Chava Lifshitz Memorial Symposium

Tuesday, March 21, 2006, 9:30 AM - 5:30 PM

Los Angeles Building, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Giv`at-Ram

Scientific Program (will open in a new window, PDF format)


Chava Lifshitz
(March 26, 1936 -- March 1, 2005)

Suddenly you were gone...
...from all the lives you left your mark upon


One of my mentors, Prof. Chava Lifshitz of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, finally lost her decades-long struggle with cancer on March 1, 2005.

Chava Lifshitz was born Eva Wolf in Vienna on March 26, 1936 in an upper-middle class home. After the Anschluss, her father (a prominent attorney) managed to get the family out ahead of the Nazi murder machine. Eventually the Wolfs made their way to Eretz Yisrael (then a British Mandate area). There, as customary then (and to a large extent still now) her first name was changed to the original Hebrew version of Eva, "Chava".

Her father, Shlomo (Salomon) Wolf, played a key role in the creation of the Maccabi Sick Fund (presently Maccabi Health Services), one of Israel's four HMOs. By all accounts Chava was a very gifted pupil, and grew up in a cultured home in the old European tradition --- including piano lessons from the Israeli composer Paul Ben-Haim.

In 1953, she started studying Chemistry at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, under a special program that allowed gifted students to combine their military service with their studies. She obtained the M.Sc. degree in Physical Chemistry in 1958, and a Ph.D. in 1961, with a dissertation entitled "Isotope Effects in the Radiation Chemistry of Aqueous Solutions" (advisor: G. Stein). At the Hebrew U. she met and married fellow chemist Assa Lifshitz.

The focus of her research career was determined by a two-year postdoctoral stint with mass spectrometry pioneer Franklin Asbury Long at Cornell. She joined the Hebrew U. Faculty in 1963, and rose through the ranks to become a Full Professor at the (for Israel) young age of 40.

She left an indelible mark on her fields of science (mass spectrometry and gas-phase ion chemistry), on the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and on the people with whom she interacted.

Her contributions to science were honored by many awards, of which I will only note the Kolthoff Prize (Technion 1985), the Max Planck Research Award (Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, 1991, shared with longtime collaborator Helmut Schwarz), and the Israel Chemical Society Prize (2003). On the occasion of her 60th birthday, she was honored with a special issue of the International Journal of Mass Spectrometry and Ion Processes (edited by Robert C. Dunbar and Tilmann Maerk).

In his eulogy at her funeral, Hebrew University Rector Prof. Menachem Magidor called her "a supporting pillar" of the university. She held a succession of leadership positions in the university and within the Israeli higher education system: Chair of the Chemistry Studies Division (1972-1976), Chair of the Tenure Committee in the Experimental Sciences (1984-1985), Member of the Council for Higher Education (Israel, 1986-1991), Chair of the Physical Chemistry Department (1989-1992), Member of the High Committee for Science and Technology (the "Harari Commission", 1991-1992), and finally Head of the Institute of Chemistry (1994-1997). All students of hers I spoke to remember her as a brilliant teacher, a scrupulously fair evaluator, and a warm "mother figure".

But there was much more to Chava than science, science policy, and education. Her youngest daughter Orna recalled in her eulogy that when she was five, "doctors told Chava she had another five years to live, if she was lucky". She struggled against the disease with stoic courage and unflinching tenacity, and beat the doctor's prognosis by a good two decades, leading an active life until the very end. As Prof. Raphael D. Levine recalled in his eulogy, she got a grant proposal approved a mere two months before her death.

Speaking for myself, I will always remember her as not being "like" anybody: she was an original. At once unfailingly polite in the best European tradition and bluntly outspoken (especially about politics) in a way that could startle even Israelis. At once a sworn feminist and a doting mother; a driven scientist and a "mother lioness" to all who worked for or with her; a political liberal in many ways yet simultaneously the most strident of right-wing nationalists; at once an uncompromisingly analytical thinker and loving beyond reason --- of other people, and of the Land of Israel that, in very different ways, is so dear to both of us. Chava Lifshitz, the one and only.

She is survived by her husband, Prof. Assa Lifshitz; by her son, Dr. Ron Lifshitz, their daughters Donna and Orna Lifshitz, and half a dozen grandchildren.

May her memory bless us all the way I feel blessed by it. Farewell, Chava. Ulai nipagesh ba-sof le-ma`la...

Links:

The background music you are hearing is the 2nd movement ("Dirge") from Ernst Bloch's Concerto Grosso no. 1 for Strings and Piano (MIDI format, sequenced by Michael A. Abelson)