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Old School Jewish Dads

A Father's Day salute to a few of the best Jewish fathers in history.


Last month, I paid tribute to some extraordinary Jewish mothers in history and I learned two things. One – a column paying tribute to Jewish mothers is certainly not sufficient to take the place of an actual Mother's Day gift, even if you do suck up to your mother in it. And two – it's a waste of time brainstorming for ideas for a June column in light of the countless emails from Jewlarious fathers saying, in effect, "Hey, what are we, chopped liver?" And to them I would say only, "No, you're certainly not chopped liver. Especially the vegetarians among you." So without further ado, and in the interest of fairness and Father's Day this month, please allow me to honor three of history's extraordinary Jewish fathers.


Moses is perhaps our best-known Jewish father, though, sadly, never received one Father's Day greeting card or even a necktie or bottle of cologne. Moses is revered for being a Hebrew prophet, teacher, and leader who, in the 13th century B.C. delivered his people from Egyptian slavery by parting the Red Sea long before David Copperfield made a jumbo jet disappear. Along with God, it is the figure of Moses who dominates the Torah. Moses also guided the freed slaves for forty years in the wilderness – you have to remember this was years before MapQuest. In addition, he carried down the Ten Commandments from Mount Sinai, introducing ethics, law and morality to the Jews, some of whom complained that Moses was, "a real party pooper."

Forty years in the wilderness – you have to remember this was years before MapQuest.

Think about that. Moses delivers God's laws, he parts the Red Sea, he takes his people out of slavery and into the Promised Land, he turns a rod into a serpent, he casts ten plagues upon the Egyptians. No wonder I have an inferiority complex. I have just got to quit comparing myself to major Biblical figures.

In terms of his personal life (He had time for a personal life!?) Moses was married to Zipporah. They had two sons, Gershom and Eliezer, who were constantly sick of Moses telling them, "When I was your age, I was already conversing with a Burning Bush."

Albert Einstein

Albert Einstein was a theoretical physicist. But, then, who isn't? He is best known for his theory of relativity; specifically mass–energy equivalence, expressed by the equation E = mc2, and less well known for his unique collection of matzoh ball soup recipes from around the world. Einstein received the 1921 Nobel Prize in Physics which he used primarily to impress women on JDate. Einstein published more than 300 scientific works and more than 150 non-scientific works, including the song, "Hey Guy Who Used to Boss Me Around at the Patent Office in Berne - Check Out My Nobel Prize!" In 1999, Time magazine named him the Person of the Century. Despite this honor, his wife, Mileva Maric, still made him take out the garbage daily.

Still, a Gallup poll recorded him as the fourth most admired person of the 20th century and according to The 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History, Einstein is "the greatest scientist of the twentieth century and one of the supreme intellects of all time." To the scientifically literate and the public at large, Einstein is synonymous with genius." To his wife, however, he was, "a big show-off who better not forget to take out the garbage." And because his name is synonymous with genius, it is often used in ironic expressions such as "Nice job, Einstein!, or "She's no Einstein but check out her physics!"

Einstein and Mileva had a daughter they called Lieserl, because they wanted a name their daughter would be constantly asked to spell. Albert and Mileva's first son, Hans Albert Einstein, was born in Berne, Switzerland. Their second son, Eduard, was born in Zurich, all part of Einstein's plan – A Baby In Every City.

Einstein's many contributions to physics include: The photon theory and wave-particle duality derived from the thermodynamic properties of light, the first fluctuation dissipation theorem which explained the Brownian movement of molecules, and the first post-Newtonian expansion, explaining the perihelion advance of planet Mercury . No wonder my girlfriend wasn't impressed when I told her I made the varsity tennis team.

