Mary Elizabeth Kramer was born in Ohio and grew up attending church and Christian Sunday school. By high school, she was drawn to atheism and secularism, but ultimately found no solace in those philosophies either. While in university majoring in mathematics, she found herself exploring various religions. Studying in Germany one semester, she had an inexplicable yearning to attend a Passover seder, and there met an Australian rabbi with whom she continued learning, eventually undergoing a proper Orthodox Jewish conversion (and taking the name Malka). Back in college, she met her future husband – David Schaps – and both went on to earn PhDs at Harvard. The new couple then moved to Israel to teach, had two kids and two foster children. Malka Schaps joined Bar-Ilan University’s Department of Exact Sciences, researching advanced quantum spin representations, in addition to founding and running a financial math program. Meanwhile, Schaps has written a handful of popular, best-selling novels under the pen name “Rachel Pomerantz”. Despite being deeply involved in the scientific community, her faith has only strengthened, and she has said, “I always point out that the study of mathematics shares something in common with Judaism. They both seek to discern a greater order of things and the objective truth.” Recently, she was elected to be Dean of the Department of Exact Sciences at Bar-Ilan, making her the first Orthodox woman in the world to hold such a post. Schaps lives with her family in Bnei Brak.
Words of the Week
Why was the Torah given in the desert? For if it were given in the Land of Israel, the residents of the Land of Israel would say, “It is ours”; and if it were given in some other place, the residents of that place would say, “It is ours.” Therefore it was given in the wilderness, so that anyone who wishes to acquire it may acquire it. – Mechilta D’Rashbi
Primo Levi (1919-1987) was born in Turin, Italy. His brilliance was quickly noted even as a child, allowing him to start school a year early. After learning at both secular and religious schools in his youth, as an adult he decided to study chemistry. Despite the open anti-Semitism of the university system, Levi fought through it and graduated with honours. Being a Jew barred him from most jobs. However, a mining company that was aware of his intelligence and expertise offered him a position under a false name and false papers. He later found work for a Swiss company looking to extract anti-diabetic components from vegetables. As World War II worsened, Levi joined an Italian resistance movement. Untrained, he was quickly captured and arrested, sent to the Fossoli internment camp, and later to Auschwitz where he spent nearly a year until it was liberated by the Soviets. It didn’t get any easier at this point. To get back home to Turin he had to travel across Belarus, Hungary, Romania, Ukraine, Austria, and Germany (a story which has been adapted to film). After the war, Levi started a chemical company with a friend, synthesizing various industrial compounds like stannous chloride (for use in mirrors) and a variety of synthetic dyes. Meanwhile, he began writing about his roller coaster life experiences. He would go on to write two famous memoirs, one of which was voted the best science book ever written by London’s Royal Institution. Levi also penned many poems, essays and short stories – two of which have been adapted to film – and published two well-known novels. Often quoted, he once wrote: “The aims of life are the best defense against death.”
Words of the Week
If words are the pen of the heart, song is the pen of the soul. – Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi
Nora Ephron (1941-2012) was born in Manhattan to a family of writers. She became a journalist and worked as an intern in President Kennedy’s White House until joining Newsweek as a lowly “mail girl”. From there, she became a reporter, and also started writing humourous essays. By 1972, Ephron was among the most well-known humourists in America. She also happened to be married to Carl Bernstein, the journalist who exposed the Watergate scandal. After being asked for help rewriting the screenplay for the film All the President’s Men, Ephron moved into film-making. She went on to make such classics as When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seatle and You’ve Got Mail. Her last film was the highly acclaimed Julie & Julia. Nominated for three Academy Awards, and winning countless others, Ephron also published books, wrote plays, and in her last years contributed a column for The Huffington Post. A symbol of feminism, she inspired a generation of women. Sadly, Nora Ephron passed away on Tuesday.
Words of the Week
One who does not see God everywhere does not see God anywhere. – The Kotzker Rebbe