Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Albert Einstein with David Ben-Gurion in Princeton, NJ

Photo of the Day

Albert Einstein [1879–1955] shares a joke with Israeli Prime Minister David Ben Gurion [1886–1973] when the two men met at Einstein’s home on Mercer Street in Princeton, N.J., on May 13, 1951. The JTA writes about their private talk: “Israel’s Premier David Ben Gurion today sited Prof. Albert Einstein here at the latter’s residence and spent about two hours with him. No one else was present during their talk. Emerging from Prof. Einstein’s home, Mr. Ben Gurion told reporters that they discussed relativity, freedom, Greek philosophy, Spinoza and similar subjects. “We discussed no politics,” he stated. For more, go [here] and [here] and [here] and [here].
Photo Courtesy: Tablet Magazine & AFP/Getty Images

The Great Math Mystery (2015)

Mathematical Mysteries

“Why does this work? How can mathematics be so powerful? Is mathematics, you know, a truth of nature, or does it have something to do with the way that we, as humans, perceive nature? To me this is just a fascinating puzzle. I don't know the answer.”
Andrew J. Lankford, Professor of Physics & Astronomy, 
University of California, Irvine

The Great Math Mystery, shown on NOVA (PBS-TV; original broadcast date: April 15, 2015), a science show on the American public broadcast channel.

This science show gives some very good examples on how math informs our thinking on everything from music to flowers to modern technologies to space exploration. For example, the mathematical symbol, π (pi), is all around us in nature. Math is used by mathematicians, physicists, engineers and all scientists, and although much is known about the predictive powers of math, essentially as it pertains to the fundamental particles of nature, there are current limitations in our understanding.

Math is not entirely predictive or understood in areas of human biology and neuroscience and, of course, in long-term weather forecasting. This documentary posits that math explains many areas of our existence, and that math is both invented and discovered, that is, math is a mystery to be discovered, to unlock the secrets of the universe and/or that humans have invented math to make sense of the natural world around us.

Or, perhaps, even of the unseen world, as math is used to look at patterns of words in the Bible, which is found in the use of gematria (in which Hebrew letters correspond to numbers), which forms a part of the Kabbalah, the Jewish mystical tradition. Such is the mystery of math; it is used as a tool to unlock the mysteries of the universe, which means the mysteries, for us here on earth, of the known world. It is human nature to want to know, to understand, and math helps us in this quest.

There have been a number of great mathematicians in the modern era, including Albert Einstein [1879–1955], Emmy Noether [1882-1935], John von Neumann [1903-1957], and Paul Erdös [1913-1996], to name only a few that quickly come to mind. The transcript of the show can be found [here]. For more on mathematics and mathematicians, go [here] and [here] and [here].

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Violinist Ida Haendel Around Age 20

Photo of the Day

Ida Haendel [born as Ida Hendel in 1928 in Chelm, eastern Poland] is here shown around age 20, which makes this photo dated to circa 1948. Haendel writes:  “I gave my first public performance of Brahms’s Violin Concerto when I was nine years old. It was in September 1938, at a Proms concert with the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Henry Wood. I probably didn’t understand it: you can’t expect a child to understand a genius like Brahms. I was using pure instinct, and that is exactly what you need to play his works. It’s something you are born with. If you don’t feel it in your soul, on an emotional and intellectual level, then it can’t be taught. You can’t tell anyone how to do it if they don’t have the right capacity and instinct.” Haendel was a child prodigy; Ruth Rosenfelder writes for the Jewish Women’s Archive: “In 1935, aged seven, she won the Polish Prize at the first Wieniawski Competition in Warsaw, gaining seventh place overall.” In 1937, Haendel and her family moved to England, then to Montreal from 1952 to 1979, and then she moved to Miami, where she currently resides. For more, go [here] and [here] and [here].
Photo Courtesy: The Strad & Giselle Brodsky

Abraham Sutzkever, A Portrait Poem by Seymour Mayne

Di Yidisher Velt

It is about continuing; it is about legacy; it is about passing on the words of Jewish tradition, even when death is all around, the words resist an easy death or, for that matter, any death. They live. Davka, they live, and they live long in unexpected, unforeseen places. 