Jonas Salk

Jonas Salk (1914 – 1995) was an American medical researcher and virologist, best known for his discovery and development of the first safe and effective polio vaccine. He also was the inspiration for countless Jewish mothers saying to their children, "Why don't you do something useful with your life?" He was born in New York City, where his parents were Russian-Jewish immigrants. While attending medical school at New York University, he stood out from his peers not just because of his academic prowess, but because he chose to do medical research instead of becoming a physician, and wore a button that said, "Future Discoverer of Polio Vaccine."

Until 1955, when the Salk vaccine was introduced, polio was considered the most frightening public health problem of the postwar era. Annual epidemics kept getting worse and victims were usually children. Salk thought to himself, "If I could figure out a cure for this, I could finally get my mother to stop talking about my cousin Herman the brain surgeon."

Thus motivated to develop a vaccine against polio, Salk devoted himself to this work for the next eight years, during which time his wife, Donna, nonetheless made him take out the garbage daily. The field tests Salk set up were, according to one expert, "the most elaborate program of its kind in history, involving 20,000 physicians and public health officers, 64,000 school personnel, and 220,000 volunteers." Among Salk's greatest challenges was preparing box lunches for all of them.

When news of the discovery was made public on April 12, 1955, Salk was hailed as a "miracle worker," and the day "almost became a national holiday." He further endeared himself to the public by refusing to patent the vaccine, as he had no desire to profit personally from the discovery, but merely wished to see the vaccine disseminated as widely as possible and maybe go on a few dates and try to act humble.

Salk married Donna Lindsay, a master's candidate at the New York College of Social Work. They had three children: Peter, Darrell, and Jonathan.

In 1963, he founded the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California, which is today a center for medical and scientific research. Dr. Salk's last years were spent searching for a vaccine against AIDS—and taking out the garbage.

Happy Fathers Day to all Jewish (and non-Jewish) fathers out there from Moses, Albert, Jonas and me.

June 13, 2009

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The opinions expressed in the comment section are the personal views of the commenters. Comments are moderated, so please keep it civil.

Visitor Comments: 4

(4) TMay, February 5, 2013 10:08 PM

agree with a commenter and memories

I agree with one of the commenters although the story I heard was different. Being a good father is more than being a fabulous success in life. Einstein was fabulous. To be pointed out as one of three fathers in Jewish history: No. I know nothing about Salk as a father. I did hear that polio was a middle class disease that struck houses with excellent housekeeping and that dirt helped protect children regarding their immune systems. It is now 2013 and it is sad to hear that Pakistanis are killing people who are trying to give immunizations to Pakistani children. When I was a child living at the top of Westmount Montreal, males in the family took out the garbage because of the number of rats who hung out near the garbage cans which were tin with lids. In the 21'st century when my brother in Westmount gave a party, Europeans eagerly got out their cameras to take pictures of adorable raccoons hanging around the garbage. Their nails and teeth are as long as my fingers, and I'm an adult. He lives in lower Westmount in Canada which has back lanes and he lives near the Metro which is very handy when there are blizzards. Someone I know here in Santa Cruz CA was putting garbage in the garbage can when a rat ran up his arm and made a flying leap from his shoulder. It all happened very quickly. Would you really want a little girl to take out the garbage? Of course, now with Far Leftist Obama in the White House, and the Left's love of gender equality, maybe you would want little girls taking out the garbage and encountering wild beasts, in preparation for them going into combat in war when they grow up. It reminds me of the old TV show "Bewitched" with the squiggle of the nose; which reminds me of an old joke that ends with the words "Chicken, chicken, you're a fish." but I digress.

(3) Jeannette Zipes, June 20, 2009 8:00 PM

Not in agreement

He was a great scientist but I read he had a son who was retarted and he put him away never visiting him. That is not a good father. If this is not true please inform me. Thanks give a better choice of fathers.

(2) Keith, June 16, 2009 1:59 AM

Thanks Mark, your comments help to keep them humble.

(1) melanie, June 14, 2009 4:59 PM

Mark's such a good daddy, too

even tho he is a taking out the garbage-phobic, which has been detrimental to his non daddy relationships. happy Dads' Day, Mark!

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