Yuval Ne'eman (1925 – 2006)
Obituary by Teddy Ne'eman, the Son of Yuval Ne'eman
I am not going to list your numerous titles and roles. The point is that you made a difference in the world and country. Things would not have been the same without you, or some might have not existed at all. These and the marks you have left are tough achievements to match. Your biography is full of "founded this..." and "founded that...", and most of these you did from scratch.
You were born on 14th May, which would later become the date of founding of the State of Israel. You passed away just a week before Independence Day. I think this clearly symbolizes your character: constant concern for the State of Israel. This also shows that your death was premature, not only by a week, but to our belief several years too early, as up to Sunday morning you were still as active and as busy as ever, and we were sure this would keep on going.
You took part in all of Israel's wars, and you especially talked about tough battles you fought during the war of independence leading the Giv'ati brigade. Each year you took us with you to the brigadiers' annual convention. During the Six Day War you convinced Moshe Dayan of the importance of Mt. Hermon, without knowing that years later your own grand-daughters would love skiing there.
Kindness and helping others were deep in your character. All beside you knew that so well. However, you were so humble that this remained unknown to the public. Other than the innumerable times you gave a helping hand others, I want to mention two cases of assistance to entire communities.
The first is the contact you made with the Jewish communities in North Africa. Not much is known about this, but I do know you put your life at stake for it.
The second I witnessed myself and was even a minor participant. This was the help you gave to the Jews behind the Iron Curtain, leveraging the power of the academic community. One of the most exciting moments for me personally was when we hosted a Jewish scientist from the Soviet Union who was granted a once-in-a-lifetime permission to attend a scientific convention in the USA. He had just a few days to be in New-York before returning forever to behind the curtain. We toured the city with him, noticing how anxious he was to relish every moment in the free world. We went through the artist's quarter, where he was astonished by the freedom of expression. We concluded with department stores where he searched for gifts to show his family the wonders of the capitalistic world, but such as not to arouse the inspectors on his way back and put him into trouble. He parted farewell with tears in his eyes, not knowing if he would ever be permitted to come again.
You told me that you would be willing to give up Sinai if the Soviet Union were willing to let a million Jews go. Happily, this wish of yours has actually come true.
This concern and deep feeling of responsibility also similarly extended to us, your family, for which you took great and deep care and looked onto the finest details. You were a loving and deeply loved husband, brother, father, and grandfather that we all loved. You loved chocolates and even won an ice-cream eating contest. You took us on trips, such as and picnics in the Ben-Shemen forest and Judean hills well before these became national pastimes, and even celebrated our birthdays there. You told us tales of the Nights of the Round Table, translated French folk songs and read Asterix and Felix comics to your grand-daughters. And now another blow for us: we have lost our "walking encyclopaedia". Not only would we consult with you on Physics and Mathematics, but on almost any subject. Before an exam in history you would recall for us by heart accurate dates of each historic event. Your knowledge of historical and geographical details was amazing and encompassed the whole world. And yes, this includes the Bible. Whenever I needed information on forgotten or less familiar biblical stories, I would consult with religious or biblical experts but few would know the answers. Finally I would come to you and get much more thorough answers.
The Passover Seder each year was an exciting annual gathering, an "Eurovision Song Contest" of the family with all its disparity and talent, all having fun and singing in harmony, usually lead by your brother-in-law and good friend, "Maestro" Gideon Ben-Israel. We would anxiously wait each year for the song that was called yours. I hope you could still hear when I played it for you at the hospital wishing to ease your final moments. At least I am content that you did manage to be this year with us including Gideon in the Seder, enjoyable as always, even though smaller and more humble.
Those who knew you well and not just through the media, know that the only drives for your political activity were kindness and concern for the State of Israel, and defending it from its enemies which unfortunately are not few. These drives constantly occupied your thoughts, and you were concerned with well-being of every citizen and everybody else, except anyone hostile to Israel. Any political tag affixed to you, not coinciding with these motives, or oblivious of these true dangers, would be insulting and untrue.
You viewed yourself as an atheist. I personally, knowing you, believe you were much more religious than you thought. Such love for the State of Israel, the land of Israel, the Jewish people, fellow man, altruism, how else can we explain all these? And even science, that you loved so much, had surprises in store for you. After believing ourselves to be so advanced in the understanding of physics, came new information from the Hubble telescope. Its findings are in disagreement with existing theories: "black holes" indeed have been discovered, but they are not collapsing and dying as expected. New stars are being born next to them. And now the phenomenon of "entanglement" has been observed, showing that knowledge or spirit can affect the properties of matter. Physics again needs revisions. You seemed upset by this, but I told you to me these discoveries sound rather encouraging. Surely we hardly understand but a tiny fraction of the mysteries of the universe. I hope that your death is not the end and that you are continuing somewhere in another world or somewhere out in space, where you had always wished to travel. However, we have been left with a large empty space in our hearts.
