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.”
Words of the Week
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.
Moshe Kai Cavalin (b. 1998) was born in Los Angeles, the son of a Taiwanese mother and an Israeli-Brazilian father. He started speaking at 4 months of age, and was reading and doing math by 3. At 6, he was rejected from elementary school because he “knew more than the teacher”, and had to be home-schooled. At 8, he became the youngest person in American history to take college classes. He got his first degree three years later, with a perfect 4.0 GPA. He then enrolled at UCLA – with a full scholarship – and earned a BS in mathematics. Meanwhile, Kai wrote two bestselling books (an inspirational autobiography, and a manual to deal with bullying). For fun, he scuba dives, plays piano, and chess, and avoids video games which, he says, are “not helping humanity in any way.” He is also an avid martial artist – thanks to his father, a former IDF special forces commando – and has won 26 gold medals. Incredibly, Kai got a pilot’s license, too. This led to a phone call from NASA in 2015. NASA needed a pilot who also knew math, physics, and computer programming to develop surveillance and anti-collision technology for drones and airplanes. Kai has been at NASA ever since, working hard to keep the skies safe. He is concurrently doing his Master’s in cybersecurity, and intends to later get a Master’s in business from MIT before opening his own cybersecurity company. Kai describes himself as a religious person and often credits God with giving him the insight to solve problems. One of his professors once said: “I think most people just think he’s a genius, they believe it just comes naturally… He actually worked harder than, I think, any other student I’ve ever had.”
Words of the Week
Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.
– Albert Einstein
Kai at age 10 with his menorah; and more recently with his martial arts trophies
Zvi Hermann Hirsch Schapira (1840-1898) was born to a religious Russian-Jewish family in a small Lithuanian village. He studied to become a rabbi and at age 24 was appointed to his first post. However, he soon decided to pursue his passion for the sciences and ended up studying at a Berlin academy. Three years later, he settled in Odessa and worked for several years as a merchant. In 1878, Schapira moved to Heidelburg and spent another four years studying math and physics, during which time he earned his doctorate. He became a math professor at the University of Heidelburg, and published several important papers. Throughout this time, he continued studying Jewish literature, and contributed to three Hebrew periodicals. By 1884, Shapira was a vocal Zionist, and suggested the establishment of a Jewish National Fund which would buy land in Israel and help settle Jews there. He formally proposed the idea to the First Zionist Congress in 1897, where he also suggested the establishment of a Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Tragically, Schapira died the following year from pneumonia. The Jewish National Fund would finally be launched three years later, and it would take another two decades before the Hebrew University would open its doors. The JNF would go on to become one of the most important organizations in Israel’s history, and instrumental in the nascent state’s success. It purchased over 50% of Israel’s landmass, developed over 250,000 acres of its land, planted some 260 million trees, built nearly 200 dams and reservoirs, and established over 1000 parks. The JNF also played a key role in the founding of Tel Aviv in 1909, and in running Israel’s first postal service. It still owns about 13% of Israel’s land, and in the past decade alone, helped Israel expand its water capacity by 7%. The JNF is perhaps most famous for its Tu b’Shevat tree-planting drive, which over a million Jews participate in every year.
When God created the first man, He showed him all the trees of the Garden of Eden, and said to him: “See My works, how beautiful and praiseworthy they are. And everything that I created, I created it for you. Be careful not to spoil or destroy My world, for if you do, there will be nobody after you to repair it.” – Midrash (Kohelet Rabbah 7:13)