at MIT, he published his new model unifying electromagnetism and the nuclear forces. Part of this was proposing the existence of the Higgs boson (which was finally discovered in 2012). Weinberg’s model built on the work of his former high school classmate and fellow Jewish physicist, Sheldon Glashow. The two shared the 1979 Nobel Prize in Physics for their work (together with Pakistani physicist Abdus Salam). Over the years, Weinberg did research on—and greatly furthered our understanding of—gravity and cosmology, quantum physics and string theory, pions, leptons, and supersymmetry. His work has expanded nearly every aspect of modern physics and is among the most renowned scientists in the world. Weinberg has testified before Congress as an expert witness, and has written many popular articles and science books, among them The First Three Minutes and To Explain the World: The Discovery of Modern Science. He has been awarded 11 honourary degrees together with a long list of awards including the National Medal of Science. Weinberg is also a staunch supporter of Israel and has refused to speak at universities that boycott the Jewish State. Today, as he nears his 87th birthday, he continues to write and teach physics at the University of Texas at Austin.

UPDATE: Sadly, Steven Weinberg passed away on July 23rd, 2021.

Words of the Week

Given the history of the attacks on Israel and the oppressiveness and aggressiveness of other countries in the Middle East and elsewhere, boycotting Israel indicates a moral blindness for which it is hard to find any explanation other than antisemitism.
– Steven Weinberg