In Memory of Yuval Ne'eman (1925 - 2006)
By Haim Shmueli
How can one describe Yuval Ne'eman who passed away on April 26, 2006 at the age of 81? As one of the most eminent scientists, which was born and died in the land of Israel? As a soldier and one of the founders of our national security? As a statesman and politician of a very special kind? It seems incredible that all these qualities could be incorporated in one person. Yuval Ne'eman was in one lifetime a brilliant scientist, a soldier who has made important contributions to the security of Israel, and a politician with unshakable stands and beliefs. No doubt, each of these qualities, separately, could be enough to secure him a place of honor in the history of Israel.
Yuval Ne'eman was born in Tel Aviv in 1925. This is rather unique, as only very few people of his age were born and died in Tel Aviv. Yuval used to tell also that he was the first to be named "Yuval", meaning in Hebrew a stream, a tributary (after Genesis » Chapter 4 ... 4:21, "His brother's name was Yuval. He was the ancestor of all who play the harp and flute. ...").
Already as a youngster, while being a student at the Technion, Israel Institute of Technology, in Haifa, Yuval joined the Haganah (the predecessor of I.D.F), and this togetherness of the book and the sword in his hands continued for a considerable part of his life.
He took an active part in the War of Independence, and continued his service afterwards. In 1954 he was appointed as Deputy Chief of the Intelligence of I.D.F., and in 1958 he was nominated as the Military Attache in London. This nomination gave him the opportunity to renew his academic studies in physics at the London University. He has gained his Ph.D. under the supervision of Prof. Abdus Salam, one of the great physicists of the 20th Century.
After his return to Israel he has filled a number of important scientific and managerial duties, i.e. Chief Scientist of the Nahal Soreq nuclear facility, he has contributed to the establishment of the Dimona Nuclear Research Campus, he is a member of the Atomic Energy Committee, Chief Scientist and Advisor to the Minister of Defense.
Yuval Ne'eman was the founder of The School of Physics and Astronomy at the Tel Aviv University, he was the initiator of the Engineering Faculty, of the Institute of Strategic Research, and of the Astronomic Observatory near Mitzpeh Ramon in the Negev desert. In the 70ties he served as President of the Tel Aviv University. During his service as Science Minister he has established the Israeli Space Agency, and was heading the Space Agency for many years.
In parallel to his scientific activities he took an active part in the political life of Israel. In 1979 he has established the "Tehiyah" political movement. Yuval Ne'eman was a political hawk, and has strongly opposed the Camp David Accords, especially the evacuation and destruction of Yamit, the town built at the Sinai Peninsula. He was elected to the Parliament (Kneset), joined the coalition government and served as Minister of Science, and later on as Minister of Science and Technology. In the government headed by Itzhak Shamir he served as Minister of Energy and Infrastructure. In 1981 he has supported strongly the action against the Iraqi nuclear facility. In 1992 he has resigned from government, and subsequently, after failing of his political movement in the general elections, he has finally retired from political life.
There is no doubt, however, that his most important achievement, which will give him a place of honor in the history of physics, is his discovery of the basic symmetry principles existing in the realm of elementary particles. Until the end of the 50ties of the 20th Century researchers have discovered hundreds of sub-atomic particles, all referred to as "elementary" particles. Nobody new how these particles could be classified, or to find more elementary particles from which they are comprised. Physicists have used powerful particle accelerators to generate new particles by colliding known particles, and primary particles were also generated from those created in the first reaction.
In 1962 Yuval Ne'eman has cleared the heavy fog around the world of elementary sub-atomic particles. He proposed (independently from Murray Gell-Mann) the classification of hadrons by their SU(3) flavor symmetry. The Unitary Symmetry Theory of which he was co-discoverer now underpins much of modern physics, and Ne'eman expanded on the basic field which explains the compositeness of nuclear particles in The Eightfold Way, which was written with Gell-Mann, who had separately come to similar conclusions and named basic particles as "quarks" (the name was drawn from Finnegans Wake). Although, by all credible standards, both, Yuval Ne'man and Murray Gell-Mann have contributed to the historic achievement of putting some order in the world of sub-atomic particles, it was only Gell-Mann who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1969.
Yuval Ne'eman has made important contributions not only in the physics of elementary particles, but also in astrophysics, cosmology, philosophy and history of science. He was the author of several hundred scientific papers and 25 books, many of them in popular science. One of these books co-authored by Yoram Kirsh, "The Particle Hunters", became a best-seller. On his achievements he was awarded numerous prizes, i.e. the Prize of Israel and Einstein's Medal.