Seymour Mayne [born in 1944 in Montreal] is a well-known Canadian poet, editor and translator. He met Abraham Sutzkever [born in 1913 in Smorgon–died in 2010 in Tel Aviv] while still in high school in Montreal, while the great Yiddish poet was speaking at the Jewish Public Library (Yidishe Folks biblyotek) at 4499 Esplanade Avenue at the corner of Mont-Royal Avenue, across the road from Fletcher’s Field—a venerable institution in Montreal.

Twenty years later they met regularly in Tel Aviv, Seymour Mayne writes (on page 12) in Prism: an Interdisciplinary Journal for Holocaust Education (Spring 2018: Volume 10)
In our meetings, Sutzkever was always glad to parse words and phrases with me, but generally we did not engage in literary criticism or theory. We focused on the poems ofthe ghetto period and the time he had spent in the Narocz Woods with his fellow partisans. As translator, I noted from the start that his sharp focus on the concrete word and image gives a clear urgency to his poems, so that when readers engage them decades after they were written, the works are as immediate and vivid as if they had just been spoken.
In a dedication for Sutkever, Mayne writes (on page 13): “The Jewish present and past, no matter the destructive onslaught of enemies, find strength and hope in the Yiddish word. All who touch and are touched by Sutzkever’s consummate art carry the vibrant legacy of his words into the cultural renewal of the Jewish People. This poem is for him.” The legacy continues; I got in touch with Mayne last year, and we correspond by e-mail and here is his poem, capturing an essence of a man, who moves from one place to another.

Abraham Sutzkever, A Portrait Poem
by Seymour Mayne

Tired and bloodshot
your aging eyes
match your bald
pate and full moustache
memento of your girth
and Partisan strength.

You speak and sing
always of some past’s
indefinite future
which is not the present
ever but that frozen
waste where unpeopled
the ghosts of millions
wind into the snow
and darkening light —
northern hell
of the world, Siberia
where history
is grimly imminent.

Surrounded by paintings
Vilna mementos and nameplates
here in your flat
over lightwashed Tel Aviv —
here you say
you never write
but only find yourself reflected
in the books and portraits.

Hurrying you seem
always rushing and writing
poems as all poets now do
in haste, secretly,
unseen in no man’s
land, invisible place,
the impossible promised land
where all the refugee words
are gathered and make shelter.

The “promised land” is the place where the impossible takes place, where the impossible for some borders on miraculous and for others is miraculous, and while others is awaiting the miraculous. A regular everyday miracle are the words of “an outsider” finding a home in an ancient land; even so, this might be the only ancient land where such “refugee words” can make sense and where the light can be easily reflected back to meaning. Tel Aviv is as different from Siberia as one place on earth can be as different from another. There is more than geographical distance. For more, go [here] and [here] and [here] and [here].

Monday, April 23, 2018

Abraham Sutzkever & Samuel Bak After Liberation

Photo of the Day

Abraham Sutzkever [born in 1913 in Smorgon, Rusian Empire; now Smarhon, Belarus–died in 2010 in Tel Aviv] posing with child artist Samuel Bak [born in 1933 in Vilna, Poland, now Vilnius, Lithuania] shortly after the liberation in 1945. Renee Ghert-Zand writes for The Forward: “Abraham (Avrom) Sutzkever was born in 1913 in what is now Belarus. His family fled to Siberia during World War I, and later settled in Vilnius (Vilna), where Sutzkever grew up and went on to study literary criticism at the University of Vilna. His poetry chronicled his Vilna childhood, his time in the city’s ghetto during World War II, and his and his wife’s escape to the forest to join Jewish partisans under the command of Moshe Judka Rudnitski. After the war, Sutzkever testified at the Nuremberg Trials and immigrated with his wife to pre-State Israel in 1947. He died in Tel Aviv in 2010 at the age of 96.” Bak’s artistic talent was first recognized in the Vilna Ghetto, when he was nine. After the war, and after spending time in a DP Camp (Landsberg in the American zone), Bak and his mother immigrated to Israel in 1948; he eventually settled in the United States, in 1993, and resides in Weston, part of the Boston metro area. The Pucker Gallery in Boston writes: “Bak’s work weaves together personal history and Jewish history to articulate an iconography of his Holocaust experience.” For more, go [here] and [here] and [here] and [here] and [here].
Photo Credit: Facing History & YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, New York.