By Harriet P. Gross
Purim, with its yearly dose of good food and good fun, is also a good and necessary time to think about enemies. While contemplating Haman, we should once again remember Amalek, Hitler, and all the bugaboos of our Jewish past, present and — sadly — projected future.
Currently, anti-Semitism is on the march once again, seemingly across the world. How to fight it effectively? Maybe we can’t. Maybe all we can do is keep doing our own best, keep being productive in all fields of endeavor, keep leading civilization in creative thought. And keep translating those thoughts into practicalities that benefit all.
I’m thinking of this because my husband and I are now planning a trip to Israel this year. We not only want to visit again — it’s been much too long since we were there — but it’s the only country outside the United States that we’d want to be in now, because with our checkered medical histories, Israel is the sole overseas location where we’re sure we could get first-rate care if needed.
Driving home this point: a recent article in, of all places, Parade magazine, the Sunday supplement to many daily newspapers across the country. Titled “Restoring the Power to Walk,” it told about Amit Goffer, an Israeli who’s making huge strides, quite literally, in providing mobility for paraplegics.
Goffer, wheelchair-bound himself since a 1997 accident, has used his considerable skills in electrical and mechanical engineering to invent ReWalk, a device now being tested here in the U.S. At this stage, it’s awkward and cumbersome. But it works. With ReWalk, someone like Goffer can actually rise up again.
The article quotes Dr. Alberto Esquenazi, who’s working with ReWalk’s dozen clinical trial participants at a Philadelphia rehab faciity. “It’s not moving fast or going long distances,” he says of Goffer’s invention. But it lets patients “move around in their own homes, giving them a form of exercise, and allowing them to interact with the world eye-to-eye.” This he calls “incredibly important.”
Maybe someday, Goffer will win a Nobel Prize for ReWalk. If so, he’ll join a pantheon of other Jews from all over the world who’ve made contributions of outstanding importance to humanity. Jewish Magazine’s list (not yet fully updated) includes 165 who have been so recognized since the turn of the 20th century. They break down this way: nine Peace Prize winners, 11 in Literature, 22 in Economics, 27 in Chemistry, 45 in Physics and an incredible 51 in Medicine — which might be where Goffer will someday fit, even though he’s an engineer rather than a physician.
Do you realize what this means? There are about 12 million Jews in today’s world, just 20 out of every thousand people around the globe, at most 2 percent of the total population. But Muslims, representing a full fifth of the world’s people — 20 out of every 100 — have stood on the Nobel platform only a half-dozen times: once each in Literature, Chemistry and Physics, and three times to receive the coveted Peace Prize.
And one of those latter caused controversy: When Yasser Arafat was named in 1994 along with Yitzhak Rabin, one Nobel Committee member, Kaare Kristiansen, resigned in protest. He was expressing in the strongest way possible his dismay, his opposition to the choice of a recipient whom he called, ‘way back then, “a terrorist.” We can pin a “20-20 Foresight Medal” — more elusive even than a Nobel — on him!
What’s the reason for this discrepancy between the numbers of Jews and Muslims recognized worldwide for their contributions to bettering humanity? Some cite a basic difference in the genes. But we’re both members of families descended from Father Abraham, so I wouldn’t attribute the difference to that factor alone. Others say Jews have always put more emphasis on education, and I do agree with that; we learned a long time ago that land and wealth and possessions of all kinds can easily be stripped away; only whatever has been planted in the brain is ours forever, not only not subject to loss by removal, but also portable!
But I really think the difference is a matter of what people concentrate on. Hate is singularly non-productive. I also think I can safely predict that when (not if!) Amit Goffer comes from Israel to Oslo to receive his Nobel Prize, he’ll be able to ReWalk to the podium on his own power to accept it.
May he, and we, remember Haman, Amalek and Hitler, look ahead and have a happy, gladsome Purim anyway!
By Harriet P. Gross